Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Civic Impact of College - Part One

Are you more knowledgeable than the average citizen?

Our Fading Heritage is the third major study conducted by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute on the kind of knowledge required for informed citizenship.

Its conclusions are appalling. But lets look at the background.

In 2006 and 2007, 14000 college freshmen and seniors were given a multiple-choice quiz containing 60 basic questions about America - the kind of stuff high school seniors and new citizens are expected to know.

The kind of stuff homeschoolers eat for breakfast.

In both years, both groups utterly failed. And worse, the seniors only had a 1.5% advantage over the freshmen. So, basically, this means that after spending a fortune on college, the students do not gain any appreciable knowledge about America's unique form of self-government. Moreover, the more prestigious the college, the LESS likely the seniors were to know more than freshmen about government, economics, American History, and foreign affairs.

This year, ISI decided to take it to the streets. They asked a random sample of American adults to answer a basic test of only 33 multiple choice civics questions, plus a few other additional questions, then analyzed the data in such a way that enabled them to compare the "civic impact of college with other societal factors."

In other words, do colleges help our students become better citizens?

Now for the appalling part. The answer is a resounding NO.

  • 71% of Americans fail the test
  • Fewer than half of all Americans can name the three branches of government
  • Only 24% of college graduates know that the First Amendment prohibits the establishment of an official religion in the US
  • Only 54% can identify a basic description of our free enterprise system
  • Elected Officials score even lower than the general public
Thirty percent of elected officials do not know that "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" are the inalienable rights referred to in the Declaration of Independence. Perhaps this is the reason we have gotten into such a mess.

You can read the whole sad story at the ISI website.

If you are very brave, why don't you take the test yourself and see whether you are more knowledgeable than the average citizen?

Then contrast this with the good news about homeschooling and civics education Homeschooling Grows Up, a report by the National Center for Home Education about behaviors of adults who were homeschooled. According to this report, 76% of those 18-24 have voted in a state or national election within the previous 5 years, compared to 29% of the general US population, and a staggering 95% of those 25-29 have voted versus 40% of the general population.

Now, in the wake of the Obama campaign and his subsequent election, those statistics are probably no longer accurate as far as sheer numbers of younger voters in the general populace are concerned, though a case could still be made about whether those who voted could be considered "informed citizens."

Large numbers of young white voters from elite colleges voted for Obama. Tomorrow's post will examine some interesting information about the "civic impact of elite colleges."

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