UConn Study Shows Civic Knowledge Stumps Most Students

The Observer Puts FCLC Students to the Test


Published: April 3, 2008

Any Fordham student who has been able to acquire some of those enviable frequent flyer miles to the Old World can attest to encountering the commonly held European assumption that Americans are dumb. When it comes to college students knowing key information about our country’s history, government and foreign policies, this assumption is often embarrassingly true.

A recent study conducted at the University of Connecticut’s Department of Public Policy seems to confirm a lackluster civic knowledge, as students from freshmen to seniors are unable to answer questions about U.S. history, government and international relations.  According to the study, most of the students who took part in the survey only got about half of the 60 questions right.  Considering that these questions were quite basic (meaning of common law, when women got the right to vote, etc.), the results do little to dispel the myth that the U.S. education system is failing many youths.

Alas, there is a silver lining at the Fordham College Lincoln Center (FCLC) campus, where students who partook in a condensed version of the UConn survey scored considerably higher.  On average, the participants scored 71 percent, earning them a small pat on the back.  Why small? Consider this: students majoring in visual design and theater did much better in answering the questions than those who are actually studying history. The students with the decisively lowest scores were those who are undecided majors, while the political science majors took top overall prize, scoring 85 percent on average. The gold, however, went to Leslie Gauthier, FCLC ’11, a theater major on the directing track, who was the only student to get all questions correct.

Dana Chaffiotte, FCLC ’11, who knew what the Manhattan Project was, but thought that Jamestown was settled 100 years earlier, did fairly well on the survey but admitted she did not remember some of the facts she was being asked about. “I knew the answer to all of these questions at some point, but now it’s like a distant memory,” Chaffiotte said.

Other students agreed, stating that along with social studies, much of their knowledge on the policies of FDR and JFK disappeared.

“On the bright side, I know who all of the presidents mentioned in the survey were,” joked Jeremiah Hernandez, FCLC ’08.

Interestingly enough, Hernandez seemed to be an exception to the rule, as students across the board did much better on the questions dealing with international affairs than those with strictly domestic ones.  For example, while 80 percent of students surveyed knew that the Gulf of Tonkin resolution authorized the expansion of the scope of the Vietnam War, less than 50 percent knew that “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are the unalienable rights mentioned in the Declaration of Independence.

Dr. Irma Watkins-Owens, associate chair of African American studies, believes that this can be attributed to the way in which the current generation of students tends to absorb knowledge.

“I think students are socialized to learn about recent affairs through the media and Internet exposure,” Watkins-Owens said.

When confronted with the idea, most of the surveyed students agreed, adding that recent history is more interesting to them since it wasn’t drilled into their heads in grade school.

Those students who scored quite poorly were genuinely embarrassed by their results, though for the most part, this entailed their adamant requests not to publish their names in the paper rather than showing any desire to actually read a history book.