Friday, November 21, 2008

America's Report Card

by Daniel Bennett

A - 0.8%
B - 2.6%
C - 7.4%
D - 17.8%
F - 71.4%

These are the scores reported in the 2008 civic literacy test conducted by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. A random survey of 2,500+ Americans tested their knowledge of the country's history and institutions, political structure and economics. The major findings by ISI include:
(1) Americans Fail the Test of Civic Literacy
(2) Americans Agree: Colleges Should Teach America's Heritage
(3) College Adds Little to Civic Knowledge
(4) Television - including TV News - Dumbs America Down
(5) What College Graduates Don't Know About America
And the crowd favorite:
(6) Elected Officials Score Lower than the General Public

Of particular interest to CCAP is the third finding - that colleges add little to civic knowledge. ISI reports that the average score for college graduates with at least a bachelors degree is 57%, versus 44% of non-graduates. Of the 33 questions, college graduates answered 18.9 correctly, versus 14.4 correct answers for non-graduates. ISI claims that a college education adds little value to the civic literacy of Americans. Some of the more astonishing results include:
(a) 36% of college grads can't name all 3 branches of US government
(b) Only 33% of college grads know the Bill of Rights expressly prohibits the establishment of an official religion in the US
(c) Only 54% of college grads can correctly define free enterprise
(d) 18% of college grads can't name a single right of the 1st Amendment
(e) Only 24% of college grads know that slavery was the main issue of the Lincoln-Douglas debates
(f) Only 24% of college grads know that the phrase "government of the people, by the people, for the people" came from Lincoln's speech
The US has a rich history of prosperity, due to the freedoms and liberties provided by our founding fathers and other great leaders. It would seem that these traditions are in danger if we fail to do more to increase the civic literacy of our citizens. More than 70% of Americans believe that colleges are responsible for teaching America's Heritage to future leaders of this country. The miserable results of ISI's survey should open some eyes to the greater societal problem and motivate our nation's educators and policy makers to take action.

Some groups are already taking action, such as the Public Interest Institute in Iowa, which is researching the curricula of all the colleges in the state to develop a checklist of civic topics covered. Many institutions are teaming up with ISI to develop a curriculum that focuses on civic education, including 8 year old Patrick Henry College. If you are a parent or student and are concerned about your civic education, then visit for a report on the schools that you are considering.

Finally, you can put your civic literacy to the test here.

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