A Nation of Ninkumpoops?

One of the more predictable, sadly, genres of social commentary in our contemporary culture is the survey or study that proves yet again how illiterate Americans are. In fact, the results are so predictable and so of the can-you-believe-that nature that I usually receive them with more than a little salt. This morning's news brings another example, this one a just-taken survey by the Pew Foundation on Americans' familiarity with current politics. Couldn't be more simple: three straight forward questions. Only 18% scored a perfect three for three. When  I saw the headline, then read that only 44% of NPR listeners scored a perfect 3, I thought, geeze, must be interesting or tricky questions. Ok, so here's the quiz: 1) which political party has the majority in the House of Representatives? 2) Who is the Secretary of State? 3) Who is the Primer Minister of Britain? I thought, you've got to be kidding! Not even half of Harper's readers (or of the New Yorker, for that matter!) got all three right! (And it's not as if Gordon Brown had just taken over last week, and in recent days he's been in the headlines a lot with his yearning for a leadership role in redefining the parameters of international finance.) How have we reached this condition? Should I be surprised? Is there a silver lining? Does it matter? Regarding the last question, I do believe it matters very much indeed. Dictators have a much easier time of it when those they hope to dictate to are ignorant. Dictation is a one way street, without dialogue. One way to look at it is this: are there any world leaders whose name could be substituted for that of Gordon Brown that would improve the quiz results? Do you know who the Canadian Prime Minister is? How about the President of Mexico? (Canada, Stephen Harper; Mexio, Felipe Calderon, in the photo above.)

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