Editorial: Stanford, UC flunk U.S. history

This is more than a little disturbing. A new national survey of 14,000 students at 50 universities shows that seniors at prestigious University of California, Berkeley, actually knew 6 percentage points less about American history, government, current events and the market economy than the entering freshmen. At equally prestigious Stanford University, seniors’ scores in the 60-question, multiple-choice test were less than 1 percent better than what incoming freshmen knew.

Not that the nationwide results of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s survey were more reassuring. Less than half of college seniors knew that the Bill of Rights specifically prohibits establishment of an official U.S. religion. Almost one-third believed the Civil War battle of Gettysburg ended the American Revolution, and nearly 20 percent thought Saddam Hussein’s strongest supporters were the Communist Party or Israel.

UC Berkeley earned a failing grade. It ranked only 49th out of 50 on the survey, barely beating out highly respected Johns Hopkins University and coming in six places behind No. 44 Yale. Stanford made it all the way to No. 31 with a D average that was only 9 points better than Berkeley’s score.

No doubt there would be laughs aplenty ifJay Leno showed up to record a “Jaywalking” segment on a campus of one of the Bay Area’s top universities. However, it is truly not funny that future generations of America’s leaders are not learning the basic information that would enable them to function as effective voters and as citizens capable of preserving the constitutional rights that made this country great.

Chairmen of the history or political science departments at Stanford and Berkeley were quick to try for a positive spin on their schools’ test failures. One of the most dubious rationales was that major universities now tend to emphasize the teaching of theory and critical thinking instead of facts and historical dates, which are considered academically old-fashioned.

The survey came to two main conclusions pointing to a way out of this mess: The best-scoring schools are those requiring somewhat more courses in American history, political science and economics. And students who demonstrate greater learning about America’s history and institutions become more actively engaged in citizenship activities such as voting, community volunteering and political campaigns.

This year, the public will invest more than $325 billion in undergraduate education. A university education can cost families as much as $200,000, and the average undergraduate leaves campus $19,300 in debt. Yet college graduates, even at America’s top-ranked schools, are no better off than when they arrived from high school when it comes to gaining knowledge about key areas of America’s constitutional and economic workings.

This cannot be allowed to continue. A rising generation without the knowledge necessary to be a well-informed citizen could mean big trouble for our republic.

businessOpinionScience & TechnologyScience and Technology

Just Posted

San Francisco health experts recommend that pregnant women should receive the COVID-19 vaccine, as well as a booster shot. (Unai Huizi/Shutterstock)
What pregnant women need to know about COVID and booster shots

Questions regarding COVID-19 booster shots for pregnant people have been pouring in… Continue reading

Examiner reporter Ben Schneider drives an Arcimoto Fun Utility Vehicle along Beach Street in Fisherman’s Wharf on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
Could San Francisco’s tiny tourist cruisers become the cars of the future?

‘Fun Utility Vehicles’ have arrived in The City

Badly needed rain cooled off pedestrians on Market Street in The City on Wednesday. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
Storm door opens in San Francisco — what will the rains bring?

‘Come Monday, fire season in Northern California should be done’

The so-called “twindemic” that public health officials in California and elsewhere warned about last year — the combined threat of influenza and COVID-19 — was largely eased by the wide use of face masks, physical distancing and reduced travel, experts say. But their concerns are back this year. (Shutterstock)
COVID and the flu: Is a ‘twindemic’ threat lurking again?

‘Because of so little disease last year, population immunity is likely lower’

49ers' quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo hopes to return to the field this weekend to lead San Francisco against the Colts. (Photo courtesy of 49ers)
NFL Week 7 picks: Niners face crucial matchup against the Colts

San Francisco could join Seattle on the brink of irrelevancy in the NFC West with another loss

Most Read