Painful Truth: U.S. knowledge gap not so strange

Happy National Kerfuffle Day, everyone!

I didn’t know it was NKD either, until I checked the news and saw that a U.S. national civics test showed that 45 per cent of American eighth graders think Canada is either a military dictatorship, has a leader with absolute power, or discourages participation by citizens in public affairs.

Those were three of the multiple choice answers to the question “What do the current governments of Canada, France, and Australia have in common?”

Correct answer: They have constitutions that limit their power.

And hey! At least 54 per cent of kids knew the right answer! That’s more than half! (One per cent left it blank, which calls into question their knowledge of math as much as physics. There’s only four answers, kids, you have a 25 per cent chance of guessing right!)

So when the results got out, the predictable flurry of stories shot through the Canadian media, with that same rueful tsk-tsking almost audible through the text.

Yep, those ’Muricans sure are raising them some uneducated children. Man, imagine not knowing anything about the government of Canada! Their nearest neighbour, longest undefended border, old ally, major trading partner, all of that! How dare they not be apprised of the basics of our system of government! I mean, 23 per cent thought our leaders have absolute power! It’s like they’ve been reading Justin Trudeau’s speeches or something!

Quick, without looking at your phone for a quick Google search, name the president of Mexico.

Okay, how about the head of the Chinese government? India? Indonesia? 

Off the top of my head, I can name one of those. (Joko Widodo, from Indonesia.)

We’re pretty hard on Americans for not knowing more about us. I’ve been very hard on them myself over the years. 

After all, they’re an easy target. Rick Mercer’s old Talking to Americans bits were legitimately funny, and funnier because he wasn’t going after uneducated hicks, he took his schtick to universities and hit up major politicians with his ludicrous questions.

But why should Americans know that much about Canada?

We know a fair bit about America because they’re 10 times our size in population and economy. They’re the centre of the Anglosphere’s entertainment world, pumping out TV, news, internet commentary, magazines, movies, books, and tweets at a pace we will never be able to equal. We absorb this knowledge for the most part passively. It washes over us. We know who the U.S. president is, who the VP is, a little about how their government and courts work, if for no other reason than that because we laughed at The Daily Show last week.

 If we’re going to keep laughing at Americans for not knowing about us, we might as well weaponize the knowledge gap. We need to come up with a set of agreed-upon lies to spread when we go south of the line to buy gas and cheap shoes. I suggest we tell them that our postal workers ride in sledges pulled by polar bears, and that anyone who doesn’t watch 20 hours of hockey a week is fed to starving walruses.

Or, we could cut the Americans some slack. If you don’t know who the prime minister of Belgium is (Charles Michel, says Google) then don’t slam Americans too much for not knowing their Stephen Harpers from their Thomas Mulcairs from their Sidney Crosbys. We’re all ignorant foreigners somewhere.

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