WASHINGTON, D.C. – A survey of recent U.S. college graduates shows nearly 10 percent think Judge Judy is on the Supreme Court.
Nearly 60 percent of those surveyed didn’t know how the Constitution is amended, and almost 40 percent didn’t know Congress can declare war. More than 60 percent of those polled also thought Thomas Jefferson – not James Madison – is the “Father of the Constitution,” the American Council of Trustees and Alumni report.
“Many of the figures may actually understate how poorly our colleges are doing because older respondents performed significantly better than younger ones,” according to a report released by the group this week titled “A Crisis in Civic Education.”
“For example, 98.2 percent of college graduates over the age of 65 know that the president cannot establish taxes – but only 73.8 percent of college graduates aged 25-34 answered correctly.”
Additionally, “When asked to identify the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, one-third of Americans could not name a single right; 43% could not even name freedom of speech as one of those rights,” the report notes.
The problem starts in public high schools that are placing less emphasis on civics education than in the past, and results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress show it’s having an impact.
In 2010, NEAP test results showed that while nearly all high school seniors studied civics, less than a quarter scored proficient or above. A staggering 36 percent did not have even a basic understanding, and couldn’t “describe forms of political participation available in a democracy” or “provide simple interpretations of nontext-based information such as maps, charts, tables, graphs, and cartoons,” according to the report.
That was before NEAP officials cut the civics portion from the test in 2014 citing budget issues.
Previous ACTA polls show the most recent survey is part of an ongoing trend of college graduates who are increasingly ignorant about government.
“A 2014 ACTA survey found that one-third of college graduates were unaware that FDR spearheaded the New Deal, and nearly half did not know that Teddy Roosevelt played a major role in constructing the Panama Canal,” according to the new report. “A survey published early in 2015 found that over one-third could not place the Civil War within the correct 20-year time frame.
“When surveys repeatedly show that college graduates do not understand the fundamental processes of our government and the historical forces that shaped it, the problem is much greater than a simple lack of factual knowledge. It is a dangerous sign of civic disengagement.”
“Our country depends upon an educated populace; and while civic activity and service learning are important, they simply cannot substitute for substantive learning about our history and government,” ACTA President Anne D. Neal said in a statement.
“It’s time that colleges and universities replace their anything-goes approach to the curriculum with specific subject-matter requirements that will empower America’s next generation of leaders.”
The report concludes with a simple recommendation for American universities: require that students understand American history and government before they graduate.
“One thing they must not do is to believe that freshmen come to college with an adequate knowledge of American history and government,” the report said.
“The evidence of the NEAP tests and the evidence of the civic illiteracy of college graduates are compelling and conclusive. It is dishonest for a college or university to pretend that its students do not need further coursework in a subject so crucial to the future of this nation.”