As the fathers of our nation finished the business of establishing our republic, many departed Philadelphia for their home states and helped establish colleges and universities designed to cultivate leaders for the nation's future. The Founding Fathers knew that free people aren't born—they are made. Dr. Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, observed: "The business of education has acquired a new complexion by the independence of our country. The form of government we have assumed, has created a new class of duties to every American."
Two centuries later, however, many observers are asking this question: Do American colleges and universities provide students with that knowledge about America's history and institutions which is so necessary for responsible citizenship? There are serious concerns that colleges and universities no longer provide an adequate education in the arts of citizenship. Recently, for example, Harvard University President Derek Bok cited the following warning in his book, Our Underachieving Colleges:
The American Political Science Association Task Force on Civic Education . . . has declared it "axiomatic that current levels of political knowledge, political engagement, and political enthusiasm are so low as to threaten the vitality and stability of democratic politics in the United States."
Compounding the situation is the way in which universities measure themselves. Universities measure inputs rather than outputs—per-capita expenditures, the ethnic diversity of the student body and faculty, the number of volumes in the library, and class size—everything except what students actually learn. In a report issued last year, the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) found that higher education's assessment of outcomes was "spotty" and that there was "no national data" on assessment of "civic responsibility and engagement."
Because there is no comprehensive and recurring testing of outputs—what graduates learn from four years of college—the public lacks the information needed for rational participation in the higher-education marketplace. Moreover, too many college administrators who benefit from this distorted marketplace do not want the public to know how little is being taught about the underpinnings of America's history and institutions. As the late Frank Newman, former president of the Education Commission of the States and head of the Futures Project at Brown University, in discussing our colleges and universities, said in the New York Times:
The real reason we don't test is, we would rather not know. . . . If we start measuring, we will start finding out that you didn't learn . . . about the great traditions of Western thought. Then we have a nasty little problem on our hands.
The Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) decided to go inside higher education to determine what is being taught about America's history and institutions. This report presents, for the first time ever, scientific evidence that reveals how well American colleges and universities—including some of our most elite schools—add to, or subtract from, students' learning about America's history and institutions.* We think you will be as surprised as we were by the results of our research.
A number of thoughtful, distinguished educators provided valuable counsel in the design of this project. These included professors such as Harvey Mansfield (Kenan Professor at Harvard University), Robert George (McCormick Professor at Princeton University), and Wilfred McClay (SunTrust Bank Professor at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga), as well as national educational policymakers, including Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities Bruce Cole and former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Eugene Hickok. We are grateful for their insights and encouragement.
By producing these findings year after year, ISI will provide a continuous flow of authoritative evidence that can be used to develop solutions that will strengthen the study of America's history, government, foreign affairs, and market economy. This report is the first step in helping our universities and colleges restore their mission to prepare the nation's future leaders by teaching them America's history and founding principles. We hope you will join us in this monumental task.
T. Kenneth Cribb, Jr.
Intercollegiate Studies Institute
Lt. General Josiah Bunting III
National Civic Literacy Board
* Of the 50 institutions surveyed, the University of Connecticut selected 25 as part of a stratified random sample of colleges and universities to ensure a representative sample of colleges and universities across the United States. The other 25 were chosen from among the most recognized and often prestigious campuses in our nation. See the appendix for additional details on the survey methodology.