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Uninformed Why People Seem to Know So Little about Politics and What We Can Do about It$
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Arthur Lupia

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780190263720

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190263720.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 14 June 2021

Who Are the Educators and How Can We Help Them?

Who Are the Educators and How Can We Help Them?

2 Who Are the Educators and How Can We Help Them?
Uninformed Why People Seem to Know So Little about Politics and What We Can Do about It

Arthur Lupia

Oxford University Press

From this point of the book forward, I ask you to think about the challenges described in chapter 1 from a civic educator’s perspec­tive. That is, consider the perspective of a person who wants to increase other people’s knowledge about politics or their competence at a politically relevant task. With that perspective in mind, I first convey a few important facts about civic educators and their aspirations. Next, I present a plan for helping many of them achieve these aspirations more effectively. The plan covers the book’s main themes and offers a chapter-by-chapter description of what’s ahead. Let’s start with a brief discussion of “ignorance”—a topic that motivates many people to become civic educators. According to numerous surveys and news reports, the mass public appears to know very little about politics, government, and policy. When pollsters ask even simple questions on any of these topics, many people fail to give correct answers. For example, while nearly every adult American can name the president of the United States, many cannot recall the names of their US senators. Millions cannot easily remember which political party holds a majority of seats in the US House of Representatives or the US Senate. Many Americans give incorrect answers when asked to identify the chief justice of the United States by name. They do the same when asked about basic aspects of the US Constitution. Many provide incorrect answers to questions about who leads our nation’s closest international allies, such as the United Kingdom and Israel. Most seem not to know basic facts about our major trading partners, such as Canada and China. People provide incorrect answers or no answers at all to survey questions about all kinds of policies and politics. In “The Star Spangled Banner,” America is “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” but when asked to answer fact-based questions about policy and politics, Americans appear to be, as filmmaker Michael Moore (2010) put it, “a society of ignorant and illiterate people.”

Keywords:   House of Representatives, U.S., New York Times, Senate, U.S., advocates, knowledge, reading problems, subjectivity, sweet spot

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