The following article highlights the importance of improving our educational system as a precursor to establishing a well functioning participatory democratic system. If college graduates are lacking in knowledge of basic issues and the fundamentals of government structure and the constitution as this article claims, it is unlikely that we will acheive that aim. A well educated and informed voting public is a politically empowered public, and this may explain why those who now hold power, and would prefer to not to relinquish that power to the people, are reluctant to ensure that quality education is available to all. We, the public, must demand that our right to that education be respected and provided for so that we can build upon it a participatory democracy that is truly expressive of the will of a well informed electorate. - Editor
Will the Nation's College Students Be Ready, Willing and Able to Cast an Informed Vote this November 4?
WILMINGTON, Del., Sept. 16 DE-ISI-students-vote
WILMINGTON, Del., Sept. 16 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- When the nation's founding fathers signed the original U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787 they changed the course of history. As we prepare to commemorate the 221st anniversary of the founding document and officially enter the stretch run of a landmark presidential election, new data from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) suggests college students are not staying on course when it comes to learning about the nation's history and founding. According to the data, college seniors scored an average of just 48.88 percent correct on a series of questions that referred to the U.S. Constitution. Considering that 72 percent of college seniors surveyed have in fact registered and voted at least once in their lives, this lack of civic knowledge poses a potential crisis in citizenship that could have a major impact on the country's choice for president on November 4.
"The issue of citizenship and civic engagement is one both presidential candidates agree is critical as evidenced by the recent A Nation of Service Presidential Forum," says Dr. Richard Brake, ISI's Director of University Stewardship. "So, the presidential hopefuls might find it encouraging that more than 70 percent of surveyed seniors are registered and have voted. But the lack of knowledge about our founding and the Constitution, which is the document that forms the basis for our citizenship, has to be a concern for both the presidential candidates--who are trying to reach youth voters--as well as the general voting public."
The questions focusing on the U.S. Constitution were part of a 60-question multiple-choice test about our nation's history and institutions that was administered by the University of Connecticut's Department of Public Policy on behalf of ISI. Approximately 14,000 randomly selected seniors and freshmen on 50 campuses across the country were given the exam.
Measuring Constitutional Knowledge
Freshmen from three schools achieved average scores of less than 30 percent on the questions related to the Constitution: St. Thomas University (Florida) - 27.25 percent; Oakwood College (Alabama) - 28.48 percent; Eastern Connecticut State University - 29.55 percent. Seniors at St. Thomas scored only slightly better than freshmen with an average of 29.67 percent. The college with the highest constitutional knowledge gain from freshman to senior was Murray State University (Kentucky), which achieved a 7.88 percent gain. The overall scores for Murray State, however, still were quite low, with freshmen achieving an average of 35.72 percent while seniors averaged 43.61 percent. Surprisingly, the school with the lowest overall gain in constitutional knowledge (-9.54 percent) was prestigious Cornell University.
Following are some other intriguing results based on the responses given by students:
-- 42.6 percent of students (41.5 percent of freshmen; 43.8 percent of seniors) thought the famous phrase "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . ." was from the Preamble to the Constitution and not its actual source, The Declaration of Independence.
-- 56 percent of students (54.2 percent of freshmen; 58 percent of seniors) knew the Constitution of the United States established indirect democracy. 39.4 percent of students (40.9 percent of freshmen; 37.8 percent of seniors) thought it led to direct democracy.
-- The largest proportion of students (43.7 percent; 43.2 percent of freshmen and 44.2 percent of seniors) thought the idea "that in America there should be a wall of separation between church and state" appears in the Constitution, while only 28.1 percent of freshmen and 31.8 percent of seniors correctly identified as the source a personal letter of Thomas Jefferson.
-- The role of women in society and politics has received considerable notice this election cycle, but when asked during which period the American Constitution was amended to guarantee women the right to vote, only 57.1 percent of students (56 percent of freshmen; 58.2 percent of seniors) correctly answered 1901 - 1925. More than 22 percent (21.8 percent of freshmen; 22.9 percent of seniors) thought the time period was 1926 - 1950.
-- The Federalist Papers played a crucial role in elucidating the proposed U.S. Constitution and garnering public support for ratification, yet only 52.3 percent of students correctly answered that the Papers were written for that purpose -- and seniors actually knew less about this topic than freshmen (54.6 percent of freshmen were correct in comparison to 49.9 percent of seniors).
What's in a Vote
The five colleges with the lowest proportion of students who are registered and have voted are: Illinois State University - 58 percent; Oakwood College (Alabama) - 51.3 percent; St. John's University (New York) - 48.5 percent; Princeton University (New Jersey) - 46 percent; and St. Thomas University (Florida) - 29.6 percent.
The full results of ISI's American civic literacy study and the complete survey questions can be found at www.americancivicliteracy.org, where you can also take the exam for yourself.
About the Intercollegiate Studies Institute
Contact: Doug Novarro
G.S. Schwartz & Co. Inc.
(212) 725-4500 ext. 315
(631) 357-4390 (cell)
SOURCE The Intercollegiate Studies Institute