Higher Quality Family Life Contributes to More Learning about America.
The image of a mother and father engaging their children in lively dinner-table conversation, popularized in forms ranging from Norman Rockwell illustrations to The Cosby Show, has sometimes been mocked as an insensitive idealization that marginalizes lessthan- perfect families. The results of this survey, however, demonstrate (if additional demonstration is needed) that there is deep wisdom in traditional family life.
Higher quality family life contributes to more learning about America. This is especially true when “higher quality” is defined by the type and frequency of conversations parents have with their children, a factor parents can control. Keeping marriages intact also matters.
The Marriage Factor
Especially in light of low average freshmen scores, colleges have a responsibility for advancing students’ knowledge of America regardless of students’ pre-college experience and family background. Nonetheless, the results of this survey should be noted by policymakers and researchers sincerely interested in improving students’ civic knowledge and the general health of American culture.
- Seniors whose parents had intact marriages learned more about America during college than seniors whose parents did not.
- Seniors whose families frequently discussed current events and history learned more—and had higher overall scores—than seniors whose families rarely discussed current events and history.
- Among seniors who are U.S. citizens, those who grew up in homes where English was the primary language learned more— and had higher overall scores— than those who did not. This finding suggests that immigrant parents who want their children to understand America and become engaged in its civic life should strive to learn English and speak it at home. This factor accounts for a gain in civic knowledge more than twice as large as the gain associated with having either a father or mother who graduated from college.
- While seniors learned more if their mother and/or father had attained at least a bachelor’s degree, the gain associated with frequent family discussion of current events and history was more than twice as large as the gain associated with having a father who graduated from college and almost three times as large as having a mother who graduated from college.
When an athlete who works harder and has a greater desire to win defeats an opponent who has better training facilities or even greater natural ability, Americans rightly see it as a reaffirmation of our merit-based society. A similar reaffirmation can be found in the results of this survey. The combined effect of parents staying married, speaking English at home, and frequently discussing current events and history adds 4.82 points to their child’s civic learning score. How parents raise their children matters more than whether the parents graduated from college or where they were born in giving those children the knowledge they need to become good citizens.
|This table shows the relative impact on civic learning associated with five factors related to a student’s family. For example, students from families that frequently discussed current events and history gained 2.32 percentage points more on average than students from families that did not. The values in this table represent the unique impact of each factor on civic learning.|
|Factor||Gain in Civic Learning|
|Frequent family discussion of current events/history||+2.32 points|
|English was primary language||+1.80|
|Father has at least a bachelor’s degree||+0.96|
|Mother has at least a bachelor’s degree||+0.76|
|Parents married and living together||+0.70|
|These are coefficients from a multiple regression analysis that account for the unique influences of the individual student, family, college characteristics, the community surrounding the college, and the student’s college peers.|