Given the numerous studies revealing how American education lags behind instruction in other countries in disciplines once thought to be essential, it should come as no surprise that on the 70th anniversary of D-Day, a lot of people are clueless about central elements of the Allied invasion of the European continent on June 6, 1944.
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) has released the results of a survey, which finds only slightly more than half (54 percent) of those who took a multiple choice quiz knew that Dwight D. Eisenhower was the supreme commander of Allied forces on D-Day. Fewer than half knew Franklin Roosevelt was president and 15 percent identified the location of the landing as Pearl Harbor, not beaches named Utah and Omaha. One in 10 college students were among those giving the wrong answer.
Colleges and universities clearly are not teaching what they once did. That is also apparent in the ACTA survey, which found that 70 percent of recent college graduates knew D-Day occurred during World War II, compared to 98 percent of college graduates 65 and older.
Michael Poliakoff, ACTA's vice president of policy, says: "We are allowing students to graduate college with the historical knowledge of a twelfth grader. Not a single liberal arts college, except the military academies and only five of the top 50 public universities require even one survey of American history."
Mr. Poliakoff continues: "We aren't adequately preparing the next generation for the challenges of career and community with this apathetic approach to our national heritage. These college graduates are unlikely to understand the cost of maintaining our nation's freedom."
While much of this should disgust, especially those parents who are paying more and getting less of an education for their kids, none of it should surprise. Today's young people seem to know and care more about sex, pop stars and the latest cellphones, than wisdom and knowledge from our past and the character of those who fought to preserve our freedoms.
In his classic book, "The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students," the late college professor Allan Bloom indicted modern university life: "The university now offers no distinctive visage to the young person. He finds a democracy of the disciplines -- which are there either because they are autochthonous or because they wandered in recently to perform some job that was demanded of the university. This democracy is really an anarchy, because there are no recognized rules for citizenship and no legitimate titles to rule. In short there is no vision, nor is there a set of competing visions, of what an educated human being is. The question has disappeared, for to pose it would be a threat to peace." (p337)
It seems increasing numbers among us don't know what we don't know, and worse, don't care that we don't know it.
The late Steve Allen created the "man on the street" interview for "The Tonight Show." He would ask people general knowledge questions. Their replies were often funny. Jesse Watters of Fox News does the same on Bill O'Reilly's show. While the intent of this feature is to laugh at the ignorance of others, the bits reflect a dumbing-down of the American mind to the point where wisdom and knowledge are no longer regarded as necessary. Emotional satisfaction and feeling good now seem to be the new standards by which all things are now measured.
Someone should ask a question of the aging veterans who are likely visiting Normandy for the last time this weekend. If they could have foreseen what America would become and how little their descendants know, or care, about their sacrifice, would they have done what they did?
They probably would because of their character. I'm not sure the same could be said of too many of their progeny.
Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.