What a 1945 High School Civics Exam Prep Book Shows Us About Today’s Students

Several days ago, I was handed a pile of old schoolwork and curriculum found in paperwork and memorabilia from my grandmother. Sifting through the stack, I soon pulled out several booklets labeled “Minnesota State Board Questions Certified.” Yellowed with age and somewhat dog-eared, they appear to be workbooks with which students could prepare for their yearly school exams.

I grabbed the one labeled “Introduction to Social Science” from 1945, the year my grandma was 17 and likely a senior in high school, and paged through it. Judging from the cover, it appears she was a scribbler like me, doodling by writing her name and some shorthand. Judging from the inside, students like her had to know their lessons well in order to pass their exams…

Take the section on page three of the booklet. The question provides a number of possible answers, and then asks students to fill in the blanks with the appropriate answers. Here’s the quiz:

1. Provides for a Congress: ___

2. We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, etc.: ___

3. The prohibition amendment: ___

4. Abolishes slavery: ___

5. Provides for an executive department: ___

6. Provides for election of U.S. Senators by direct vote of the people: ___

7. Gives the right of vote to all citizens: ___

8. Repeals the Eighteenth Amendment: ___

9. Gives the right of vote to women: ___

10. Made an income tax legal: ___

The possible answers include:

1. Preamble

2. Article I

3. Article II

4. Article III

5. Amendment 13

6. Amendment 14

7. Amendment 15

8. Amendment 16

9. Amendment 17

10. Amendment 18

11. Amendment 19

12. Amendment 20

13, Amendment 21

Now, as I said, this booklet was simply used for test preparation. As such, it’s possible that the real test would not provide multiple answer options, but would simply require students to recall and record the answers without these prompts. Indeed, other questions in the book require students to write out the answer with no hints available. Either way, students would need a thorough knowledge of Constitutional Amendments and what each speaks to in order to correctly answer these questions. If you’d like to test yourself – or even your own high school student – with this test, answers are provided at the bottom of this article. (Tell us how you did in the comments – we’re genuinely curious!)

Compare this assessment to those of today. The last national civics assessment took place in 2010. At that time, only 24% of 12th-graders were proficient in the subject. It’s been 14 years since that test, so one can only imagine what today’s scores might look like, particularly since scores in pretty much every other subject have declined during that same time period.

Below is a question from the 2010 12th-grade civics assessment which “students performing at the Proficient level … were likely to be able to identify….”

While this is a decent question and is commendable because it forces students to write and explain their answer in an essay format, there is a major difference between it and the test from 1945. That difference is that the latter one seems to rely more on a student’s feelings and opinions rather than factual knowledge.

Students certainly need to form their own opinions and ideas, but in order to do so, they first need to fill their minds with accurate facts and information. If a student is not fully aware of what the Constitutional Amendments cover, then how can he know his rights, much less defend or argue for them? And if he can’t know or defend his rights, how can we expect him to lead our country or know when he himself or those in authority step over the line and need to be put in check?

This is just another example of why we need school choice options such as Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). Because if rigor can’t be found in the current education system, then we need a way for parents to seek to instill that rigor in their children through alternative education avenues.

Answer Key to 1945 Test:

a.(2) b.(1) c.(10) d.(5) e.(3) f.(9) g.(7) h.(13) i.(11) j.(16)

Written by Annie Holmquist for OAK ~ January 9, 2024

~ The Author ~
Annie is a longtime contributor to Intellectual Takeout.

Annie received a B.A. in Biblical Studies from the University of Northwestern-St. Paul. She also brings 20+ years of experience as a music educator and a volunteer teacher – particularly with inner city children – to the table in her research and writing. Annie Holmquist is a cultural commentator hailing from America’s heartland who loves classic books, architecture, music, and values.

In her spare time Annie enjoys the outdoors, gardening, reading, and events with family and friends.

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