A March 20 Newsweek story — “How Dumb Are We? / How Ignorant Are Americans?” — found that 29 percent of us can’t name our vice president, 44 percent cannot define the Bill of Rights, and 73 percent are clueless about the core issue behind the Cold War. All of these basic civics questions come directly from the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services Naturalization Test.

As the Newsweek article points out, stupid Americans are at a competitive disadvantage compared to their European counterparts. That much should be obvious.

Helpfully, Newsweek‘s Andrew Romano also identifies several key factors causing this American stupidity:

  • Our complex and discouraging political system
  • Our high level of income inequality, with the burden of poor immigrants
  • Our decentralized education system
  • Dominance of commercial programming over public broadcasting

Romano’s article goes on to show how our stupidity straightjackets our decision-making as a nation. For example, we think we can reduce the 27 percent of the federal budget we spend on foreign aid to fix our deficit. In reality, though, foreign aid accounts for less than 1 percent of the federal budget.

Meanwhile yesterday morning, Milwaukee public radio station WUWM aired a news report entitled “One Teacher’s Decision to Retire.”

In it, WUWM News Intern Caitlin PenzeyMoog talks with Claudia Caves, and English teacher at Kettle Moraine High School in Wales, Wis. Wisconsin’s new budget bill has frightened Caves into leaving teaching now, rather than possibly losing her retirement benefits next year. Our state will lose her 25 years of experience and master’s degree. Listening to the story, you can hear both the personal disappointment in her voice, and her fear for our future:

“I don’t know why they think the best and brightest young people coming out of college are going to in any way be attracted to this profession.”

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