Alumni | General Education

Civic Failure in Education

CIVIC FAILURE IN EDUCATION   |  September 16, 2016 by Richard Fulton

Whether you are liberal or conservative, a Trump supporter or a Clinton supporter, you should recognize the basic underlying fact that the American public is seriously deficient in its knowledge and understanding of the American system of government.

This is too often demonstrated by the political communications of Americans, through in-person rallies, social media, letters to the editor or responses to surveys. Their underlying assumptions about American government when giving viewpoints is too often erroneous or muddled. And this is true of many a politician as well.

The fundamental problem is that our education system is simply failing badly at teaching American history and civics to our young people. And this carries over into adulthood.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni has carried out a variety of surveys in the last ten years or so that dramatically demonstrate the lack of basic civic information held by graduates of our high schools, colleges and universities.

One recent survey of 1,100 liberal arts colleges and universities, arguably those that educate our elite since they cost significantly more on the whole than public universities, found discouraging results.

Of these expensive schools only 18 percent required even one course in American history or government.  A 2000 survey found that a majority of students in 55 of these top ranked institutions couldn’t identify basic historic facts and “if graded 80 percent would get a D or F.”

The most recent survey by the ACTA found the following results for college graduates:

Only 20.6 percent could identify James Madison as the Father of the Constitution (most thought it was Jefferson who was not even in the country at the time).

Forty percent didn’t know Congress has the power to declare war.

Only half knew the terms of office of senators and representatives.

Nearly 10 percent said Judge Judy was a member of the Supreme Court.

Only a third knew how to amend the constitution and half thought the president could veto an amendment out of Congress.

One third didn’t know that the Supreme Court is one of the three branches of government.

In this age of honoring our WWII veterans as that number diminishes, only 42 percent of college graduates identified the Battle of the Bulge as occurring during WW II.

Worst of all, one third of college graduates and 46 percent of the population could not characterize correctly the Bill of Rights.

You get the point. Incidentally, a great many U. of Missouri and other state university graduates do not take an American Government or History course. Several of our universities only require one of the two even though state law says each graduate must have both.

How can political candidates for office intelligently argue about legislation and how citizens can affect that legislation when there is so low a level of knowledge and understanding about the process of passing that legislation?

And without this knowledge of our system, too many politicians can get away with all sorts of promises, explanations, and downright lies with impunity.

As the latest ACTA survey surmises: “The grim reality is that (college) graduates continue to show a level of ignorance of America’s system of government just as high school students do.”  Our education system “has had little or no measurable effect on giving students the skills and knowledge they need for effective citizenship.”

It is no wonder that our political system is so screwed up.


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