Though she might wear a similar lace jabot to Ruth Bader Ginsberg (a.k.a. The Notorious RBG), Judge Judith Sheindlin (a.k.a. TV’s Judge Judy), is not a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. But a new report released by a higher education advocacy group revealed, among other stats, that nearly 10% of college grads surveyed think she is.
The 28 page report titled A Crisis in Civic Education, was published by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), an independent, non-profit organization “committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America’s colleges and universities.” It is the summation of a survey they commissioned in late summer 2015 that questioned recent American college graduates and the public at large “about their understanding of our free institutions of government.”
Their questions “were drawn from standard high school civics curricula,” and emphasized “the content of the U.S. Constitution and the basic workings of our government.” The ACTA called the results “abysmal,” offering these examples to illustrate their alarm:
- Only 20.6% of respondents could identify James Madison as the Father of the Constitution. More than 60% thought the answer was Thomas Jefferson—despite the fact that Jefferson, as U.S. ambassador to France, was not present during the Constitutional Convention.
- College graduates performed little better: Only 28.4% named Madison, and 59.2% chose Jefferson.
- How do Americans amend the Constitution? More than half of college graduates didn’t know. Almost 60% of college graduates failed to identify correctly a requirement for ratifying a constitutional amendment.
- Almost 40% of college graduates didn’t know that Congress has the power to declare war.
- College graduates were even confused about the term lengths of members of Congress. Almost half could not recognize that senators are elected to six-year terms and representatives are elected to two-year terms.
- Less than half of college graduates knew that presidential impeachments are tried before the U.S. Senate.
- And 9.6% of college graduates marked that Judith Sheindlin—”Judge Judy”—was on the Supreme Court!
The ACTA concluded, “There is a crisis in American civic education. Survey after survey shows that recent college graduates are alarmingly ignorant of America’s history and heritage.” The group added that, “without comprehensive curricular change and rigorous requirements, American colleges will graduate generations of students who lack the knowledge that is indispensable for engaged and thoughtful citizenship.”
What’s particularly alarming to us is what this means for women’s history, which is already largely ignored.