Ed Feulner

Even in the depths of the Great Depression, with the economy bottomed out, Americans showed they could still think big. In just over a year, construction crews built a landmark that still stands proud, one recognized worldwide as a symbol of our country: the Empire State Building.

I recently visited the building to speak to an enthusiastic group of King’s College students about the need to return to the principles of our Founding Fathers. Unfortunately, as a new study shows, many students simply aren’t learning what makes America unique. In fact, what they are learning all too often helps divide rather than unite Americans.

This study, titled “The Shaping of the American Mind,” is the latest in an annual series from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI.org), where I’m proud to serve as a trustee.

Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution

There’s no mystery as to why today’s college seniors lack basic knowledge of American history and institutions. Previous ISI reports revealed that schools of higher learning aren’t teaching these principles. At some elite universities the seniors know less than the freshmen. The reports also show that Americans agree colleges should teach students about our shared history and civic principles.

But does knowing the fundamental principles of “the American experiment” influence the beliefs of our citizens? That’s what this year’s report aimed to find out. ISI researchers directed 33 questions to a representative sample of roughly 2,500 Americans. Many questions were taken from U.S. naturalization exams and high-school achievement tests. The report reached some important conclusions.

For example, even though colleges aren’t teaching civic knowledge, it can be learned elsewhere: through religious institutions, patriotic organizations and books such as “We Still Hold These Truths,” by Matthew Spalding of The Heritage Foundation.

And that leads to the report’s second finding. Civic knowledge, however learned, has a broader and more diverse influence on Americans’ thinking than college does.

To cite one example, the report found that having more civic knowledge makes a person “more likely to agree that prosperity depends on entrepreneurs and free markets; but less likely to agree that the free market brings about full employment.” In other words, civic knowledge seems to make one more pragmatic but not more dogmatic. Those are traits Americans will need if we’re to pass along a better world to coming generations.


Ed Feulner

Dr. Edwin Feulner is Founder of The Heritage Foundation, a Townhall.com Gold Partner, and co-author of Getting America Right: The True Conservative Values Our Nation Needs Today .
 
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