What College Graduates Don’t Know About America
When The REV. Martin Luther King Jr. stood at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 and delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, he did not condemn the principles of America’s founding, he confirmed them: “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.”
Nor did King neglect the memory of the president whose marble likeness sat behind him. Echoing the Gettysburg Address, King urged the nation to recall what Lincoln did: “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation.”
From the Birmingham jail that same year, King pointed Americans back to the philosophical roots of Jefferson’s Declaration: “To put it in terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.”
|What College Graduates Don’t Know About America|
|This ranking shows that those who ended their formal education with a bachelor’s degree have significant trouble with questions on the founding and Civil War eras, constitutional themes, and market economics.|
|Rank/Theme of Question||% Correct|
|1.||Free Markets vs. Centralized Planning||16.94%|
|5.||Source of phrase “a wall of separation”||26.28|
|6.||FDR and the Supreme Court||29.74|
|7.||Taxes and Government Spending||31.37|
|8.||Action Prohibited by the Bill of Rights||32.83|
|9.||Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas||33.57|
|10.||Definition of a Public Good||34.12|
|11.||Fiscal Policy for Economic Stimulus||42.99|
|12.||Anti-Federalists and the Constitution||43.77|
|14.||Definition of Free Enterprise||53.47|
|15.||Policy Tool of the Federal Reserve||56.52|
|18.||Power to Declare War||62.66%|
|19.||Three Branches of Government||64.43|
|20.||Definition of a Progressive Tax||64.48|
|21.||Federal Branches and Foreign Policy||67.78|
|22.||U.S. – Soviet Tension in 1962||75.47|
|23.||World War II Enemies||77.71|
|25.||FDR’s Government Programs||79.2|
|26.||Scopes “Monkey Trial”||81.32|
|28.||First Amendment Freedoms||82.22|
|29.||M. L. King’s “I Have a Dream”||85.26|
|30.||Powers of the Federal Government||85.56|
|31.||Susan B. Anthony||87.24|
|32.||Commander in Chief||89.61|
|33.||Declaration of Independence||89.85|
King saw a vital line running through Aquinas, Jefferson, and Lincoln to Americans answering the call of the civil rights movement. The results of this survey today suggest that this line of historical memory King so powerfully evoked is beginning to fade among college graduates.
|College Graduates’ Economic Illiteracy|
|Are College Graduates prepared to deliberate wisely on the free market and public policy? This chart details how graduates did on some fundamental economics questions, and includes the most popular incorrect answer for each question. Whether the question concerns “the Fed,” fiscal policy, trade, or free enterprise in general, “College Joe” appears to be economically illiterate.|
Which of the following is a policy tool of the Federal Reserve?
International trade and specialization most often lead to which of the following?
Free enterprise or capitalism exists insofar as:
Business profit is:
Which of the following fiscal policy combinations would a government most likely follow to stimulate economic activity when the economy is in a severe recession?
Free markets typically secure more economic prosperity than government’s centralized planning because:
- Almost 90% know “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are the inalienable rights referred to in the Declaration. But only 34% know Aristotle and Aquinas would concur in the basic principle that “certain permanent moral and political truths are accessible to human reason.”
- Eighty-two percent can name at least one right or freedom in the First Amendment, but only 24% know the main issue of the Lincoln–Douglas debates was whether slavery should be allowed to expand into new territories.
- Eighty-five percent know King’s “I Have a Dream” speech expressed his hope for racial justice, but only 24% recognize the language of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
Overall, the survey shows that bachelor’s-degree holders tend to know twentieth-century American history better than free-market economics and themes that pre-date the twentieth century, especially constitutional principles and the founding and Civil War eras.
This is partly due to a bias toward twentieth-century themes in pre-college education, and although there is evidence that colleges begin to reverse this bias, earning a bachelor’s degree does not close this significant gap in civic knowledge.
“And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream,” King said at the Lincoln Memorial. “It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.” To keep that dream alive, colleges must do a better job teaching our historical and philosophical foundations.“When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.” —Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.