Posted by: bridget | 2 October 2006

ISI Report on Civic Literacy

The Intercolligiate Studies Institute has published its findings re: civic literacy on college campuses (or lack thereof). Not surprisingly, the results are dismal. Fourteen thousand freshman and seniors were surveyed; the idea was to measure what students learned in high school and what they learned in college regarding basic civics and citizenship.

The results:

  • 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.

Negative learning: Most interestingly, students at the top universities exhibited negative learning – they had less civic knowledge at the end of their college careers than at the beginning. Students at Grove City College, Rhodes College, and Calvin College exhibited the largest increase in civic learning during their undergraduate years. These students tended to enter school with less civic knowledge than their Ivy League peers, but exited with more civic knowledge.

The Pachyderm must ask: how can colleges, with a straight face, require students to take extensive foreign language requirements, non-Western civilization, and fine arts, but not require their students to know the fundamentals of their own country? If students were arriving with adequate knowledge, it would make sense to not require more coursework, much as it would be silly for MIT to require that all of their students take algebra. Of course, this leads the pachyderm to wonder why accrediting agencies will require school integration, gender parity, non-discrimination, and the like, but not require that students actually have a clue about, oh, the purpose of the Federalist Papers. Universities, in their rush to be politically correct and to offer a varied curriculum, have abdicated their basic responsibility and primary goal: to educate their students.

Social Darwinism: ISI’s study shows that students who have the most civic knowledge are more likely to register to vote, to actually vote, and to participate in the civic process (civic learning is positively correlated with civic involvement). Are the notoriously liberal elite schools only producing students who do not participate in our democratic republic – obviously to their own detriment? The more traditional, conservative types – those who believe that knowledge of Western civilization is fundamental to an education – will continue to increase their relative voting power (as discussed in previous blog). Result? The best way for the ivory tower liberals to avoid going the way of the sabertooth tiger is to ditch the politically correct curriculum.

Family Structure: Children with married parents/from intact families exhibited higher civic knowledge than their peers and children of educated parents scored better. Roughly 28% of the students in the survey have divorced or separated parents. The sad thing is how poorly students from the elite schools fared in light of this: students from elite schools are disproportionately from intact, educated families… they start with a leg up and still manage to fail their students. All this for $200,000!



  1. I’m sorry I didn’t take the time to read this. You always were very wise and entertaining for a young person. Please forgive my foolishness.

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