The Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) documents the growth, or lack thereof, of civic literacy in higher education in its annual American Civic Literacy report.
The 2009 report, entitled “The Shaping of the American Mind: The Diverging Influences of the college Degree and Civic Learning on American Beliefs” highlights the shocking disconnect between traditional views and a standard education.
In the past studies, ISI has administered civic knowledge tests on topics such as American history, government, and economics, and has found that the average college freshman, as well as the average college senior has failed the test. Students from some of the top ranking schools across the Nation failed, including East Coast Ivies.
This time, ISI also extended testing to American adults. In a random pool of approximately 2,000 persons, both those with and without college degrees, 71% failed the exam. If being a college graduate does not contribute to a better ranking, then the question becomes what does affect greater civic knowledge?
The results can all be viewed at ISI’s website for this report, but here is a quick three-point recap of the findings.
First major finding: “While college fails to adequately transmit civic knowledge, it influences opinion on polarizing social issues.” College graduates cannot answer a question about the Gettysburg Address, but they are more than ready to take sides, and usually to the left of center, on issues like same-sex marriage and abortion-on-demand.
Second major finding: “Compared to college, civic knowledge exerts a broader and more diverse influence on the American mind.” That is, familiarity with civic ideas helps a person think independently, and furthermore inclines them to agree with free thinking ideas. Without civic knowledge people will likely deny that prosperity comes of the free market.
Third major finding: “Civic knowledge increases a person’s regard for America’s ideals and free institutions.” An understanding of civic knowledge imparts a sympathy and enthusiasm for typically American ideas. People with greater civic knowledge are more likely to admit that the Founders and their writings are still relevant; they will affirm that free enterprise and capitalism do lead to prosperity, and that religious ties are not trivial.
But how are college students turning towards a more liberal point of view? ISI posits that it is our college professors, who have been themselves “liberalized,” who encourage this disregard of civic knowledge, whether it is implicitly or explicitly done. By not teaching the Founding principles, those of politics, virtue, and good government, college graduates are passing through university without receiving the civic education George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Ben Franklin advocated.