Sunday, February 27, 2011

One Reason Americans Aren't Too Bright

I believe that it was Bill Maher who coined the term sheeple to describe the overall intelligence of the American populace. My hero George Carlin was a bit more blunt; he called Americans dumb and stupid. When you consider some of the crazy stuff too many Americans believe -- for example, most people in the Tea Party -- it's hard not agree with Maher's or Carlin's assessment.

Why is it that Americans are so easily manipulated into believing so-called "facts" that can be easily disproved just by thinking about them for, say, 10 seconds? While there are an abundant number of theories on this topic, I can at least shine a light on why NEW American citizens might learn "facts" that aren't necessarily true.

In an article posted on TruthDig, "How I Passed My U.S. Citizenship Test: By Keeping the Right Answers to Myself" by Dafna Linzer, the author highlights several answers on the citizenship test that are plainly incorrect.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a department within Homeland Security, spent six years consulting scholars, educators and historians before the current test was introduced in 2008. The result: 100 questions and answers designed to provide an in-depth treatment of U.S. history and government.

"The goal of the naturalization test is to ensure America's newest citizens have mastered a basic knowledge of U.S. history and have a solid foundation to continue to expand their understanding as they embark on life as U.S. citizens," said Christopher Bentley, a spokesman for USCIS...
The problem with this assertion is that said basic knowledge often is in error. It is rather a serious indictment on the overall level of smarts in this country when even the experts don't offer the choice of the correct or most correct answers!

Here are some examples offered by Linzer.
Take Question 36. It asks applicants to name two members of the president's Cabinet. Among the correct answers is "Vice President." The vice president is a cabinet-level officer but he's not a Cabinet member. Cabinet members are unelected heads of executive departments, such as the Defense Department, or the State Department.

The official naturalization test booklet even hints as much: "The president may appoint other government officials to the cabinet but no elected official may serve on the cabinet while in office." Note to Homeland Security: The vice president is elected.


Then there is Question 12: What is the "rule of law"?

I showed it to lawyers and law professors. They were stumped.

There are four acceptable answers: "Everyone must follow the law"; "Leaders must obey the law"; "Government must obey the law"; "No one is above the law."

Judge Richard Posner, the constitutional scholar who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago, was unhappy. "These are all incorrect," he wrote me. "The rule of law means that judges decide cases 'without respect of persons,' that is, without considering the social status, attractiveness, etc. of the parties or their lawyers."


I also wasn't asked Question 1: "What is the supreme law of the land?"

The official answer: "the Constitution." A friend and legal scholar was aghast. That answer, he said, is "no more than one-third correct." He's right.

Article VI, clause 2 in the Constitution, known as the Supremacy Clause, explicitly says that three things — the Constitution, federal laws and treaties — together "shall be the supreme law of the land."


Question 96 asks: Why does the flag have 13 stripes? The official answer: "because there were 13 original colonies." In fact, the flag has 13 stripes for the 13 original states.


  1. Wow, no wonder the sheep are all, well, sheep.

    I first heard the term sheeple on a late night shortwave radio show from somewhere in the southwest. That was roughly 1994, give or take a year. I forget the guy's name but he was pretty much the Glenn Beck of the time only his views were still relegated to the well deserved fringe. The show was called, "Veritas" and he had a newsletter of the same name.

    Now that I think about it, that guy made Beck sound pretty sane. No wonder I'm all fouled up inside my head sometimes.

  2. I stand corrected. Maybe Maher simply resurrected the term.


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