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May 22, 2008 5:06 PM

A Civics Test

Posted by Bruce Ramsey

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute came by with a story to tell about the decline of civic knowledge among college students. ISI is a kind of highbrow conservative group, and you can argue with its politics, of course. But it backs up its statement with a 60-question test, here. You can argue with a few questions on it, but not much.

ISI gave the test to students at a number of universities, offering money for volunteers to take it. The best average score, 69.56%, was at Harvard University. Next were Grove City College (67.26%) Washington & Lee U (66.98%) and Yale (65.85%). University of Washingon students scored at 55.88%, which was about in the middle. At the bottom were students at St. Thomas University in Florida, at 32.5%.

Visiting the Times along with the ISI representative was Prof. Matt Manweller of Central Washington University. Manweller said the decline in civics knowledge is partly because of the fragmentation of the college curriculum, with the best professors floating off into airy specialties, and leaving grad students to teach the survey courses. More and more, students avoid the survey courses altogether, and study the bits and pieces that interest them. The universities, he said, might improve education by offering fewer classes, and by assigning the best professors to teach at least one survey course.

All of which is interesting. But if you are like me, you'll want to take the test. The link to it is imbedded in the first paragraph, and again, here.

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Posted by Paul

3:33 PM, May 23, 2008

85%! Yah! All those books and hours of watching PBS does a body good. WSU Class 2005

Posted by Zack

5:22 PM, May 24, 2008

I'm a bit more concerned that US students are not getting enough math and science education than that they may have trouble with such questions as what "Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas would concur" on, or what was the subject matter of a presidential debate from one-and-a-half centuries ago.

Anyway, although ISI seems to be talking about a "decline" in "civic knowledge" among college students, it just presents (or at least, you present, Bruce) one snapshot of the test. Accordingly, the 60-question test does not "back[] up its statement"--it's just one data point, from which I could equally argue that knowledge of civics is undergoing a precipitous increase.

Posted by george

7:14 AM, May 25, 2008

A more objective civics test would be welcome, but this test reads as if the John Birch Society designed it. The editorial choice of questions and the wording of many of the questions and answers is highly politicized. Plus, it didn't score mine due to an annoying computer glitch.

Posted by Dave the Engineer

4:36 PM, May 27, 2008

I'm a Chemical Engineer, BSChemE UND 1970. My world involves instructing people in how to comply with the Federal and State environmental regulations, as well as engineering compliance systems. And I got an 82%. I'm a hard core techie if there ever was one and I know this stuff better then a Harvard grad? Maybe we should prohibit graduates of elite schools from going into politics, law and government service. Got to be better then what we have now.

Posted by Bill

6:23 PM, May 27, 2008


High school grad....barely

Go slap your teachers and see if you can get a refund

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