Published January 1977 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd Students Lack Government Knowledge Teenagers can be virtual jukeboxes when it comes to recalling the words of the latest hit tunes, or the steps to new dances.
It's certainly not unusual for a 17-year-old to rattle off Pete Rose's batting average with swift, computer-like accuracy.
But what about his knowledge of American government? A survey conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress is alarming.
Though they are within a year of being eligible to vote, 47 percent of the country's 17-year-olds apparently do not know a basic fact of the American political process-that each state has two United States Senators.
The survey, part of the Federal Government's largest continuing educational research project, attempted to learn the political knowledge of 13- and 17-year-old students. The National Assessment of Educational Progress polled 2,500 students, and the results of the sampling were projected for the entire population at the two ages.
If the sampling is on target, it shows basic misunderstandings about the American system in which these young people are about to participate.
For example, half the 13- year-olds think it is against the law to start a new political party. One of eight 17-year-olds believes the President is not required to obey the law.
Furthermore, 20 percent of the 17 -year-olds believe the United States is the only country with political parties. Also among the 17-year-olds, 29 percent did not know that state governments usually do not make laws about military service.
The tragedy, I believe, is that this lack of knowledge about government is not merely a malady of our youth.
Given the same questions, Dr. Evon M. Kirkpatrick, executive director of the American Political Science Association, says he believes adults would also be given a poor report card.
JAN 28 1977