A study recently showed that American college students have a poor grasp
of U.S. history and that the nations best colleges and universities are doing
nothing to improve it.
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) commissioned a survey
of college seniors from the nations best colleges and universities. Students were
asked 34 questions about American history. Four out of five flunked the test.
Before blaming the students, read on.
ACTA was appalled by the results. It found that 100 percent of the best
colleges graduate students without requiring a course in American history. A whopping 78
percent of the institutions do not require students to take any history at all.
The consequences? The cartoon characters Beavis and Butthead are known to
more students (99 percent) than the identity of the American general at the battle of
Yorktown, the decisive battle of the American Revolution (34 percent).
Why should anyone be concerned? ACTA said, "Novelist Milan Kundera
once said that, if you want to destroy a country, destroy its memory. If a hostile power
wanted to erase Americas civic heritage, it could hardly do a better jobshort
of actually prohibiting the study of American historythan Americas elite
colleges and universities are doing."
ACTA blames them because they set the requirements that signal to
students, teachers, parents and the public what every educated citizen must know. "If
colleges and universities no longer require their students to have a basic knowledge of
American civilization and its heritage, we are all in danger of losing a common frame of
reference that has sustained our free society for so many generations, " the report
Theres more than enough blame to go around, however. Citizens
themselves should demand that all schools, public and private, teach the nations
Instruction in such an important subject should not be left to popular
culture. Movies like the recently released "The Patriot" are made infrequently
and do little to expand knowledge for viewers with no knowledge of history. Such viewers
dont know if they are seeing 100 percent Hollywood or historical fiction. (Answer:
historical fictionthe British inflicted atrocities like the ones shown in the
Before blaming the students or even universities, readers should use this
lazy Independence Day to score themselves on some of the tougher questions in the survey
as indicated by student scores. Answers are below. The complete survey and report are
available on the Internet at www.goacta.org .
1. Who was "First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his
a. George Washington
b. Woodrow Wilson
c. Dwight Eisenhower
d. Abraham Lincoln.
2. Who was the "Father of the Constitution"?
a. George Washington
b. Thomas Jefferson
c. Benjamin Franklin
d. James Madison
3. Who said, "I regret that I have only one life to give for my
a. John F. Kennedy
b. Benedict Arnold
c. John Brown
d. Nathan Hale
4. What was the source of the following phrase: "Government of the
people, by the people, for the people"?
a. The speech: "I have a Dream"
b. Declaration of Independence
c. U.S. Constitution
d. Gettysburg Address
5. Who was the European who traveled in the United States and wrote down
perceptive comments about what he saw in Democracy in America?
b. Tocqueville (TOKE-ville)
c. Crevecoeur (cre-VA-see aire)
6. Who was the American general at Yorktown?
a. William T. Sherman
b. Ulysses S. Grant
c. Douglas MacArthur
d. George Washington
7. What was the lowest point in American fortunes in the Revolutionary
b. Bunker Hill
c. Valley Forge
d. Fort Ticonderoga
8. The purpose of the authors of "The Federalist" papers was to:
a. Establish a strong, free press in the colonies
b. Confirm George Washingtons election as the first president
c. Win foreign approval for the Revolutionary War
d. Gain ratification of the U.S. Constitution