Press Releases | Historical Literacy

Research: Arizona Campuses Have Flags But Don’t Teach American History

ACTA Urges Governor, Lawmakers to Call for Reform of Public Universities' Curricula
July 24, 2006

WASHINGTON, DC—Arizona’s legislature recently earned national attention by requiring the American flag in all public classrooms. But according to the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, Arizona’s leaders left a much bigger problem unsolved: None of the state’s major public universities requires the study of American history.

“The Arizona legislature’s desire to protect our national heritage is commendable,” ACTA president Anne D. Neal said. “But symbols of America are only valuable when students understand their significance, and we have no reason to believe that Arizona’s students do. The governor and the legislature should urge these institutions to fix this problem.”

On June 20, the Arizona House of Representatives and Senate approved House Bill 2583, which requires the prominent display of an American flag—as well as the Constitution and the Bill of Rights—in every Arizona public school classroom from kindergarten through college. Gov. Janet Napolitano signed the bill into law on June 28.

In response, ACTA conducted a review of course requirements of Arizona’s major public universities—the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, and Northern ArizonaUniversity. This research revealed that not one of the three universities has an American history requirement for undergraduates. Instead, students can fulfill the schools’ loose history requirements with courses like “Human and Animal Interrelationships from Domestication to the Present” (UA), “Fossil Hominids” (ASU), and “Hollywood & the Social Construction of Crime & Justice” (NAU).

ACTA brought these facts to light in a July 12 letter to Gov. Napolitano, the sponsors of HB 2583, and leading Democrats and Republicans in each chamber. ACTA’s letter placedArizona’s situation in a national context, noting that its 2001 study Losing America’s Memory: Historical Illiteracy in the 21st Century proved that most colleges nationwide have similarly loose curricula.

As ACTA’s letter also pointed out, such curricula have consequences. When ACTA polled graduating seniors from 55 of our country’s elite colleges and universities, they displayed virtually no knowledge of American history: More than 75 percent of the students polled could not identify James Madison as the father of the Constitution and 65 percent could not identify Harry Truman as the president at the beginning of the Korean War. Yet 98 percent knew that Snoop Doggy Dogg is a famous rapper and 99 percent could identify Beavis and Butthead as television cartoon characters.

Finally, ACTA’s letter outlines immediate steps that the governor and the legislature can take to remedy this problem. ACTA provided Gov. Napolitano with a draft proclamation that she can issue to call for curricular reform and fight historical illiteracy. The legislators were also urged to adopt a similar resolution.

Trustees at the State University of New York, Virginia Tech, and George Mason have already imposed American history requirements to address the troubling historical illiteracy amongst college graduates.

“Gov. Napolitano and the Arizona legislature obviously appreciate the importance of cultivating an appreciation for America in the leaders of tomorrow,” Neal noted. “That’s why I am sure they will see the importance of having graduates of Arizona’s universities learn about our country’s history.”

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is a national education nonprofit dedicated to academic freedom, academic quality, and accountability. ACTA boasts a nationwide network of alumni and trustees and has issued numerous reports on higher education including How Many Ward Churchills?, Intellectual Diversity: Time for Action, The Hollow Core, and Losing America’s Memory: Historical Illiteracy in the 21st Century.


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.

Discover More