Trustees | General Education

Burying our national treasure


Happy Independence Day! Once again, Americans celebrate the unprecedented freedom gained by the brilliance of the Founding Fathers and the blood of those who took up arms to secure it.

If your Fourth of July consists of the usual activities—family, friends, a barbecue, ice cream, fireworks—you’re a Yankee Doodle Dandy, and we hope you have another memorable holiday. These are time-honored traditions.

If you haven’t already done so, consider squeezing in something a little different this year: Take the time to seriously contemplate the sacrifices and risks the Founding Fathers made in the name of freedom, and think about the amazing vision of liberty they spelled out for us in our nation’s most sacred documents, the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

You will be delving into a topic to which millions of our young people are less and less frequently exposed in school.

The evidence of this trend is disturbing: According to the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, an organization committed to academic freedom and excellence at America’s colleges and universities, less than 15 percent of the schools it surveyed require students to take even one class in U.S. history or civics.

ACTA reports that students can graduate from any of the top 20 national schools, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report, without having taken a single course in either subject.

It’s bad enough that a great many American adults know little—or are quite misinformed—about their own system of government.

But when it’s policy to raise generation after generation of civic illiterates, our very freedom is placed in peril.

Who will defend our noble ideals if almost no one even knows what they are anymore? How shall we make wise choices in elections? How will we stand against tyranny from within?

David Azerrad, a senior researcher with ACTA, provided a vivid reminder from history that we’ve been warned before.

“In 1952, President Harry S. Truman spoke at the dedication of the National Archives in Washington, D.C., where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were displayed together for the first time. He warned: ‘The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence can live only as long as they are enshrined in our hearts and minds. If they are not so enshrined, they would be no better than mummies in their glass cases, and they could in time become idols whose worship would be a grim mockery of the true faith.'”

Unlike other nations, America’s unifying thread is not blood or ethnicity. It’s the ideas handed down from the founders, Azerrad wrote.

Those principles have shaped the course of our history, blazed a new trail of freedom and served as a template for dozens of other countries in their own quests for liberty.

No nation in history has been so free, so prosperous, so blessed. The liberties handed down by the founders made it all possible. To let those ideas wither and die is an unforgivable sin.

We urge educational leaders to rethink any policy that de-emphasizes government and history. Those are essential pieces of the American story that must not be relegated to a dusty display in a museum.


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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