The Coming Crisis In Citizenship

Tuesday, October 10, 2006
The Intercollegiate Studies Institute has been running a survey of what college students know about US history and civics. Some of the major findings:

America's colleges and universities fail to increase knowledge about America's history and institutions. There is a trivial difference between college seniors and their freshmen counterparts regarding knowledge of America's heritage. Seniors scored just 1.5 percent higher on average than freshmen, and at many schools, seniors know less than freshmen about America's history, government, foreign affairs, and economy. Overall, college seniors failed the civic literacy exam, with an average score of 53.2 percent, or F, on a traditional grading scale.

Read it and weep (or laugh if you prefer):

  • Seniors lack basic knowledge of America's history. More than half, 53.4 percent, could not identify the correct century when the first American colony was established at Jamestown. And 55.4 percent could not recognize Yorktown as the battle that brought the American Revolution to an end (28 percent even thought the Civil War battle at Gettysburg the correct answer).
  • College seniors are also ignorant of America's founding documents. Fewer than half, 47.9 percent, recognized that the line "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal," is from the Declaration of Independence. And an overwhelming majority, 72.8 percent, could not correctly identify the source of the idea of "a wall of separation" between church and state.
  • More than half of college seniors did not know that the Bill of Rights explicitly prohibits the establishment of an official religion for the United States.
  • Nearly half of all college seniors, 49.4 percent, did not know that The Federalist Papers—foundational texts of America's constitutional order—were written in support of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Seniors actually scored lower than freshmen on this question by 5.7 percentage points, illustrating negative learning while at college.
  • More than 75 percent of college seniors could not identify that the purpose of the Monroe Doctrine was to prevent foreign expansion in the Western Hemisphere.
  • Even with their country at war in Iraq, fewer than half of seniors, 45.2 percent, could identify the Baath party as the main source of Saddam Hussein's political support. In fact, 12.2 percent believed that Saddam Hussein found his most reliable supporters in the Communist Party. Almost 5.7 percent chose Israel.
Apparently there's negative learning going on. If you so inclined you might consider taking their American Civil Literacy Sample Quiz. (ht: Kitchen Table Math)


terrye said...

I always hope the students are pulling someone's leg when I hear about these things.

I wonder if they know that the Confederates were the South and the Union was the North?

How many of them know what the Emancipation Proclamation was?

Or for that matter how many of them know what happened on December 7, 1941?

truepeers said...

Since when is 53% an F? It sure wasn't when I went to school. Standards were tougher in the good old days, I guess. (In my historical studies I once came across a civics-history test that a 1920s fraternity gave to its members (mostly small businessmen) and they failed it miserably - but then Canadian history is much more difficult, i.e. less eventful, than the American variety.

Anyway, the thing about any test is that it often points to the weaknesses of the test authors, not just the students. For example: "an overwhelming majority, 72.8 percent, could not correctly identify the source of the idea of "a wall of separation" between church and state." - my answer to this question would be Jesus, but I don't think that's what they were looking for.

Knucklehead said...


I don't think they're pulling people's legs. They really don't learn anything about US history and civics. For the most part college brats are badly out of touch even with current events. They aren't watching the news or reading the papers and they sure aren't hanging out on the poliblogs and such.

Syl said...

It's not the specific facts or details of history that are lacking so much as the general notion that America was founded on an idea not just on borders and that this idea that begat America is something precious and worth being proud of.

The transnational movement wishes to weaken the sovereignty of America and subsume it to international law.

America is called the Great Satan not because of our military power, nor our culture, because military power can be defeated and much of the West shares our culture. We are the Great Satan because America is based on the idea that all men are created equal. That is what bonds us together, native and immigrant alike.

We are a country not based on specific race nor specific religion, nor based on any construct of separation that informs other nations.

Our sovereign borders simply serve as a safe haven for anyone who shares our founders' ideals which themselves transcend all borders and all peoples across the globe.

The transnational movement rejects this, the Islamo-fascist movement fears it.

Luther McLeod said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Luther McLeod said...

I can not add nor detract from that Syl. Very well said.

terrye said...


Yes that is why American history is all about dead Indians and slavery and war. The rest of it, the revolutiinary ideas upon which it was founded are considered self serving platitudes.

Kind of makes you wonder why some of these folks don't move to Europe.