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During much of the twentieth-century, parents from around the world, desirous for their progeny to obtain the best education and opportunities possible, sent them to U.S. universities.
Our universities were often touted as the vanguard of human knowledge. After all, Enrico Fermi perfected nuclear fission at the University of Chicago and Albert Einstein spent his final years on the faculty of Princeton University.

Sadly, those days may have drawn to a close without any fanfare, hue and cry, or even a protest by irate librarians and tweed-clad academics.

According to a recent article by Daniel Burnett, which appeared in Tuesday’s Philadelphia Inquirer and Sunday’s Houston Chronicle, it’s possible that graduates of U.S. universities possess more basic knowledge regarding Lady Gaga and Beyonce, than they do regarding Abraham Lincoln and the U.S. Civil War.

A survey commissioned by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, and released to coincide with April 14-15 sesquicentennial of Lincoln’s assassination, revealed the following:

  • One in five Americans could not identify John Wilkes Booth as Lincoln’s assassin. (Forget his parting words to the mortally wounded Abe; “sic semper tyrannis”.
  • A mere eighteen percent of Americans knew the effect of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
  • The figure rose to a mere twenty-eight percent, when only responses from those with university degrees were considered.
  • Among those same degreed individuals, more than one-third were uncertain when the Civil War took place, and fewer than forty percent correctly the (formerly) well-known phrase, “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth”, as part of the Gettysburg Address.

There’s a simple reason for this paucity of knowledge.

Fewer than twenty percent of American institutions of higher-learning require courses in U.S. history or government.

Even those who do, often allow for some surprising opt-outs:

  • Michigan’s Oakland University allows student to swap such courses for Foundations of Rock, Dance in American Culture or Human Sexuality. (I love sex, cannabis and rock music s much as the next person, but these people are pursuing university degrees, not a smoke-enhanced van ride with Jeff Spicoli.)
  • UC Berkeley allows the substitution of Dutch Culture and Society: Amsterdam and Berkeley in the Sixties. (Look, I love many things Dutch. Dutch-Canadian, Dorothy Stratten is still my favorite Playmate, I think Shocking Blue is one of the best rock groups from anywhere and whole concept of Dutch coffee-houses is amazing. That said; the aforementioned objections stand. Study the other stuff when you’re not on your parents’–or the government’s–dime.)
  • University of Colorado allows its students to duck out with America Through Baseball or Horror Films in American Culture. (Being able to correctly quote Yogi Berra and Casey Stengel or possessing an encyclopedic knowledge of Kevin Williamson’s Scream movies will not get you a white-collar job! ESPN and FOX Sports can only keep so many people on their payrolls at any given time.)
  • In Texas, twelve of forty-nine institutions in the study, including Rice University, had no American history or government requirement in most undergrad degree-plans.

Simply put; If I had a son or daughter graduating high-school this year, I would not send them to a university in the United States of America.

We’ve simply fallen too far, even in the sixteen years since I graduated from University of Houston. I believe this increasingly-uniform mediocrity is part-and-parcel of the mindset which requires all Little-League players to get a trophy for merely showing up, and insists that everyone is special.

That’s not life. In life, there are winners and losers, and if we insist on placing more focus on American Idol than American history, then we’re setting the next generation up to be major losers.

That’s why I would tell that hypothetical son or daughter that they could go to school anywhere they wanted, so long as it’s outside the United States.

UC? Try UBC.
University of Colorado? Try University of Toronto.
Rice? Try Pierre and Marie Curie University.
Visit the University of Tokyo website.

That’s what I’d tell my kid. Not every university in the United States has been infected with the stupidity virus, but you never know how fast it might spread or where it will next appear.

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