Prestigious Universities Flunk Civic Studies

, Nirmala Punnusami, Leave a comment

The National Civic Literacy Board of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute has just announced the shocking results of its second collegiate study: “Some of America’s most prestigious universities, Yale, Harvard, Cornell, UVA, Brown and Duke, have all flunked basic civic studies.”

These results were analyzed at the National Press Club on Tuesday, September 18, 2007. Present at that discussion, was none other than the President of the ISI, himself, Mr. T. Kenneth Cribb Jr. Also present was the distinguished chairman of ISI’s National Civic Literacy Board, Lt. General Josiah Bunting, and the Honorable Eugene W. Hickok, ISI’s National Civic Literacy Board member and a former deputy secretary of education.

This study was the second one that was done by ISI, and over 14,000 students at 50 U.S. colleges and universities participated. This second study by the ISI reveals that “some of the most expensive universities with the highest paid presidents are among the worst performing in the country,” as they pay little attention to “the teaching of America’s history and institutions to their undergraduate students.” Some of these prestigious universities, which receive some of the largest government subsidies, are the University of Pittsburgh, Cornell, Yale, Princeton and Duke.

According to the president of ISI, what is ironic about the findings of this study is that “the lowest gains in knowledge in America’s history and institutions are found at the elitist universities.” The presidents of these universities receive over a half-million dollars in salaries each year, but obviously they are “simply not doing enough to preserve our traditions of freedom and representative government.”

However, one needs to be fair to the presidents of these universities, as they do not dictate their school’s academic programs. On the other hand, their public pronouncements about what is happening at their colleges and universities can in fact significantly impact the choices made by the faculty members. What is extremely disturbing about the results of this ISI study is that “virtually every institution of higher learning claims some form of citizenship, leadership, or national service in their mission statements. But these are not translated into reality as the results on this study show that “colleges are failing to advance students’ knowledge of America’s history, government, and free market economics and consequently not preparing students to be informed and engaged citizens.”

In addition, this study has also revealed that “smaller regional institutions have done better” and the students have “scored among the highest for civic knowledge gained.” This reaffirms the fact that “prestige doesn’t buy knowledge.”

Besides these major findings, this ISI study also reveals that “American colleges underserve minority students, that “higher quality family life contributes to more learning about America,” and that “American colleges do not teach their foreign students about America.”

In an effort to alleviate this problem dealing with civic studies at colleges and universities, this study has put forward some proposals. Parents and students, taxpayers, legislators, alumni, philanthropists and college trustees are all asked to reflect on their “money’s worth,” and if they are really getting their money’s worth from these institutions.

It is not strange that there is not enough emphasis on American history and institutions in American colleges and universities. When one looks at the whole education system, from kindergarten to university, not enough emphasis is placed on the social studies. The importance of Math, Science and English is highlighted and time is taken from the Social Studies to teach these “important” subjects, as these are the ones that are tested nationally and the test scores for these subjects are looked at to determine the adequate yearly progress of the schools.

So, although “critics have long expressed their concern that the nation’s colleges and universities are not teaching what students need to know to efficiently participate in the American political process” and the most expensive and elite schools are failing to effectively teach American history and founding principles,” it will be some time before major changes can be made.

Nirmala Punnusami is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.