ACTA has published its 2011-2 edition of What Will They Learn?, a study that examines, in basic terms, what 1007 colleges and universities around the country require from their students. The entire study is worth reading–and features an easy-to-use website–but I consider two aspects of ACTA’s findings particularly significant.
First, military academies fare quite well in ACTA’s study. Army and Air Force both require courses in composition, literature, U.S. government or history, math, science, and economics; Navy requires all of these subjects except for economics. Somewhat surprisingly, given their mission, none of the three require foreign language study, but otherwise all three provide a quality liberal arts fare.
Second, a disappointingly low number of schools require courses in either U.S. history or government. ACTA found that barely one in five schools ensured that all students, at some point in their university careers, had a minimal exposure to a class about the history or government structure of the country in which they live. The list tilts heavily toward public colleges and universities, most of whose missions contain—in exchange for the public tax dollars they receive—a commitment to train the next generation of citizens.
Even so, a host of prominent public universities (Michigan, Ohio State, Cal-Berkeley) have no such requirement, and virtually no elite private college has a U.S. government/history mandate. And it’s worth emphasizing the minimal nature of this requirement. ACTA’s report doesn’t touch on how history departments skewed toward devotees of race/class/gender actually teach American history survey classes.
ACTA also commissioned a Roper poll on academic matters; seventy percent of Americans, with scant deviation between age groups, believe that colleges and universities should require that all students complete at least one U.S. history class. Perhaps the AAUP will deem such outside commentary to constitute a threat to academic freedom.