"If you can read this, thank a teacher," says the bumper sticker on the car in front of me. But literacy is more than the ability to read a bumper sticker. It also includes the accumulation of basic knowledge combined with a way of thinking that allows an individual to lead a life that is personally productive and contributes to America's health and welfare.
For the second year in a row, America's elite universities and colleges have failed to rise above a "D plus" on tests of basic knowledge about civics and American history, maintains a study commissioned by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute's (ISI). In 2005, ISI contracted with the University of Connecticut's Department of Public Policy (UConnDPP) to administer tests of basic historical and civic knowledge to 14,000 students at 50 top schools, including Yale, Harvard, Cornell, the University of Virginia, Brown and Duke. The survey found that students "were no better off than when they arrived in terms of acquiring the knowledge necessary for informed engagement in a democratic republic and global economy." Since an education at top colleges can cost as much as $40,000 a year, it would appear that those paying the bill are being cheated.
ISI's final report entitled "The Coming Crisis in Citizenship: Higher Education's Failure to Teach America's History and Institutions," presented four pivotal findings:
1. The average college senior knows very little about America's history, government, international relations and market economy. Their average score on the civic literacy test was 53.2 percent. "No class of seniors scored higher than 69 percent, or D plus."
2. Prestige doesn't pay off. "An Ivy League education contributes nothing to a student's civic learning. Š There is no relationship between the cost of attending college and the mastery of America's history, politics, and economy."
3. Students don't learn what colleges don't teach. "Schools where students took or were required to take more courses related to America's history and institutions," says the ISI, "outperformed those schools where fewer courses were completed. The absence of required courses in American history, political science, philosophy and economics suggests a negative impact on students' civic literacy."
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