On KBDI's Independent Thinking, Caldara, guests omitted conservative pedigree of higher education study

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As a panelist on the October 11 broadcast of KBDI's Independent Thinking, University of Colorado Regent Thomas J. Lucero Jr. (R) claimed that a recent report by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) found that college students are "illiterate" about civics. However, while promoting the report's findings, Lucero and host Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, along with Caldara colleague Jessica Peck Corry, failed to mention the free-market agenda of ISI, which states that its mission is to "enhance" knowledge of "limited government" and the "market economy."

During the October 11 broadcast of KBDI Channel 12's Independent Thinking, University of Colorado regent Thomas J. Lucero Jr. (R) stated that a recently released Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) report found "[t]hat college kids" at "the University of Colorado, Colorado State University, and all around the country" are "illiterate" about civics. In touting the ISI study, however, Lucero, along with host and Independence Institute president Jon Caldara and guest Jessica Peck Corry, failed to identify the ISI's free-market agenda, including the fact that the organization "seeks to enhance the rising generation's knowledge of our nation's founding principles -- limited government, individual liberty, personal responsibility, the rule of law, market economy, and moral norms."

Lucero stated that the way ISI has "categorized civic literacy is to look at students' knowledge of American history, world politics, and basic economic principles -- supply-side economics, market economics." Corry, director of the Independence Institute's Campus Accountability Project, further described ISI as "a nonprofit that works together with the University of Connecticut to gauge student knowledge relating to all of the key foundations of our government, of our economy, of our Western civilization, our history, the philosophies that really make us who we are." Corry later explained that "what they've [ISI] found is actually at many institutions, knowledge relating to these key concepts actually declines over the four years that they're in college," prompting Caldara to respond, "Thus proof that alcohol does kill brain cells." Corry added, "Alcohol does kill brain cells. But multi-culturalism and political correctness kill more."

Referring to the ISI report later in the broadcast, Caldara asserted, "We're not talking right versus left ... we're not talking about whether Democrats or Republicans should win ... Kids ought to know how the Constitution works; kids ought to know basic economic principles; kids ought to know basic American history."

In fact, as Colorado Media Matters has noted, in addition to "enhanc[ing]" knowledge of "limited government" and the "market economy," ISI's mission is to "further in successive generations of American college youth a better understanding of the economic, political, and spiritual values that sustain a free and virtuous society." Furthermore, according to ISI's 2007 report, Failing Our Students, Failing America: Holding Colleges Accountable for Teaching America's History and Institutions, students were asked not only about American history and government, but also about "free market principles." A question from the ISI exam, for example, reads:

50) Free markets typically secure more economic prosperity than government's centralized planning because:

A. the price system utilizes more local knowledge of means and ends.

B. markets rely upon coercion, whereas government relies upon voluntary compliance with the law.

C. more tax revenue can be generated from free enterprise.

D. property rights and contracts are best enforced by the market system.

E. government planners are too cautious in spending taxpayers' money.

Additionally, according to the report's September 18 press release:

Washington, D.C., September 18, 2007 -- The second in-depth study by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) reveals that some of the most expensive universities, with the highest paid presidents, are among the worst-performing in the country regarding the teaching of America's history and institutions to their undergraduate students. These universities, which also receive some of the largest government subsidies, include the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell, Yale, Princeton, and Duke.

As Colorado Media Matters noted in response to local media reports about ISI's 2006 findings, the ISI evolved from two groups founded by well-known conservative writers and activists William Bennett and Irving Kristol. A 1999 Salon.com article about conservative activism on college campuses reported that the organization "funds more than 60 'alternative' (i.e. conservative) newspapers at top colleges around the country" and "pays for prominent conservative speakers like Dinesh D'Souza and Oliver North to speak at campuses across the country, arranges all-expenses-paid organizing seminars for conservative students and funds a number of student fellowships."

From the October 11 broadcast of KBDI Channel 12's Independent Thinking:

CALDARA: Give me a definition of civic literacy.

LUCERO: Well, when you talk about the Declaration, you talk about the Constitution -- even simple questions -- you hear too often from college kids, "We live in a democracy." Even that subtlety of not knowing that we live in a representative government -- and when you're talking about subtleties like that, that have a tremendous impact on public policy, these are the individuals that we're educating at the University of Colorado who are going to go out and set public policy. So it affects each and every one of us, so let's keep that in mind.

Civic literacy -- what are we talking about? ISI, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, has conducted a test over the last couple of years, and the way they've categorized civic literacy is to look at students' knowledge of American history, world politics, and basic economic principles -- supply-side economics, market economics. And what are we finding? That college kids -- not only at the University of Colorado, Colorado State University, and all around the country -- are illiterate.

[...]

CORRY: Now, when we get to CU specifically -- and CSU -- we find that one out of two students failed this national test that they took --

CALDARA: The ISI test.

PECK CORRY: The Intercollegiate Studies Institute, which is a nonprofit that works together with the University of Connecticut to gauge student knowledge relating to all of the key foundations of our government, of our economy, of our Western civilization, our history, the philosophies that really make us who we are.

CALDARA: Now, are they testing when kids get to CU, or are they testing once they get out, or are they doing the test all the way through?

PECK CORRY: What they've done is they've tested freshman year and then they test them again in senior year. And what they've found is actually at many institutions, knowledge relating to these key concepts actually declines over the four years that they're in college.

CALDARA: Thus proof that alcohol does kill brain cells.

PECK CORRY: Alcohol does kill brain cells. But multi-culturalism and political correctness kill more.

CALDARA: I love it. [To Lucero] All right, now -- this, I know, has been one of your pet issues for as long as I've known you --

LUCERO: Yes.

CALDARA: -- that we've got these kids where K-12 government education has really failed them on simple civic literacy: understanding our form of government, understanding who we are and why we do what we do, simple economic principles --

LUCERO: Yes.

CALDARA: You've got to be really proud of your alma mater, or of CU, because after four years there, nobody gets any smarter, at least on this issue.

LUCERO: Well, the University of Colorado, Colorado State University, I will say this: that they are two of -- I think there were 10 or 12 schools that actually added knowledge over the course of the four-year period. And that is because we actually have requirements in American history, government, and a couple other classes -- not a lot of requirements -- but Princeton, some of the Ivy League schools, where incoming freshmen actually scored higher than graduating seniors, they have no core requirements in American history, some of these other basic categories that were tested -- so what we do know is that if you require students to take the classes, they will learn. But nobody's requiring 'em to take the classes.

CALDARA: All right, let me ask me about CU -- my alma matter, your [Corry's] alma mater. Let me ask you: A kid going to CU, does he take basic Western civ? Does he take these classes, basic economics? Does he understand -- what is he required to take that would bump him up on this ISI test for civic literacy? What is he required to take?

LUCERO: That is the million-dollar question, Jon, because I've been after this idea of what's core curriculum.

[...]

CALDARA: We're not talking right versus left --

LUCERO: Correct.

CALDARA: -- we're not talking about whether Democrats or Republicans should win.

LUCERO: No.

CALDARA: Kids ought to know how the Constitution works; kids ought to know basic economic principles; kids ought to know basic American history.

CORRY: And that couldn't be more true -- whether you're a dance major or a political science major. And I think there's this pervasive view on our campuses that if you're a political science major, then your specialty should be in these areas. But what we have found, and what this study -- the Intercollegiate Studies Institute came out with demonstrates -- is that a student's knowledge relating to the Constitution or these key concepts that we're talking about directly correlates into how active they will be as citizens. It's just as important that the dance major votes as that the political science major votes. We need to have active, engaged citizens, and we really need to get back to basics with our core curriculum and say, "What is important here? Before you learn to dance, you should learn about Congress."

[...]

CALDARA: I want to see a change; I want to make sure that by the time kids leave college, those scores from ISI actually go up. How do we best facilitate that? How do we make sure that we have kids who are not only culturally literate -- not only can actually read -- but are civically literate as well? What's the quick answer?

CORRY: There is no quick answer.

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