Civic knowl­edge starts at home

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

Two weeks ago, we ed­i­to­ri­al­ized on the In­ter­col­le­giate Stud­ies In­sti­tute’s re­cently re­leased re­port on the civic knowl­edge of Amer­i­can col­lege stu­dents ti­tled “The Com­ing Cri­sis in Cit­i­zen­ship.” ISI tested more than 14,000 col­lege fresh­men and se­niors from 50 col­leges and univer­si­ties across the coun­try, sur­vey­ing them on their knowl­edge of Amer­i­can his­tory, gov­ern­ment and eco­nomics. The re­sults were stag­ger­ing — the av­er­age score for se­niors was a lowly 53.2 per­cent and for fresh­men was 51.7 per­cent.

Sur­veys such as this one of­ten in­vite skep­ti­cism. One might ask, were the test ques­tions fair? Did they sur­vey stu­dents from a wide range of racial and so­cioe­co­nomic back­grounds? Judg­ing by the in­for­ma­tion made avail­able by ISI, we would con­clude “yes” on both ac­counts. Ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion ob­tained from ISI, out of 6,689 se­niors sur­veyed, 48 per­cent were male, 30 per­cent were mi­nor­ity stu­dents (“Black, His­panic, Asian, multi-racial or other”) and 5.3 per­cent were for­eign na­tion­als. Of the 50 schools that par­tic­i­pated, two are his­tor­i­cally black col­leges: North Carolina Cen­tral Univer­sity and Florida Me­mo­rial Univer­sity. Per­cent­ages of black test tak­ers at th­ese schools were 74 per­cent and 75 per­cent re­spec­tively. The ques­tions on the sur­vey, al­though not avail­able to the pub­lic, cover a vari- ety of top­ics rang­ing from the colony es­tab­lished at Jamestown, Va. to Sad­dam Hus­sein’s Iraq.

The re­port in­cluded ad­di­tional find­ings that bear men­tion­ing. ISI found that fam­ily struc­ture serves as a vi­tal in­flu­ence on a stu­dent’s body of civic knowl­edge. It gath­ered in­for­ma­tion on test tak­ers’ fam­ily back­ground such as “par­ents’ mar­i­tal sta­tus, their ed­u­ca­tion lev­els, and the ex­tent to which par­ents dis­cussed pub­lic af­fairs with their chil­dren.” Not sur­pris­ingly, stu­dents who were raised in two-par­ent house­holds scored higher on the test than those whose par­ents are ei­ther di­vorced or sep­a­rated. In ad­di­tion, ISI notes that “parental ed­u­ca­tion and the fre­quency of dis­cus­sions of cur­rent events are as­so­ci­ated with higher civic learn­ing.” This should en­cour­age par­ents to talk about cur­rent events and Amer­i­can his­tory with their chil­dren. Civic knowl­edge, as with most things, starts at home.

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