by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Recently, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) released a major report: “The Crisis in Civic Education.” ACTA’s curricular survey of over 1,100 colleges and universities shows that only 18 percent of them require students to take a course in U.S. history or government. In secondary education, the results are equally dismal. In 2014, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) revealed through their civics test that one in four high-school seniors did not have “proficient” civic knowledge. Moreover, over one-third of 12th-grade students did not have “basic” knowledge of American civics. The NAEP governing board has since shot the messenger that brings such bad news by eliminating the high school civics test.
The report documents the appalling consequences of our educational failure. Less than 20 percent of American college graduates knew what the effects of the Emancipation Proclamation were; nearly half could not identify the correct term lengths of Congress; and almost 10 percent thought Judith Sheindlin “Judge Judy” served on the Supreme Court. …
… Without sacrificing academic freedom, colleges and universities must uphold their responsibilities to the public by cultivating curricula that prepare students for engaged citizenship. They must hire faculty who have expertise in America’s military, diplomatic, and constitutional history. Furthermore, state legislatures should follow the examples of Nevada, Oklahoma, Georgia and Texas, whose governing bodies have stipulated that their states’ public institutions require the study of American history and government.
An engaged citizen must understand all the triumphs and tragedies that comprise our complex history and identity. Robert Penn Warren, citing Polish author Adam De Gurowski, said that “America is unique among nations because other nations are accidents of geography or race, but America is based on an idea. Behind the comedy of proclaiming that idea from Fourth of July platforms there is the solemn notion, Believe and ye shall be saved. That abstraction sometimes does become concrete [and] is a part of the American experience — and of the American problem — the lag between idea and fact, between word and flesh.”
America’s “lag between idea and fact, between word and flesh” is the crux of her identity. An honest and comprehensive study of her history and constitution is the only guarantee of the cultivation of an informed electorate.