According to Charles Sykes of The Daily Signal, “a survey sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1989 found that a majority of college seniors would flunk even a basic test on Western cultural and historical literacy: 25 percent could not distinguish between the thoughts of Karl Marx and the United States Constitution (or between the words of Winston Churchill and those of Joseph Stalin), 58 percent did not know Shakespeare wrote ‘The Tempest,’ and 42 percent could not place the Civil War in the correct half-century” So with this in mind the question we must ask ourselves, says Sykes, “is no longer whether students have learned specific bodies of knowledge; it is whether they are learning anything at all.” He writes:
Let’s concede at the outset that many students find their college years enlightening and enriching. But something is rotten in the state of academia, and it is increasingly hard not to notice.
There once was a time when employers could be reasonably certain that college graduates had a basic sense of the world and, as a minimum, could write a coherent business letter. That is simply no longer the case, as some academic leaders appear ready to admit.
Harvard’s former president, Derek Bok, mildly broke ranks with the academic cheerleaders when he noted that, for all their many benefits, colleges and universities “accomplish far less for their students than they should.” Too many graduates, he admitted, leave school with the coveted and expensive credential “without being able to write well enough to satisfy employers … [or] reason clearly or perform competently in analyzing complex, nontechnical problems.”