College Blues

I really don't understand why the pundits are so shocked. A recent survey of Ivy League college students revealed gaping deficiencies in their knowledge of American history and civics. Nearly one in four cannot say how many justices sit on the Supreme Court. One in five cannot name any of the justices. Three out of four students cannot identify Thomas Jefferson as the author of the opening words of the Declaration of Independence. The same percentage are unable to identify Abraham Lincoln as the author of the Gettysburg Address. These are things taught in a typical ninth-grade civics course—things every immigrant has to master to gain U.S. citizenship. Yet they are unfamiliar to students in our elite Ivy League colleges—people destined to become our nation's next generation of leaders. This is one educational crisis that can't be attributed to lack of money. Ivy League schools are among the best-endowed institutions in the nation. No, the real problem has to be sought elsewhere: in the politicizing of education. Educators no longer agree which version of American history they should teach. Do we teach it as the development of impartial principles of freedom and civic virtue? Or do we teach it as the story of ideological oppression by a band of white males? The second version is what's taught on most campuses today. Many professors reject the ideal of impartial truths. They adopt an approach called the "sociology of knowledge"—derived ultimately from Marxism—which treats all ideas as an expression of class or economic interest. Frederic Sommers of Brandeis University, writing in the New York Times, says the main concern of many educators is not to pass on our American heritage but to "empower" students in the struggle against patriarchy, racism, and classism. No wonder, then, that even Ivy League students don't know basic American history. But they do know what's politically correct. The survey found that 9 out of 10 students could identify Rosa Parks as the black woman who refused to move to the back of the bus. Seven out of 10 identified Nelson Mandela as the leader of the African National Congress. These are things students ought to know, of course. But to borrow a phrase, they should be learning them without neglecting the more important matters—the basic principles upon which our country was founded. As I said at the beginning, I don't understand why the low scores left pundits so surprised. Politically correct professors reject the ideal of objective truth, with its roots in the biblical teaching of divine revelation. And when that happens, a decline in learning is absolutely predictable. Those of us who hold the biblical ideal of truth ought to be standing for real scholarship, real education. I'm the product of an Ivy League education myself; but it wasn't until I became a Christian that I experienced a burning intellectual curiosity. Discovering that everything relates in some way to God made learning exciting as never before. This is the basis for real education: the understanding that all truth is God's truth.


Chuck Colson


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