Phi Beta Cons

Don’t Know Much about History

A few organizations are trying to get colleges to retain some kind of core curriculum. The American Council for Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) is one of those, and it has just issued its 2014-2015 ratings of colleges on the basis of their required courses.

At Whatwilltheylearn.com, you can find the ACTA grades (A-F) or 1,098 schools. Only 23 schools get As. To do so, they must require students to take at least six out of the seven courses that ACTA establishes as necessary for a good education. Those are: economics, foreign language, U.S. history or government, literature, math, composition, and science.

Some interesting statistics emerge: only 13 percent of the schools surveyed require a foreign language, and only 18 percent U.S. history or government. Only 3 percent require economics.

I’ve heard the former president of a selective college say somewhat disdainfully that his students should have learned enough about U. S. history and government by the time they arrive as freshmen, so they shouldn’t be required to take such a course. If that’s the case (and it’s dubious), then they should place out through an exam. But don’t deprive a student of essential education on the theory that he or she already knows it!

Jane S. Shaw — Jane S. Shaw retired as president of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in 2015. Before joining the Pope Center in 2006, Shaw spent 22 years in ...

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