Patterico's Pontifications


Remember Folks, the Elites In Power Are Smarter Than You (Updated With School House Rock!)

Filed under: General — Aaron Worthing @ 7:22 am

Or: “In Which I prove that Christine O’Donnell is Smarter Than 81% of the Public and 85% of Elected Officials…”

[Guest post by Aaron Worthing; if you have tips, please send them here.]

For instance, they understand the constitution better than you do.  Indeed that was why it was pointless to read it in Congress, or so the liberal spin goes.

Um, except for this.  Richard Brake of Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s National Civic Literacy Board announced the results of their test in basic knowledge of the constitution.  They had been doing this for years with embarrassing results, but the innovation this years is they asked participants if they ever held elective office in the state or federal government and then compared those results to the general populace.

You know where this is headed, right?  From the article:

  • Only 49 percent of elected officials could name all three branches of government, compared with 50 percent of the general public.
  • Only 46 percent knew that Congress, not the president, has the power to declare war — 54 percent of the general public knows that.
  • Just 15 percent answered correctly that the phrase “wall of separation” appears in Thomas Jefferson’s letters — not in the U.S. Constitution — compared with 19 percent of the general public.
  • And only 57 percent of those who’ve held elective office know what the Electoral College does, while 66 percent of the public got that answer right. (Of elected officials, 20 percent thought the Electoral College was a school for “training those aspiring for higher political office.”)

And what is more frightening is…  well, look at the quiz for yourself.  This is multiple choice.  For instance, consider this question on “Wall of Separation:”

6) The phrase that in America there should be a “wall of separation” between church and state appears in:

A. George Washington’s Farewell Address

B. the Mayflower Compact

C. the Constitution

D. the Declaration of Independence

E. Thomas Jefferson’s letters

If you guessed randomly, you would have a 20% chance of getting it right.  Regular folks guessing it right 19% of the time is roughly in line with that.  But public officials are apparently not only ignorant of where that phrase comes from, but positively misinformed.  Thus Christine O’Donnell is vindicated (and WaPo/AP, I am still waiting for you to acknowledge your mistake rather than pretend you never made it).

So the answer is we need more constitution reading, and not less.

Update: A lot of people in the comments mentioned this School House Rock video:

And of course here is the Family Guy goof on it:

[Posted and authored by Aaron Worthing.]

48 Responses to “Remember Folks, the Elites In Power Are Smarter Than You (Updated With School House Rock!)”

  1. When the American people put fiscal conservatives (hopefully)in charge of the HOUSE, I thought that at least THEY knew who is in charge of the money and perhaps there is hope. Time will tell.

    J (2946f2)

  2. I know that some corporations plan to spend time educating new hires in subjects related to their employment. Sounds like at least a 1 week course should be required of all elected officials.

    A sad commentary on the fecklessness of our educational system and the effectiveness of the media’s disinformation campaign.

    MD in Philly (3d3f72)

  3. “Thus Christine O’Donnell is vindicated ”

    We knew that when she was asked about the 14th, 16th, and 17th amendments.

    tcom (ae4d0b)

  4. Imdw is a douche under any name.

    JD (9c6ca7)

  5. I am looking forward to the day that the likes of imdw are honest for a day. maybe they could tell us all of e names they have commented under.

    JD (9c6ca7)

  6. Give the same quiz to public school teachers, and members of the MSM. You’ll get even worse results.

    gp (72be5d)

  7. (Of elected officials, 20 percent thought the Electoral College was a school for “training those aspiring for higher political office.”)


    no one you know (325a59)

  8. noyk

    i know. i don’t know whether to laugh or commit suicide.

    Aaron Worthing (e7d72e)

  9. I wish the Electoral College DID serve that function.

    Except at this point we’d have to put our elected officials through an Electoral Pre-School, Elementary, and Secondary school before they could handle an Electoral College.

    Gesundheit (cfa313)

  10. Comment by Aaron Worthing — 1/14/2011 @ 7:52 am

    I know people like to make mean jokes about public schools but seriously – these elected officials never even watched Schoolhouse Rock?

    no one you know (325a59)

  11. I wonder if reporters would do as well.

    Kevin M (298030)

  12. Much as the French aristocracy was smarter than the third estate before the French Revolution I would guess.

    Brian in MA (026e67)

  13. You really, really don’t want to ask people about history or facts. It’s like “Jaywalking” writ large.

    But any attempt to suggest that we link knowledge of government to voting is called racist. Even though immigrants have to learn these things to become voting citizens.

    And the people who sneer at the outrage you are feeling at this subject? Guess how they did on the multiple choice test?

    Simon Jester (11db5b)

  14. Simon

    that being said, a study like this proves we CAN’T test for constitutional literacy before people are allowed to vote. we will disqualify around 75% of the population.

    Aaron Worthing (e7d72e)

  15. And your problem with that is …. ?

    Old Bob (4084ff)

  16. we will disqualify around 75% of the population.

    You say that like it’s a bad thing.

    OK… I guess it’s bad.

    But we can test for this literacy before we let someone teach out children, and test for this literacy before we give someone a diploma.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  17. Vice-president Biden, in one of the debates, did not know that Article One concerns the legislature, not the executive branch. He has been in Congress 30 years.

    Mike K (8f3f19)

  18. Schoolhouse rock! One of my favorites. At three, our youngest son announced that he could read. He took out his favorite book, Are You My Mother, and read it aloud. I thought he had merely memorized it having heard it so often, so I gave him another book. To our surprise, he read that too. He had watched all those educational programs. Ask any 40 year old to complete the sentence, “Conjunction Junction ________ ___ ________.”

    Perhaps we should replace the Department of Education with a system that actually works.

    Arch (24f4f2)

  19. Because it is not important to them.

    thomas (58038b)

  20. Arch, that’s a great story. I can’t imagine anything more rewarding than that. Except perhaps my apple pie.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  21. Reminds me of a study that showed the average High School teacher reads, writes and does math at an 8th grade level.

    Wayne (df63da)

  22. The quiz was faulty, and did not offer the correct answers for the questions asked. This was obvious from the first question.

    1) What are the three branches of government? A. executive, legislative, judicial
    B. executive, legislative, military
    C. bureaucratic, military, industry
    D. federal, state, local

    The correct answer… “Larry, Moe, and Curly”… was not among the choices. How can we expect our elected representatives to score “well” in a situatio like that?

    malclave (3050d9)

  23. This post is crying for a “facepalm” graphic.

    Kman (d30fc3)

  24. Every year the students become ever more ignorant – I think the majority of those tested still place the Civil War in the 20th Century, and WWII in the 1960’s. So why would we expect them to elect representatives that are smarter than they are?

    Dmac (498ece)

  25. It’s quite ironic that Representative Giffords read aloud on the floor of the House the First Amendment that guarantees five rights including three that she and her constituents were exercising – free speech, peaceful assembly and redress of grievances – when she and 19 others were shot.

    It’s more ironic still that her party is now seeking legislation to restrict free speech and tamper with the Second Amendment again. My guess is that she would probably vote against these proposed restrictions.

    Mark Penn says that Obama wants another “assault weapons” ban (whatever that is). If you’re thinking about buying a semi automatic firearm, hurry up.

    Arch (24f4f2)

  26. BTW, last year’s pulbic affairs quiz involving the top news anchors and reporters made them out to be truly cardboard mannequins. Funniest moment was when Wolf Blitzer was completely humiliated on a celebrety Jeopardy by Andy Richter (who’s smart, but Blitzer really is an idiot).

    Dmac (498ece)

  27. “Vice-president Biden, in one of the debates, did not know that Article One concerns the legislature, not the executive branch.”

    Yeah, but you don’t have to know that to serve in the United States government. All you really have to know is how to lie and steal the taxpayers blind, and Biden is pretty good at both of those things.

    Hence, his long successful career as an electd official.

    Dave Surls (baf88e)

  28. The subject of this post should be flown with the Gadsen flag, should be our “Give me Liberty or..” shibboleth.

    Should any candidate not know that government is in it for themselves, should assertions that they “want to help people” leak out of their mouths, axe the alien in our midst.

    gary gulrud (790d43)

  29. What I’d like to know is the party affiliation breakdown of those who took the test. Maybe I keep missing it in the article, but, I just don’t see it.

    William Teach (2d1bed)

  30. William, I think that the education system in general—nonpartisan—has a vested interest in keeping kids ignorant. Both the DNC and RNC love it; it gives them shock troops.

    My word! Did I just commit more “eliminationist rhetoric”?

    Simon Jester (c8876d)

  31. You’ve focused on the wrong issue. The tragedy isn’t that 49 percent of the elected officials (versus 50 percent of the general public, and which is probably not a statistically significant difference) couldn’t name all three branches. The tragedy is that only 50 percent of the general public could name all three branches.

    Jim (8de501)

  32. You’re probably right, Simon. And, based on their results, elected officials are leading the way (interesting breakdown of citizens vs elected officials here)

    William Teach (2d1bed)

  33. Jim, the double post is fine, because that needs to be driven home. Even with “Schoolhouse Rocks!” many of our citizens are pretty ignorant.

    Simon Jester (c8876d)

  34. fixed double post and added schoolhouse rock for ya’all.

    Aaron Worthing (e7d72e)

  35. My word! Did I just commit more “eliminationist rhetoric”?

    Comment by Simon Jester — 1/14/2011 @ 10:01 am

    Yep. Prepare to get crucified.

    (/death threat
    /antiSemitic, via a dogwhistle, somehow, am just sure of it)

    no one you know (325a59)

  36. Aaron thanks for the “Schoolhouse Rocks” post.

    NOYK, remember my martyrdom.


    Simon Jester (c8876d)

  37. I just remember the Zogby survey after the 2008 election showing that Obama voters were indeed low information voters compared to McCain voters. Needed headphones to quiet the howling from that, the results are confirmed every day here by the troll comments.

    daleyrocks (e7bc4f)

  38. If you’re thinking about buying a semi automatic firearm, hurry up.

    Nah, I’ll just head down to Monterrey sometime – they’ve got lots of guns, and I hear all of them are coming from our own country!

    Dmac (498ece)

  39. If our elected officials cannot even get a passing-grade in a Leno “Jay-Walking”, or Hannity “Man In The Street” episode, that should be automatic grounds for impeachment.

    AD-RtR/OS! (b8ab92)

  40. Buddy, when I heard an elected official talk about how the Island of Guam would flip over in the ocean due to over population or some such nonsense with a straight face, it became all too obvious that our elites brain power/IQ equals the horsepower of what this centralized government’s engine has for running this country at the moment.

    justavoter (b003e1)

  41. Another home run. Thank you, Aaron.

    T D (7d9cc1)

  42. How did you not post the REAL Schoolhouse Rock Spoof?

    Mandatory viewing.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  43. Dave Surls at 25 – Biden famously stated that when the Stocck Market crashed President Roosevelt went on TV to calm the nation, showing leadership just like Obama.
    Except the market crashed more than two years before Roosevelt took office, and there was no broadcast television at the time.

    John Kerry has the memory of being ordered into Cambodia on Christmas by president Nixon seared (seared, I tells ya) into his brain. Except Nixon did not take office until months later.

    I think we can from these events discern exactly what lesson we can take from them. (And that is of course that Karl Rove did really steal that Time Machine from the secret storeroom at the National Archive.)

    Have Blue (854a6e)

  44. And they say Sarah Palin lacks the brains…

    MD in Philly (3d3f72)

  45. Whata really bugs me are all the people who think the President controls the budget and passes laws (even Obama thinks that).
    Like I’m fond of telling people, no President in history has ever raised or cut taxes. I usually get an argument.

    SteveP (2ebe76)

  46. “Dave Surls at 25 – Biden famously stated that when the Stocck Market crashed President Roosevelt went on TV to calm the nation”


    I told you he was a great liar.


    Dave Surls (875a62)

  47. Aaron, shouldn’t the document describing our federal government be capitalized? As in ‘Constitution’?

    pipedreams (9731e0)

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