Civics requirement would not solve college liberalism
By Tyler Dosaj
April 11, 2010 9:08 pm
Only 36 percent of college students know that, in his farewell address, George Washington asked that the U.S. refrain from foreign military entanglements.
This was one of the questions on a basic civics quiz administered to 14,000 American college students by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. The average score among seniors was 54 percent and 50 percent among freshmen.
These statistics would seem to encourage the university to more adequately prepare its graduates for their civic duties. But there’s more to the institute’s study than just an innocent plea for an American civics requirement. The report also goes to lengths to complain that, while college fails to make students “believe America’s Founding documents remain relevant,” it indoctrinates them in liberal ideology.
Of those surveyed, graduates were more likely than non-graduates to advocate, for instance, same-sex marriage and late-term abortion. Interestingly, these liberal stances become steadily more prevalent as one moves up the rungs of higher education. Among doctoral students, 46 percent believe that the Bible is the word of God versus 64 percent of freshmen.
The study compares the liberal indoctrination of college unfavorably to the merits of civic knowledge. Those who attained high scores on the quiz were more likely to have varied views on social issues, which the study professes is the hallmark of an “independent frame of mind.”
Predictably, conservative talking heads have pointed to the study as evidence that a college degree is little more than a badge depicting a cartoon donkey. More disconcerting is that the study itself says it’s a “problem” that, in the opinion of certain young Americans, the free market does not always lead to prosperity, and America corrupts good people. The Intercollegiate Studies Institute, for the record, claims non-partisanship.
Despite the institute’s bizarre insistence that colleges ensure “proper respect for past presidential leadership” (Warren Harding and Richard Nixon included, one supposes), political indoctrination is worth examining. A university education is supposed to foster skepticism and a diversity of opinion, which seems contradicted by the liberal groupthink indicated by the study.
The best-case scenario for liberals would be that higher education is inherently liberal because skepticism, the scientific method and the pursuit of a sometimes pessimistic objectivity are all necessities of academia.
They’re also values traditionally associated with liberalism. In this case, college students are not being indoctrinated but are rather forming their opinions after a careful consideration of diverse viewpoints.
Conservatives, and probably the institute, would argue that a view rejecting the relevance of the Ten Commandments in modern life (one of the study’s survey questions) is more likely a product of a liberal professorship than of independent thought.
As students, it’s in the interest of skepticism that we question whether the open-mindedness fostered by the university experience is really just opening us up to a narrow belief system.
The institute’s claim that a free mind is the product of a thorough education in civics does, as evinced by the survey data, have merit.
To give credence to the claim that the correlation between higher education and liberal ideology is a product of skeptical inquiry and not brainwashing, students should pursue civic education beyond high school.
However, a college civics requirement is not feasible and would probably not produce the kind of reverence for the Founding Fathers the institute seems to want.
UCLA already requires half a year of U.S. history or civics of incoming students. At the college level, the Foundations of Society and Culture General Education requirement allows students to take various political science and history classes that might include lessons in U.S. civics.
If these specific courses became degree requirements, however, they would displace broader GE courses in anthropology, global studies, Chicana and Chicano studies, and other subjects that challenge the U.S.-dominated historical narrative deployed in K-12 education.
The other option would be to add civics as a separate GE requirement, in which case students would no longer be forced to choose between the U.S. and other societies and cultures.
This course of action would, however, extend time to graduation, and students shouldn’t be forced to pay more student fees than is absolutely necessary for their degrees. The university has already reduced political science major requirements to save students money. The addition of yet another GE requirement would contradict this precedent.
Even if civics did become ubiquitous at the college level, it would be under the purview of a liberal professorship. The Intercollegiate Studies Institute would probably prefer that students remain ignorant if the alternative were exposure to an anti-capitalist narrative of history or one critical of the Founding Fathers. The institute’s concern is that holidays such as Presidents Day be observed with the same bravado as Valentine’s Day, but mere knowledge does not equal reverence.
The study claims that civic education cures indoctrination but gives no indication of where respondents came by their quiz answers. It’s possible that those who pursue civics in college or independently are predisposed to reject liberal views. If this is the case, even several required civics courses would fail to reverse the trend of political indoctrination.