Acton Institute Powerblog

Colleges and Universities Fail at Teaching American Civics

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“Is American higher education doing its duty to prepare the next generation to keep America free?” Apparently not, according to researchers at the University of Connecticut’s Department of Public Policy (UConnDPP), in a study commissioned by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s (ISI) National Civic Literacy Program.

In a survey of 14,000 freshman and seniors at 50 colleges and universities across the country, every school scored poorly. Also, college seniors, sadly, scored little better than freshman. The average senior score was a failing 53.2%; the average freshman score was 51.7%. In fact, no school scored higher than a D+. The top ten school are listed below:

1. Harvard University 69.56%
2. Grove City College (PA) 67.26
3. Washington & Lee University (VA) 66.98
4. Yale University 65.85
5. Brown University 65.64
6. University of Virginia 65.28
7. Wheaton College (IL) 64.98
8. University of Pennsylvania 63.49
9. Duke University 63.41
10. Bowdoin College (ME) 62.86

A link to the rankings of the fifty schools in the survey are found here. My alma mater, Ole Miss, scored 36th, and Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI ranked 21st.

Some shocking or not so shocking analysis is quoted below, directly taken from the American Civic Literacy Website. You can also examine the entire website for a treasure trove of facts, findings, and analysis.

Students were asked 60 multiple-choice questions to measure their knowledge in four subject areas: America’s history, government, international relations, and market economy. The disappointing results were published in the fall of 2006 in The Coming Crisis in Citizenship: Higher Education’s Failure to Teach America’s History and Institutions.

The website declares, “This report is not designed to tear down American higher education, but to hold it accountable.” After taking the quiz myself, I scored a 93.33 %, which is 56 out of 60. You can take the quiz here, and see how you measure up against American college students.

In an appropriate quote also taken from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute website, John Quincy Adams, then a state senator, praised the pilgrims of Plymouth Rock:

Among the sentiments of most powerful operation upon the human heart, and most highly honorable to the human character, are those of veneration for our forefathers and of love for our posterity. They form the connecting links between the selfish and the social passions,” he said. “Respect for his ancestors excites in the breast of man, interest in their history, attachment to their characters, concern for their errors, involuntary pride in their virtues. Love for his posterity spurs him to exertion for their support, stimulates him to virtue for their example and fills him with the tenderest solicitude for their welfare.

Ray Nothstine Ray Nothstine is Associate Editor at the Acton Institute, and Managing Editor of Religion & Liberty. In 2005 Ray graduated with a Master of Divinity (M.Div) degree from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. He also holds a B.A. in Political Science from The University of Mississippi in Oxford. Before coming to Acton, Ray worked as a free-lance writer for several organizations, including the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He gained ministry experience in churches in Mississippi and Kentucky. After college, he also served on the staff of U.S. Congressman Gene Taylor (D-Miss) in Gulfport in 2001-02. The son of a retired Air Force pilot, Ray has also lived in Okinawa, Philadelphia, New England, Hawaii, and Egypt.

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