Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The American Ideal cannot survive
without well informed citizens

How much do Americans know about U.S. history, the founding principles of their country, and how their government works?

The results of a study by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) titled “Our Fading Heritage: Americans Fail a Basic Test on Their History and Institutions” are not encouraging. A substantial majority did not know that the phrase “government of the people, by the people, for the people” comes from President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address; nearly four out of 10 think the Constitution gives the president the power to declare war; and almost 25 percent believe that the United Nations and Congress share foreign policy powers. These results show a dramatic dearth of understanding about their country of far too large a group of Americans.

Thanks to this study and other resources, those of us who wonder at and mourn the growing tendency for so many of our countrymen to abandon the principles upon which the United States was founded and embrace big-government and socialistic trends now have a better idea of why this is occurring.

Of course we already know some of the reasons: the modern news media have mostly abandoned the responsibility to report objectively, as they are bound by principle to do, and take sides in the stories they report. And there is the disturbing degree of historical error and intellectual dishonesty that exists in school textbooks, previously discussed here.

Another factor in this troubling development comes to us from columnist Walter Williams’ in a recent article titled “Fraud in Academia,” which explains how grade inflation is producing a group of college graduates who have high grade point averages, but whose basic knowledge is severely lacking.

Dr. Williams, who is professor of economics at George Mason University, wrote that if “grade inflation continues, a college bachelor’s degree will have just as much credibility as a high school diploma.”

He quotes Professor Thomas C. Reeves, who published an article for the National Association of Scholars, “The Happy Classroom: Grade Inflation Works.” In that article, Dr. Williams writes that “from 1991 to 2007, in public institutions, the average grade point average (GPA) rose, on a four-point scale, from 2.93 to 3.11. In private schools, the average GPA climbed from 3.09 to 3.30. Put within a historical perspective, in the 1930s, the average GPA was 2.35 (about a C-plus); whereby now it’s a B-plus.”

He goes on to say, “At Brown University, two-thirds of all letter grades given are A’s. At Harvard, 50 percent of all grades were either A or A- (up from 22 percent in 1966); 91 percent of seniors graduated with honors ... Eighty percent of the grades given at the University of Illinois are A’s and B’s. Fifty percent of students at Columbia University are on the Dean’s list. At Stanford University, where F grades used to be banned, only 6 percent of student grades were as low as a C.”

Dr. Williams further notes that, contrary to what most think, SAT scores have been declining for 40 years and a sizeable number of freshmen need remedial courses in math, writing or reading, identifying serious problems at lower educational levels. A recent survey found that “a third of students expected B’s just for attending class, and 40 percent said they deserved a B for completing the assigned reading.”

This situation is so bad that “parents and employers should lower the average student’s grade by one letter, and interpret a C grade as an F,” Dr. Williams says.

Interviews conducted during and after the presidential campaign last year showed a disturbing number of voters with an abysmal lack of knowledge about both what the presidential candidates stood for, and how their government is supposed to work. It was clear to anyone willing and able to think about these results that a large number of voters were not knowledgeable enough to cast an informed vote.

Should we be surprised, then, that so many Americans, having been victims of intellectual dishonesty in school during their formative years, and victims of journalistic dishonesty as both children and adults, are intellectually unprepared, and thus unable, to reject the leftist demagoguery and efforts to fundamentally change America from its original grand design into just one more government-dependent, soft-headed, soul-less culture, like the weak socialist failures of Europe?

Our country cannot survive if instead of learning its basic principles and the true history of its origins and development in elementary schools, secondary schools, and colleges, large numbers of young, impressionable minds are being indoctrinated and propagandized with false teachings, and their education subverted by continuously lower expectations and lower standards.

Time was when getting an education was not only a worthy goal, but a difficult one to achieve; it took a lot of hard work to get through high school and college with good grades. But when you completed your education, whether with a high school diploma or a college degree, you had learned a lot along the way.

Dr. Williams, the ISI, Professor Reeves, et al, paint a picture of a culture gradually sinking into mediocrity, losing its soul to a philosophy of weakness and low expectations.

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