Students & Parents | General Education

Have our colleges failed us?

KINGSPORT TIMES-NEWS   |  December 1, 2017 by Ned Jilton II

Students at Texas Tech University did a project to see what the students there knew about the United States. Sad to say many students couldn’t answer questions such as who won the Civil War, who fought in the Revolutionary War or what years they were fought.

These students then repeated the project at George Mason University with the same results.

Videos of these projects, and many more just like them, are posted all over the internet and, sadly, they all show the same results. Many college students in this country are grossly ignorant of our nation’s history, its meaning and its importance.

A letter I recently received from one of the nation’s leading historical preservation associations, the Civil War Trust, featured some stunning facts on this issue.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, also know as the nation’s report card, shows that just 18 percent of eighth-graders in the nation scored at or above the “proficient” level in history.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni found that less than one-third of the top 75 colleges and universities ranked by U.S. News and World Report magazine even require U.S. history as a graduation requirement for history majors.

That same survey found that of more than 1,100 liberal arts colleges and universities, only 18 percent require students to take even one basic course in American history or government.

The letter goes on to point out that to fulfill their history requirement, students at Williams College can take “Soccer and History in Latin America,” at Swarthmore College they can take “Modern addiction: Cigarette smoking in the 20th Century” and students at the University of Connecticut can take “Youth Culture in America.”

Just like the students at Texas Tech, the Civil War Trust noted that a survey published in 2015 found that more than one-third of new college graduates could not place the Civil War within the correct 20-year time frame.

In addition, a study in January 2016 found that fewer than 20 percent of college students surveyed could accurately identify what the Emancipation Proclamation actually did.

This failure in educating our youth in U.S. history with the resulting ignorance could put our country at risk.

With no knowledge of this nation’s history — the sacrifices, hardships, failures and successes of this country — national identity is diminished and national unity is lost. Thus we pull apart from each other.

This division is already beginning to manifest itself in the form of groups of mostly college students destroying historical monuments of all kinds — Civil War, American Revolution and past presidents to name but a few — while shouting things like “not my country” or “f–k your flag.”

As Abraham Lincoln said during his debate with Stephen Douglas, “A house divided cannot stand.”

If we continue to allow a lack of knowledge of our history to rob us of our national identity and the division gets wider, we will lose our ability to work together to solve this nation’s problems.

Furthermore, how can we expect our young adults to make wise decisions for this nation’s future when they have no grasp of the people, reasons and principals behind such documents as the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution or the Bill of Rights?

Think about it.


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