EDITORIAL: Ivory-tower failure

America’s universities flunk the citizenship test

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Going to college doesn’t make you a better citizen. That’s the main finding from the latest edition of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s (ISI) Civics Literacy Report. The study, which will be released Tuesday, concludes that American universities have been doing an inadequate job when it comes to preparing students for their civic responsibilities. The report found that the politically active were more likely to rely on self-education and frequently attended religious services.

The study’s authors based their conclusions on a random sample of 2,508 Americans who assessed their engagement in their community. Involvement ranged from basic steps such as registering to vote to more active participation in rallies, donating to a political campaign or volunteering to help someone running for office. The study found no correlation between earning a college degree and the more active forms of participation. In fact, those who had been elected to public office knew less, on average, than did other citizens about American government, history and economics: “Notably, only 32 percent could accurately define the free enterprise system.”

The Founding Fathers realized that the health of a democracy rests on a foundation of proper education. The results of the study, however, lend support to the frequent conservative complaint that denizens of the ivory tower are more interested in proselytizing than fulfilling their role of producing the next generation of an informed electorate. Trendy, politically correct causes dominate today’s classroom instruction, with one far more likely to run into “climate change” and “fair trade” than “how a bill becomes a law.” Real learning takes a back seat, and good citizenship suffers as a result.

It is appropriate that this study will be released on George Washington’s birthday. The report notes that “Washington received very little formal education during his upbringing, and that his primary schooling came by virtue of self-education and his military training, which elevates practical wisdom over abstract logic.” Today, the voice of citizens at town-hall meetings and Tea Party events echoes this vital dedication to practical wisdom and continuous self-education that is key to the future of our republic.

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