The Coming Crisis in Citizenship
The Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a nonprofit education organization "whose purpose is to convey to successive generations of college youth a better understanding of the values and institutions that sustain a free and virtuous society," recently published the study, The Coming Crisis in Citizenship. The highlights:
A study of 14,000 college freshmen and seniors at 50 schools reveals:
  • There is trivial difference between freshmen and seniors in their knowledge of America's heritage.
  • 16 of 50 schools surveyed exhibited negative learning.
  • Overall, seniors failed the civic literacy exam with an average score of 53%.
We are approaching a crisis in higher education in this country, and it has nothing to do with the vocational plans furthered by Margaret Spellings and her Commission on the Future of Higher Education.

Early in our history, before standards, before state oversight, before teacher certification, before broad tax-payer support, America had one of the highest literacy rates in the world. While education was "begun in the home at the mother's side and completed in the fields at the father's side," it produced a culture so loving of liberty that we were willing to fight the greatest military might in the world to achieve that liberty. Great men, often without the benefit of higher education, founded our nation on guiding principles of liberty, argued passionately for them and enshrined them in our Constitution and other founding documents. The Federalist Papers, rarely read even at our most prestigious universities today, were read by the common man. Demonstrating the level of literacy required to create and maintain a republic such as ours, Jacob Douche, the Chaplain of Congress wrote in 1772:
The poorest labourer upon the shore of Delaware thinks himself entitled to deliver his sentiments in matters of religion or politics with as much freedom as the gentleman or scholar.... Such is the prevailing taste for books of every kind, that almost every man is a reader; and by pronouncing sentence, right or wrong, upon the various publications that come in his way, puts himself upon a level, in point of knowledge, with their several authors. Education in Colonial America
Now we scarcely know who they were, what they thought or why we should care. And as we seek to revamp higher education, the only thing that seems to be seriously discussed is how to track every student through a largely private system so that we can know whether or not they remained gainfully employed after graduation. We have left behind the roots of our system which were laid deep enough and strong enough to sustain us even through long periods of neglect and decay.

What are we laying our new foundations upon?

I'd hate to think our schools are functioning exactly as they are meant to function, i.e., as the prime agent of socialization.

Postcard image courtesy of Founding Fathers.

T.F. Stern has some more thoughts on this subject, pointing out the importance of families in instilling values and teaching principles.

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