College is Apparently Dumbing Us Down

According to a recent study, college seniors know less about American history and government than they did as freshman:

In the fall of 2005, ISI surveyed more than 14,000 college freshmen and seniors, administering a 60-question multiple-choice test at college campuses across the nation, including the UW.

Several universities, such as Yale University, Dartmouth College and Johns Hopkins University (which ranked the lowest), exhibited a phenomenon that ISI calls “negative learning,” whereby seniors scored lower than freshmen.


Stephanie Camp, an associate professor of history at the UW, was skeptical of what the study actually measures.

“It seems suspicious,” she said. “What do they mean by civic literacy? They’re making pretty big assumptions on what we do and what education is really about.

Camp said that college is about learning to think critically about larger thematic aspects, not necessarily about learning facts.

“I consider myself an active citizen. My ability to think critically and learn how to formulate questions are all things I learned in college,” she said. “I don’t see how [some of the questions on a sample quiz online] is essential stuff you need to know. … I don’t mean that it’s not important, but they’re making a big assumption on what you need to know. A part of American history is so much more fluid and diverse than what this test asks for.”

6 thoughts on “College is Apparently Dumbing Us Down

  1. Anonymous

    I prefer to learn all my U.S. History in song form. Like the State Song, or the Christopher Columbus song, or, if you want a refresher on the war of 1812:In 1814 we took a little tripalong with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip.We took a little bacon and we took a little beansAnd we caught the bloody British in the town of New Orleans.CHORUS: We fired our guns and the British kept a’comin.There wasn’t quite as many as there was a while ago.We fired once more and they began to runnin’down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.We looked down the river and we seen the British come.And there must have been a hundred of’em beatin’ on the drum.They stepped so high and they made the bugles ring.We stood by our cotton bales and didn’t say a thing. CHORUS:Old Hickory said we could take ’em by surpriseIf we didn’t fire our muskets til we looked ’em in the eyesWe held our fire til we seen their faces well.then we opened up with squirrel guns and really gave ’em..well. CHORUS:They ran through the briars and they ran through the bramblesAnd they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn’t go.They ran so fast that the hounds couldn’t catch ’emdown the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. CHORUS:We fired our cannon til the barrel melted down.So we grabbed an alligator and we fought another round.We filled his head with cannon balls and powdered his behindand when we touched the powder off, the gator blew his mind. CHORUS:Yeah, they ran through the briars and they ran through the bramblesand they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn’t go.they ran so fast that the hounds couldn’t catch ’emdown the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.God, middle school was such a fucking waste of time. We covered the same goddamn topics thrice-over.

  2. Anonymous

    I prefer to learn all my U.S. History in song form. Like the State Song, or the Christopher Columbus song, or, if you want a refresher on the war of 1812:

    In 1814 we took a little trip
    along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip.
    We took a little bacon and we took a little beans
    And we caught the bloody British in the town of New Orleans.

    CHORUS: We fired our guns and the British kept a’comin.
    There wasn’t quite as many as there was a while ago.
    We fired once more and they began to runnin’
    down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

    We looked down the river and we seen the British come.
    And there must have been a hundred of’em beatin’ on the drum.
    They stepped so high and they made the bugles ring.
    We stood by our cotton bales and didn’t say a thing. CHORUS:

    Old Hickory said we could take ’em by surprise
    If we didn’t fire our muskets til we looked ’em in the eyes
    We held our fire til we seen their faces well.
    then we opened up with squirrel guns and really gave ’em..well. CHORUS:

    They ran through the briars and they ran through the brambles
    And they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn’t go.
    They ran so fast that the hounds couldn’t catch ’em
    down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. CHORUS:

    We fired our cannon til the barrel melted down.
    So we grabbed an alligator and we fought another round.
    We filled his head with cannon balls and powdered his behind
    and when we touched the powder off, the gator blew his mind. CHORUS:

    Yeah, they ran through the briars and they ran through the brambles
    and they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn’t go.
    they ran so fast that the hounds couldn’t catch ’em
    down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

    God, middle school was such a fucking waste of time. We covered the same goddamn topics thrice-over.

  3. Mad Joy

    In high school, I took AP US History, a two year intense class where we learned about American history to an amazingly precise level of detail. I could easily have named every President in order and summed up the gist of what happened in their administration and the popular opinion at the time.There’s no chance in hell I could still do that. You forget things over time – facts, for example. I mean, I could have written a great essay about the War of 1812 while I was taking the class and it was fresh in my mind, but I barely remember what happened in it anymore. And that’s how academia works. You remember the skills that you learn, and the basic facts that keep on coming up in later classes – but you won’t remember the details. I also don’t remember from freshman chemistry how all those formulas work and why. But you know what – that’s okay.

  4. Mad Joy

    In high school, I took AP US History, a two year intense class where we learned about American history to an amazingly precise level of detail. I could easily have named every President in order and summed up the gist of what happened in their administration and the popular opinion at the time.

    There’s no chance in hell I could still do that. You forget things over time – facts, for example. I mean, I could have written a great essay about the War of 1812 while I was taking the class and it was fresh in my mind, but I barely remember what happened in it anymore. And that’s how academia works. You remember the skills that you learn, and the basic facts that keep on coming up in later classes – but you won’t remember the details. I also don’t remember from freshman chemistry how all those formulas work and why. But you know what – that’s okay.

  5. Anonymous

    So it basically sounds like a group that thinks American History is the most important subject in the world, and which has a grudge against colleges in the first place (see their comments re: public universities and funding via taxes) created this test mostly to have evidence to support the opinion they already held.Never mind that Freshman have almost universally just taken american-centric civics courses all through High School, usually culminating in Government their senior year, while college Seniors have been studying, you know, their majors.

  6. Anonymous

    So it basically sounds like a group that thinks American History is the most important subject in the world, and which has a grudge against colleges in the first place (see their comments re: public universities and funding via taxes) created this test mostly to have evidence to support the opinion they already held.

    Never mind that Freshman have almost universally just taken american-centric civics courses all through High School, usually culminating in Government their senior year, while college Seniors have been studying, you know, their majors.

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