Students & Parents | General Education

Losing American history at California State University

ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER   |  May 2, 2019 by Nathaniel Urban

The study of United States government and history is rapidly disappearing from general education programs at America’s colleges and universities. Out of over 1,100 four-year institutions examined in What Will They Learn, a report issued by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, only 17% require a survey course in U.S. government or history.

Adding to this unfortunate trend, a new faculty proposal at the California State University system would reduce the current six-credit requirement in U.S. government or history to three credits at all 23 of its campuses. Historians across the CSU system, however, have cogently argued that three credits will not suffice to expose students to the rich legacy of America’s major events, political institutions, and social movements.

CSU’s faculty proposal runs counter to the vision of the creators of the CSU system. The institution is required by both state law and an executive order within the CSU system to provide students with a thoughtful and rigorous examination of U.S. history, the Constitution, and American ideals. It proudly joined a handful a handful of states—Texas, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Nevada—that have similar laws mandating the study of U.S. government or history.

CSU has a special place in the state and region that it must not lose. Its current six-credit requirement is a model for other institutions to adopt. Other notable institutions in the state, such as Stanford University, the University of California, and the University of San Diego, have not made this a priority. CSU is also one of the last state universities in the western region that prioritizes this vital area of study. It must not forfeit this very special status.

America’s Founding Fathers understood that the success of their new nation depended on an educated and informed citizenry. Upon exiting the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Benjamin Franklin was asked, “Well, doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” He famously responded with, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Thomas Jefferson, in a 1789 letter to Richard Price, observed, “Wherever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government.”

The success of the American experiment continues to depend on its citizens and their understanding of American principles and institutions. A change of CSU’s six-credit requirement to three credits not only has a negative impact on students’ knowledge but degrades the civic health of the nation. The California State University system’s own laws indicate that it takes the study of U.S. government and history seriously enough to equip tens of thousands of students with the knowledge they need to be tomorrow’s civic leaders. We can only hope that CSU’s proposal to reduce its American history and government requirement goes down in the history books as an ill-advised and soundly rejected option.

Nathaniel Urban is a program officer for the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA).


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