Press Releases | Historical Literacy

Celebrating Memorial Day?

Survey Reveals Americans Have No Memory
May 26, 2000

WASHINGTON, DC—As the country prepares to celebrate Memorial Day, a survey issued by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni reveals that America’s future leaders don’t know what they are celebrating. According to Losing America’s Memory: Historical Illiteracy in the 21st Century, top college students are graduating with a virtual ignorance of America’s heritage and unfamiliarity with its military history.

  • Little more than a third could identify George Washington as general at the Revolutionary Battle of Yorktown.
  • Only 35% knew that Harry Truman was president at the beginning of the Korean War.
  • Fewer than 40% could identify either the Battle of the Bulge during World War II or Valley Forge as the low point of the Revolutionary War.

Four out of five seniors surveyed from the top 55 colleges and universities in the United States received a grade of D or F on history questions drawn from a basic high school curriculum. The survey results were compiled by the “Roper Organization,” Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut.

Despite this lack of knowledge, today’s colleges and universities no longer demand that their students study American history, ACTA reports.

  • Students can now graduate from 100% of the top 55 colleges without taking a single course in American history.
  • At 78% of the institutions, students are not required to take any history at all.

“The results of this report should shock anyone who cares deeply about America,” said the report’s author and ACTA vice president Anne D. Neal. “If our top colleges and universities no longer require their students to have a strong foundation in their own history, future generations will lack an understanding of the unique individuals, events and values that have made us great. George Santayana was correct when he stated that ‘those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’”

“The findings of this excellent ACTA report are deemed ‘shocking.’ In fact, they are all too predictable, which is why they deserve the widest dissemination,” said Walter A. McDougall, Pulitzer Prize-winning professor of history, University of Pennsylvania. “Americans simply cannot expect rigorous history instruction in their K-12 schools so long as the nation’s elite colleges and universities delete history from their curricula.”

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is a national nonprofit of trustees and alumni dedicated to academic freedom, excellence and accountability in higher education.


Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

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