``If a nation expects to be ignorant and free," Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1816, ``it expects what never was and never will be." If he was right, American freedom is headed for a cliff. [Intercollegiate Studies Institute] was startled to find that at almost one-third of the schools surveyed, seniors actually scored lower than freshmen. Either the seniors forgot what they had known when they entered as freshmen, the report concludes, ``or -- more ominously -- were mistaught by their professors." And where was this civic dumbing-down concentrated? Overwhelmingly at the most selective universities among the 50 surveyed, including Yale, Duke, Georgetown, Brown, and Berkeley.
For as much as $40,000 a year, students at such schools can count on full exposure to every reigning value of political correctness, from diversity to secularism to gay rights to global warming. But they may leave at the end of four years knowing even less about America's history and civic institutions than they did when they arrived.
As Jefferson observed, the survival of democratic liberty requires an educated public. Have we still got one? ``We . . . take as axiomatic," the American Political Science Association's Task Force on Civic Education warned in 1998, ``that current levels of political knowledge, political engagement, and political enthusiasm are so low as to threaten the vitality and stability of democratic politics in the United States." Civic apathy, especially among the young, is now the norm. Most college students don't vote, don't involve themselves in political campaigns, and don't follow public affairs.
In light of what the ISI has learned it may be a good thing.