Study Indicates Students Lack Knowledge of Constitutional Rights
October 4, 2006
by Luke Sheahan
Last week, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute
released its first scientific study
, The Coming Crisis in Citizenship: Higher Education’s Failure to Teach America’s History and Institutions
. The first of its kind, this study attempted to determine “how much American colleges and universities—including some of our most elite schools—add to, or subtract from, their graduates’ understanding of America’s history and fundamental institutions” by asking the same questions of freshmen and seniors at the same institutions. Given the questions asked, seniors at a number of the fifty schools surveyed received a lower score on this test of American history and institutions than freshmen at those same schools.
FIRE’s primary interest in the study is students’ knowledge of the Constitution, specifically the Bill of Rights. From the enormous quantity of cases
FIRE has taken, it is obvious that knowledge of First Amendment freedoms is not widespread among university administrators; apparently they may not be doing a very good job of imparting that knowledge to students either. The following two questions from the survey and their results are a telling indictment of the state of First Amendment education in American higher education.
The Bill of Rights explicitly prohibits:
a. Prayer in public school
b. Discrimination based on race, sex, and religion
c. The ownership of guns by private individuals
d. Establishing an official religion for the United States
e. The President from vetoing a line item in a spending
Only 49% of seniors knew the answer was d, the establishment of an official state religion.
The idea that in America there should be a “wall of separation” between church and state appears in:
a. George Washington’s Farewell Address
b. The Mayflower Compact
c. The Constitution
d. The Declaration of Independence
e. Thomas Jefferson’s letters
Only 27.2% of seniors knew that the correct answer was e, a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists.