Sunday, December 18, 2011

Only 24% of college graduates know the First Amendment prohibits establishing an official religion for the United States.

That's a finding from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI).  

A comment (6:47pm) on Immoral Minority  led me to ISI's website with a civic literacy test.
First, a random sample of 2,508 American adults of all backgrounds was surveyed, allowing comparisons to be made between the college and non-college educated. They were asked 33 straightforward civics questions, many of which high school graduates and new citizens are expected to know.
 The average score was 49% right answers.  College professors got 55% right.
Of the 2,508 People surveyed, 164 say they have held an elected government office at least once in their life. Their average score on the civic literacy test is 44%, compared to 49% for those who have not held an elected office. (From additional finding.)
But don't gloat too much.  We don't know what level office they held and the 49% - the average - got an F grade from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) which created the test.

One of their major findings was:   College Adds Little to Civic Knowledge.

Red flags are starting to wave for me.  One of the agenda items of the Right has been bashing American colleges and universities - because they've strayed from traditional Western Civilization curriculum and added women, non-whites, and studies of sexuality beyond the missionary position.   Colleges are places where people are supposed to learn how to think independently.   If the quality of this year's roster of Republican presidential candidates is any indication, independent thinking is not a quality conservatives want in the people who vote.

Just like No Child Left Behind was designed for public schools to fail by setting up a testing system that makes it very hard for schools to pass so they can imprint in people's minds that public education as a failure, there appears to be a similar agenda for the college level.  For K-12, this destroying trust in public education is designed to get the public to vote for school vouchers and move public money into private schools.

It appears that part of the motivation of this test is to show that US Colleges are failing.

Is ISI part of this?  I started checking. 

The ISI declares itself "The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism."

A Katherine Forrest, in 2006,  had the same sort of suspicions I'm having and posted Exposing the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.   

ISI's  veneer of objectivity and rationality disappears completely when you find their college rating pages. (You have to look carefully to find at the bottom of each page this note: 
They list ten "Exceptional Schools" and ten "Train Wreck Schools." 

What the train wreck schools seem to have in common is courses on gay and feminist themes and other evidence of what ISI sees as far left ideological intolerance. Here are some examples:

#1 Train Wreck School, Wesleyan University:
". . .Wesleyan has been hollowed out by curricular decay and campus politics. Key requirements can be checked off by a vast array of questionable courses like “The Biology of Sex” (the textbook is a sex manual), “Key Issues in Black Feminism,” and “Queer Literature and Studies.” There is little intellectual diversity in the classroom or elsewhere. Shakespeare is optional for English majors, as is study of the American founding and Civil War for history majors"
 #3 Train Wreck School, College of the Holy Cross:
". . .The sole required religion course need not cover Jesuit, Catholic, or even Christian content: Islam or Buddhism will do. . ."

#5 Train Wreck School, University of California Santa Cruz:
Bastions of fanatical political correctness include feminist studies and also American studies, where representative courses include “Sexual Identities,” “Social Unrest,” and “Criminal Queer.” Santa Cruz boasts that it offers more than a hundred courses each year that focus entirely on race and ethnicity. It might save time simply to count the courses that don’t. The once-tiny Santa Cruz College Republicans chapter has simply disappeared, although there is a libertarian group, Slugs for Liberty. “This is a very liberal campus,” says a student, “[and] religion does not play a role.”
 #6 Train Wreck is Duke, which actually gets high praise for liberal but fair faculty and the quality of research and many programs.  But it gets slammed for:
". . . the infamous lacrosse case of 2006, when an African American stripper falsely accused three Duke lacrosse players of rape—and eighty-eight Duke professors rushed to condemn the innocent students in the Chronicle of Higher Education. As one student tells us, faculty and administrators are still fixated on “race, gender, and class.” In the wake of the “rape” charade, Duke adopted a new, draconian sexual misconduct policy that “can render a student guilty of nonconsensual sex simply because he or she is considered ‘powerful’ on campus,” warned the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. "
 #7 Train Wreck is Bryn Mawr.
"History majors are not even offered—much less required to take—a basic Western civilization class. Many of the college’s humanities courses are dedicated to feminist issues and the politics of victimhood, such as “The Sociology of AIDS” covering the “social construction of AIDS”; “Anxious Masculinity” (an English class); and “African Childhoods,” which provides a “gendered perspective . . . Concerning indigenous cultural practices such as initiation ceremonies and sexual orientation.” Radical groups predominate on campus, presenting a feminist “May Hole” instead of a May Pole, and celebrating Wiccan Sabbats."

#9 Train Wreck is Occidental College.

“Gay Rights in the Era of Obama and Google”

That’s the title of a real, core curriculum course at this urban school, where President Obama went for two years and awakened his political consciousness. Students could find an excellent liberal arts education by carefully picking their courses, if they don’t mind immersion in an almost exclusively liberal, largely intolerant school.
Their study methodology includes frequent references like, "says a faculty member."

What's the common theme for the  top ten "Exceptional Schools"?   Basically, conservatism, marked by traditional curriculum (mostly dead white male authors on the reading list, I'm guessing), religion (Christian) and/or military heritage.

1.  Princeton University -
". . . Of all the elite colleges, Princeton is the least politicized. Issue-driven organizations are diverse and mostly high-minded, and chaplaincies of many denominations are active and faithful. While the faculty overall leans left, most keep their views out of the classroom. The school makes room for the excellent James Madison program, a conservative institute dedicated to American political philosophy. . ."
2.  University of Chicago  -
". . .While some departments are slanted politically, this doesn’t seep into the classroom; students of a wide range of views describe the atmosphere as comfortable and open-minded. Strong disciplines include economics, social thought, political science, and the hard sciences. Chaplaincies are strong here, and opportunities to savor the fine arts abound. The gritty [code for "black"?] neighborhood surrounding the school doesn’t encourage much urban adventure: crime is a real issue. . ."
3.  University of the South
". . .Faculty lean to the left of students—a largely conservative, southern lot—but classroom bias is rare and free discussion the rule. Students form close, lifelong friendships in the charmed, safe isolation of Sewanee’s campus, and alumni are fiercely loyal. Religious life on campus is strong, extending well beyond the school’s official, high-toned Episcopalianism. . . ."
4.  US Military Academy
". . . The discipline and focus imparted through the school’s rigorous Military Program help form many future business leaders. West Point’s core curriculum is excellent, and the art, philosophy, and literature (APL) major provides an in-depth study of Western civilization. History and government majors are particularly strong, focused respectively on military history and the American tradition. . .  Following our tradition of an apolitical military, the school keeps overt ideology out of the classroom, and students avoid partisan politics. Student debate, writing, and arts opportunities are strong. Religious life of many varieties thrives, with several historic chapels and talented choirs."
5.  Pepperdine University -
"This well-heeled, large university that overlooks the beach is affiliated with the Churches of Christ, and remains remarkably true to the entrepreneurial aspirations of its founder and namesake, George Pepperdine. It aims at cultivating a pragmatic graduate who infuses Christian values in a life of leadership. Pepperdine’s interdisciplinary curriculum is strong; its three-course core sequence, Western Heritage, takes students briskly from 30,000 B.C. up through the present. . ."
6.  Baylor University - "the world’s largest Baptist university'
7.  Providence College - " Dominican friars (Aquinas’s order) who are serious about Catholic education"
8.  Texas A&M - "Originally an all-male military academy (it still has a large, influential corps of cadets. . . conservative churches and chaplaincies are thriving"
9.  Gordon College - "New England’s only traditional, Evangelical Christian liberal arts college"
10.  Christendom College -
"Instead of political correctness, there is an absolute expectation of Catholic orthodoxy; debates on campus are among Republicans, anticapitalist agrarians, libertarians, paleoconservatives, and monarchists. Shared premises make such disputes more fruitful."

I'd also note that while there were three colleges I noted on the Exceptional list that had been all male, the Train Wreck list has two all female schools.  

But does all this make the test invalid?  As with No Child Left Behind, you can set up a test that doesn't necessarily have questions that are critical to being good American citizens.  Or a scoring system that guarantees failure.  Some of the questions are clearly important.  Others, while identifying significant points in American history, aren't necessarily indicative, overall, of whether the American public gets an F in civil literacy.  These folks like traditional education, so they make up a test and use a traditional grading scale of >90%= A etc.  But what makes these 33 questions the key ones that lead to the F for the average American?

And I still have trouble with their finding that "College Adds Little to Civic Knowledge" because:
The average score among those who ended their formal education with a bachelor’s degree is 57%, or an “F.” 
Who picked the 33 questions?  Look, I can criticize the low quality of American colleges as well as anyone.  My students complained regularly about the amount of work I expected of them.  And, just in case anyone is wondering, I did way better than the average on the test.  But it was a subject I know a lot about and covered a lot of history I lived through. 

I  agree that Americans know way too little about how government works.  I don't necessarily agree with ISI's reasoning why.  I'd argue it has more to do with the annual assaults on school budgets for the last 40 years or the emphasis on research which focuses faculty attention away from teaching.  Or the overemphasis on college education and away from vocational education.

I would guess that I could pick some 20 somethings in Anchorage who could come up with a similar test, focused on critical modern technical literacy, which the people at ISI would fail. 

If you are interested, you can take their test here.  How well will you score?


  1. 69 year-old high school graduate here plus two years of community college (at age 49), fifty years of real-life experience.

    My score: 78.79%.

    In my mind, the reason for the high score is not necessarily because I am smarter, but I believe that I went to school during eras when a combination of good teachers and more motivated students was generally the rule. I also am a life-long newspaper reader which certainly added to my knowledge base.

    I think it might be interesting to compare the scoring of this test with something comparable that would have been given somewhere between 1955-1965.

  2. Agh! This post generates so many lines of thought for me I can hardly tease a specific thread out to talk about.
    One strand which presents itself is thinking about my own "so, what?" response after finding this so-called civics test a year or so ago. I got an A on it but kept wondering all the way through what so many of the questions had to do with civics literacy, within a meaningful notion of being literate or knowledgable about civics.
    I wasn't engaged enough to track down and flesh out the who and what the outfit ISI was/is but am not terribly surprised at what you found out.
    My parents were teachers, good ones, the type students continually contacted years later and thanked for opening up some piece(s) of the world for them. I grew up surrounded by discussions of how differently different groups of kids learn, what might be said to constitute proficiency, understanding, and knowledge , and how to help kids assemble and learn to use a set of tools which combined a basic, yet comprehensive, grasp of facts with skills to make decisions /judgements about those facts.
    I remember Dad being horrified when the "back to basics" movement started in local school districts (late 60s- early 70s? )- the tack then was to yab on endlessly about useless courses in basket weaving and demand only core courses like reading, writing , and math be taught. The problem was, of course, that the BtB crowd also wanted to gut reading and writing curriculums of materials they deemed useless or subversive to their status quo and science curriculums of ideas which rattled their worldview.
    The attack on post secondary education in the last forever years has always seemed like an extension of the BtB thingy to me.
    This "civics test" should maybe shake up our notions of how well we teach ourselves and our kids about how we organize ourselves publically but the conclusions ISI draws from it are suspect to me. Too many uninspected and shaky assumptions about what a good education can be said to be in the material you found to be for this test to be accepted as a real measure of civics literacy . Too many, way too many.

  3. I scored 93.94% on the test (31/33.) I'm a retired high school social studies teacher, and I noted that there is quite a bit of economic theory on this test. Economics is usually no a part of civics. In most high schools, civics and economics are separate courses.

  4. Ijust took the test:

    You answered 28 out of 33 correctly — 84.85 %

    I am a 68 white female with 2 years of collage. I did better than I thought I would do as I expected to have forgotten things learned so long ago.

  5. It is interesting that you mention politics because I don't think in Hungary universities are influenced by politics. Sometimes some people want to give this impression but I don't think I have been (or I haven't realised) that I was influenced this way.

    My result is 60,61% (20/33) but I couldn't answer questions concerning your constitution and US stuff, only general things.

  6. I got 84.85 %. I'm a 60 year old female, high school graduate, no college. I didn't learn much of this material in school, or remember what I did learn from that long ago. I attribute my grade to a life long love of reading. I learned a lot of history (American & World) during my child rearing days by reading well researched and well written historical fiction. Since the kids have been gone, I've thrown myself into all kinds of non-fiction - religion, anti-religion, politics, science, some economics.
    I agree with the comment about the economics questions - they didn't belong here.

  7. I only got a 75.78% The question about the power to declare war is a little last week aint it. At 55 years with but a HS edjumication.

  8. I got 78.79%. I'm a 47 yr. old white female who dabbled a bit in college but dropped out. I have not taken any Economics or Social Studies classes since 1981.

    I thought that a lot of the questions were odd, and that the test in general did not represent a good general background in Civics.

    I also think that they're lying about the test scores of "college educators". If you made it to college professorship level, you are a "good test taker", and this was a multiple choice test, so pretty dang easy to get a B or C on.

    I had to laugh, as two of the colleges that my science major daughter are considering are on the "Train Wreck" list.

    I will advise her to consult the "Exceptional" list when deciding NOT to date someone.

    Interestingly, a few years ago someone put out a similar internet test on Religion, and as an atheist, I got a much higher score on it than the average Christian. And a lot of it was pure Christian bible reading info. Makes you wonder where most Christians get their actual facts (beliefs) from.


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