Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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We Don't Need No College Education?

Of course, I'm being somewhat facetious with that title, but it seems there's an unfortunate and large measure of truth in it anyway.  When it comes to measuring civic literacy and engagement, this new study from ISI suggests that there is absolutely no correlation between having a college degree and demonstrating a very basic civic literacy.  Over at NRO's blog, Phi Beta Cons, Jason Fertig takes note of the study and argues that it is more proof positive that today's colleges and universities--with all their focus on professional specialization--are failing to produce graduates with even a basic idea of what constitutes a well-rounded education.  Despite claims to the contrary in their mission statements, most colleges today do next to nothing to encourage active citizen engagement--and this demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of "education."  Job training, maybe.  But "education"?  Hardly.   

There are exceptions, of course.  I'd be willing to take the easy bet that Ashbrook Scholars upon completing just one year (though, certainly, after four) would pass this test at the "Philosopher King" level.  And with respect to this test of civic engagement, a quick sampling of Ashbrook alumni rolls will prove Ashbrook graduates well within the "Founding Fathers" ranks. 

Cheering as this exception is (and perhaps a few others that we could add to a pretty small list), it's time for engaged citizens to stop diddling and scolding when these appalling statistics come out and really begin demanding serious answers to these questions: Is this any way to run a country?  How are we supposed to preserve our liberty when so many of our citizens have no concept of what constitutes the substance of it?  Can a person honestly call himself "educated" when he has not acquired even a basic understanding of the nation in which he deems himself a citizen?  Is a college education that does not equip its graduates to grapple with a quiz this basic, worthy of the name?  Am I going to be a sucker and pay for something like that when my kid wants to go to college?

I say it's time to starve the beast.  If you have children contemplating college in the next few years and the colleges you examine seem to do nothing to advance civic literacy, ask yourself whether the sacrifices you're going to make to pay for this thing called an "education" are really worth it?  I submit to you that if a school can't get this much right, it probably isn't getting much else right, either. 
Categories > Education

Discussions - 19 Comments

In the Stupid State some of us call education the department of welfare and entitlements. Half of the Stupid State's budget is spent on education. One half of that budget goes to K-12 and the other half to higher education. 80 percent of the budget for both the k-12 and the higher education is salaries, pensions and benefits. The Stupid State spends $12,000 per child per year. When your child arrives on the first day of school (elemenatry mostly) you are handed a two-page list of supplies that you as a parent must purchase. The list includes pens, pencils, crayons, glue, paper towels, binder paper, notebooks, sparky glue, construction paper, kleenex, scissors, paper clips, staplers, staples, tape, white out, etc etc. You all get the picture. This runs the parent anywhere from $50 to $100. This is usually for the first few months, because by the middle of the year they hand you another list. Then there is the endless requests for things to sell to raise money for classrooms of kids to go on field trips as well as for reading books, etc. etc. Again you get the picture. Couple this with the fact that the Stupid State's testing and proficiency scores are in the toilet and one out of three high schoolers drop out of school, one begins to wonder - what use is the public school system? Answer: Welfare, Entitlments and the promise to vote for whoever (Jerry Brown?) that will keep the welfare and entitlements coming.....

Good god, Julie, if that ISI test is some sort of standard, that's just abysmal. Why should it require a year of Ashbrook indoctrination? Perhaps 4 years? Laughable.

The questions are incredibly easy. I scored at Philosopher-King level and I can say with some confidence that I could have done so BEFORE completing 4 years at my PUBLIC high school full of unionized teachers.

Yeah it is a Guardian test, there are no multiple choice tests for philosopher kings.

What is the----- Doctrine mentioned by------, in-----?

Parents are generally wise to procure college education for their children. Why? Well, because employers use the degree to screen applicants -- it's the new work permit or union card. Employers are pretty limited in what they can use to make employment decisions, and the college degree is LEGAL and indicative or sticktoitiveness and some level of intelligence. No matter how poor a "buy" college education may be in objective terms, it's not going away as the gold standard for employability.

I agree with you, Craig. It is an abysmal standard. And yet it is one that, apparently, way too many with a college degree can't meet. Personally, I think there's no excuse for passing the 8th grade without being able to pass this test. But I should think you and I could find common cause for demanding more from our colleges and universities (to say nothing of our high schools) with respect to civic education. Whatever your politics, all must understand that a citizenry this uninformed about their institutions is likely not capable of preserving its liberty for long.

The fundamentals of history, geography, and civics are properly taught in primary school. This can be elaborated upon in secondary school among those students who opt for an academic rather than a vocational program and elaborated upon further in tertiary institutions. The trouble is that tertiary education is already bloated with distributional requirements. Students and their families are there on their own account and should be allowed to follow a course of study congruent with their occupational goals. For three students in five, that will mean eschewing the arts and sciences.

Your problem is likely not insufficient attention to these subjects. To some extent, the problem is the lack of an orderly and sequential curriculum in the realm of history, geography, and civics. That can be corrected. What cannot be corrected is lack of interest in retaining civic knowledge. When I was involved in local politics (the better part of a generation ago), three-fourths of the adult population was willing to tell the pollster they pay no mind to public affairs. About two-thirds could not have picked the federal Secretary of State out of a police line-up. A deficit of schooling is not your problem.

When American parents see the evil of sophistic education as clearly as Strepsiades did, there will be reform in higher education. The job training students get isn't worth the education they don't get, not to mention the indoctrination they DO get.

You mean, like, the education that Pheidippides got from like, Socrates?

I would love to hear a discussion/debate about the definition of what a good civics education would look like, between the relevant NLTers and Ralph Nader, Dennis Kucinich, and Glenn Greenwald (just off the top of my head).

It's clear as day even from that ISI "test" that the idea is that a proper civics education would result in little more than Republican / Tea-Bircher voters who would ostracize those with the slightest impulse leftward as akin to child rapists. That's the sole point, really.

Every civilization MUST teach its high culture -- the blueprint of its ultimate purpose and ambition (which I think you decry as "tea-Bircher"). On the other hand, I for one also think some healthy criticism of American history, governmental structure, and the bedrock assumptions of our civilization are appropriate (e.g., American's treatment of the Indians, the failure of States as sovereign entities). A balance is called for, but that's NOT what we are getting in American education today. It's grievance and critique 24/7, and our civilization will fall as a result. Why sacrifice or struggle to reform something so corrupt?

Look at the Japanese. You'll never find a less self-critical group of people, but that is their strength. We can never be Japanese (nor should want to), but we can take them as an example of what belief in tradition and high culture can do for a society.

# Plato, Republic, Apology of Socrates
# Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Politics
# Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War
# Machiavelli, The Prince
# Shakespeare, King Henry V, Othello, King Lear
# Hobbes, Leviathan
Montesquieu, Spirit of the Laws
Rousseau, Second Discourse
Locke, Two Treatises of Civil Government
Mill, On Liberty
Tocqueville, Democracy in America
Marx, Communist Manifesto
The Declaration of Independence
The Constitution of the United States of America
Jefferson, Notes of the State of Virginia
Paine, Common Sense
Madison, Notes of the Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787
Publius, The Federalist Papers
Lincoln, Lyceum Speech, Gettysburg Address, Second Inaugural, et. al.
Churchill, My Early Life, The Gathering Storm

That list is from Ashbrook's website. Sounds like a good starting point to me.

Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot. Civil education curriculum in the public schools especially in the Stupid State where I live include Alinsky, Zinn and Choamsky. All left-wing radical nutballs who make the Westboro group look like kindergarteners....

Redwald: That is a fine point. Harvey Mansfield once said that those who think we who study Western Civ are jingoists have it exactly wrong, given that perhaps the highest intellectual legacy of the West is self-critique. (And not self-critique in a vulgar sense)

Well, why shouldn't they learn from Alinsky??

A fine case you make.

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Who saw this gem, where Eric Cantor proclaimed that a GOP bill (which actually dares to include the same idiotic language) passed in the House "will become the law of the land" if the Senate fails to act on it. Wow. And none of his colleagues (incl. Boehner, standing right behind him) opted to correct him or clarify (although, I guess, if the bill says the same thing, that would look pretty bad - possibly even worse). Talk about civic literacy. Kids who watch a little bit of Schoolhouse Rock know better than this.

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