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For the week of July 4 through July 11, 2000

Don’t know much about history? Who’s to blame?

A study recently showed that American college students have a poor grasp of U.S. history and that the nation’s 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 nation’s 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 America’s civic heritage, it could hardly do a better job—short of actually prohibiting the study of American history—than America’s 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 stated.

There’s more than enough blame to go around, however. Citizens themselves should demand that all schools, public and private, teach the nation’s history.

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 don’t know if they are seeing 100 percent Hollywood or historical fiction. (Answer: historical fiction—the British inflicted atrocities like the ones shown in the movie—and worse.)

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 .

1. Who was "First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen"?

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 country"?

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?

a. Lafayette

b. Tocqueville (TOKE-ville)

c. Crevecoeur (cre-VA-see aire)

d. Napoleon

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 War?

a. Saratoga

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 Washington’s election as the first president

c. Win foreign approval for the Revolutionary War

d. Gain ratification of the U.S. Constitution

Answers: (1)a, (2)d, (3)d, (4)d, (5)b, 6(d), 7( c), (8)d


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