Trustees | General Education

Forgetting the history that binds us together

THE TELEGRAPH   |  July 2, 2010 by David Azerrad

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.”

As we celebrate this Fourth of July, his warning merits our attention.

The evidence showing widespread civic illiteracy continues to mount. Particularly worrisome, is the gradual abdication at our colleges and universities of the responsibility to educate the next generation of citizens.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni has been surveying general education requirements for our “What Will They Learn?” initiative. The results, so far, are alarming:

Nationally, less than 15 percent of the colleges and universities surveyed require their students to take a survey class in American history or government.

And the picture is particularly ugly at the top: You can graduate from any of the top 20 national universities, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report, without having taken a single broad course in American history or government.

America is united—not by blood or ethnicity like other countries—but by the ideas expressed in our founding documents.

It is these ideas that have shaped and guided this country over the course of more than two centuries. We cannot afford to forget them.

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David Azerrad is a senior researcher for the American Council of Trustees and Alumni in Washington, D.C.


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