Kathleen Parker

In today's anti-patriarchal climate, it isn't surprising that the birthday of America's ``Father'' has been reduced to a free day and cheap sheets.

To some extent, Washington might be pleased. Prosperity and freedom, after all, are the happy offspring of America's struggle for independence. Our unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness finds expression each year on the third Monday of February in the linen section of Wal-Mart.

Before you hit the sales, though, a quick question:

In what document do the words ``unalienable rights'' and ``pursuit of happiness'' appear? If you're a recent college graduate, chances are you don't know.

Not to pick on college students -- who can't be faulted for not learning what they haven't been taught -- but recent studies show that our educated youth don't know much about history.

For instance, in a 2005 survey of 14,000 college students conducted by the University of Connecticut, seniors flunked the civic literacy exam with an average score of 53.2 percent. Here's a sample of what seniors didn't know:

More than 53 percent couldn't identify the century when the first American colony was founded at Jamestown; 55.4 percent didn't know that the Battle of Yorktown ended the American Revolution; fewer than half (47.9 percent) could identify the Declaration of Independence as the source for this line: ``We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.''

They weren't much better on more recent events. Fewer than half of college seniors (45.2 percent) knew that Saddam Hussein's base of support was the Baath Party.

Of course, there's no reason to assume that older Americans could do better. Jay Leno's man-on-the-street interviews have disabused us of any fantasy that Joe Blow -- the same fellow driving all those political polls out there -- is fluent in current events.

But shouldn't we expect more from college graduates?

Part of the problem is that many schools don't require students to study history. Another is that schools tend to measure their quality in terms of expenditures, ethnic diversity and class size, rather than by knowledge imparted. Thus, if there's a problem, they don't see it.

Frank Newman, the now-deceased former president of the Education Commission of the States, explained this phenomenon in The New York Times:

``If we start measuring, we will start finding out that you didn't learn ... about the great traditions of Western thought. Then we have a nasty little problem on our hands.''


Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
 
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