The recent CPAC conference showed us that the conservative movement is powered, in part, by the students and young leaders who keep important political issues front and center on their respective campuses. A majority of the people who attended the conference were young people, and it was clear they took home a great wealth of knowledge about our founding principles, our political system and our economy. While it is certain that these students are well versed in these subject matters, it may not be true for their peers back on campus.
On Monday, February 22, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) conducted a panel discussion at The Heritage Foundation and discussed their recent studies on how well American colleges teach the political and economic principles that our nation was founded on. The 2007 and 2008 studies tested the civic literacy of respondents through questions on American history, politics and economics. The results were disturbing:
• Overall, college seniors failed the test.
• College seniors scored only slightly higher than their freshman counterparts overall.
• “Negative Learning” (where freshman score higher than seniors) occurs at Duke, Cornell, Princeton and Yale.
• Only 48% of Americans can correctly identify the 3 branches of government.
If students aren’t able to pass a basic test on politics and economics after earning a degree, what are they taking away from their time on campus? ISI extended its study in 2009, and the statistics show that the college experience influences people heavily on social issues:
• College graduates are more likely to support same-sex marriage and abortion on demand.
• College graduates are less likely to believe in school prayer and the belief that a someone with a good work ethic will achieve success.
• Those with college degrees tend to be further left on the ideological scale.
Progressive social ideas seem to be more pervasive than founding principles in our nation’s intellectual institutions. Our founding documents and the principles that the young students at CPAC learned about are too often neglected. Let’s hope the next generation educate themselves on our shared history and do not discount the value of our founding documents for our nation’s future.
ISI’s study has shown that civic knowledge influences people’s opinions on a wider range of issues including American ideals and institutions, the economy, higher education, culture and society, and public policy. Greater civic education, whether gained at a college or independently, helps people understand the institutions that help our country operate. It’s time for our universities to see the benefits of a greater civic education and begin requiring classes with civic content.
Nick Taddeo is a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm