Press Releases | Historical Literacy

Americans Remain Ignorant of Their Past

ACTA Releases Resource Guide Promoting the Study of American History
July 4, 2003

WASHINGTON, DC—It’s Independence Day. Do you know what you’re celebrating?

According to a Roper survey conducted by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, the answer for many people is no. Our next generation of leaders—students attending America’s elite colleges and universities—are graduating with a profound ignorance of the history and heritage of this country. Given high-school level history questions, 85 percent of the seniors would have received a D or F. They could not identify Valley Forge, words from the Gettysburg Address, or even the basic principles of the U.S. Constitution.

Alarmed by these results, the U.S. Congress has unanimously adopted a concurrent resolution, calling on trustees, state administrators, and citizens across the country to address America’s historical illiteracy.

Despite this outcry and growing public concern, a study issued by ACTA reveals that colleges and universities have not yet responded to the call. Not a single one of the top 50 national and liberal arts colleges as defined by U.S. News & World Report in 2002, requires a course in American history. And, only 10 percent require any history at all, a drop from 22 percent just two years ago.

In light of this continuing illiteracy, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni today called on governors and state legislatures to reverse this decline and promote the study of American history in their states. To assist them, ACTA is issuing a Resource Guide to Promoting Historical Literacy that includes background information on America’s troubling historical illiteracy and a compendium of outstanding projects and programs in American history. Also included is a toolkit which includes proposed cover letters to governors and state legislators as well as draft proclamations and resolutions for policymakers demanding increased attention to the study of America’s history.

“Our democratic Republic requires the understanding, commitment, and support of its citizens for its long-term health and survival,” ACTA president Anne D. Neal said. “That is why we are releasing the Resource Guide for Independence Day, to draw attention to this serious problem of historical amnesia. As citizens, we can’t stand back any longer. This toolkit allows all of us to contact our governors and legislators to demand attention to America’s historical illiteracy.”

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is a nonprofit educational organization based in Washington, DC dedicated to academic freedom, excellence and accountability.


Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

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