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Commentary: This July Fourth, Celebrate How Universities Can Save America

By Justin Dyer

Will this presidential election be the most important in American history?

Commentary by Justin Dyer originally published by RealClearEducation and RealClearWire

To no one’s surprise, a new poll commissioned by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) found that confidence in higher education is at an all-time low. Americans’ dissatisfaction with higher education has been in slow decline for more than a decade. Ubiquitous footage last spring of students parroting terrorist slogans while building campus encampments and occupying academic buildings only accelerated the collapse.

A reversal of this persistent downward trend is hard to imagine. Today, the possibility that a restoration of faith in higher education could help repair American self-government seems even more remote.

Dissatisfaction with higher education is partly rooted in the perception that universities have become ideological monocultures, devoid of diverse perspectives and voices and closed to the full range of reasonable views represented in our pluralistic society. Political scientist Jon Shields found in his research that conservatives now make up only 4% of historians, 3% of sociologists, and 2% of literature professors. In many departments, that effectively means there are none.

This disconnect between town and gown has weakened the ability of universities to fulfill their civic purpose by providing education that unites rather than divides. But public universities which once were central to strengthening our Republic and bridging our divides can be again.

Commonwealths are held together by common loves, as thinkers as far back as theologian and philosopher Augustine have recognized. A shared love of country is necessary for a healthy and stable political system that mediates our partisan disagreements while safeguarding freedom and prosperity.

Yet, we cannot love what we do not know, and the state of civic knowledge is abysmal. Less than half of all adult Americans can name the three branches of government, according to the recent Annenberg Civics Knowledge Survey; nineteen out of twenty cannot name the five freedoms or rights protected by the First Amendment.

Many Americans do not love, and will not defend, what they do not understand. In one jarring Quinnipiac poll, 38% of Americans said, at the time of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, that they would flee rather than fight if there were a similar ground invasion in the United States. Earlier this year, a similar percentage of Americans under the age of 30 registered their support for authoritarian alternatives to America’s constitutional republic. We are confronted with daily evidence that our civic life — and our country’s survival — depends on patriotic, independent thinkers who know the principles that sustain their own freedom and are willing to defend them.

The need for knowledge and education that will sustain freedom is woven into America’s founding. Even before the state conventions had ratified the Constitution, some of the most prominent Framers began advocating for the creation of a national university to educate the Republic’s future leaders and unite people from different parts of the country.

George Washington took up the idea, in 1796, in his Annual Message to Congress. Others carried Washington’s ideas forward by creating new state universities. Typical were the first commissioners of the University of Virginia, including Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who envisioned higher branches of education that would “form the statesmen, legislators, and judges, on which public prosperity and individual happiness are so much to depend.”

Two centuries later, in the midst of a crisis of confidence in higher education and America itself, there is reason for optimism. Public universities across the country are responding to our current anti-civics moment — defined by an unlearning of the rights and duties of citizenship — by creating new schools, institutes, and initiatives that prepare students for civic responsibility through the study of America’s founding principles, economic foundations, and history.

The leadership and knowledge provided by these civics schools is not purely academic. By combining practical experiences with classical education, these dynamic programs bring to campus a distinctly American spirit of enterprise. In doing so, they enable the students to build a future and meet the challenges of the present while being guided by the wisdom of the past.

Instilling this knowledge in the next generation rebuilds the foundation on which love for America can once again flourish. It is key to bridging our ideological differences, rebuilding trust, and reversing the polarization that threatens our nation. Amid widespread dissatisfaction, the renewal of civic education is one hopeful step toward recovering the purpose and promise of higher education. If we aim to revitalize and sustain the American experiment, there’s no better place to start.

By Justin Dyer – This article was originally published by RealClearEducation and made available via RealClearWire.

Deneen Borelli

Deneen Borelli is the author of Blacklash: How Obama and the Left are Driving Americans to the Government Plantation. Deneen is a contributor with Newsmax Broadcasting. She is a former Fox News contributor and has appeared regularly on “Hannity,” “Fox & Friends,” “Your World with Neil Cavuto,” and “America’s Newsroom.” She has also appeared on Fox Business Network programs “Making Money with Charles Payne,” “The Evening Edit with Liz MacDonald,” and “Cavuto: Coast to Coast.” Previously, Deneen appeared on MSNBC, CNN, the BBC and C-SPAN. In addition to television, Deneen co-hosted radio programs on the SiriusXM Patriot channel with her husband Tom. Recently, Deneen co-hosted the Reigniting Liberty podcast with Tom. Deneen is a frequent speaker at political events, including the FreedomWorks 9.12.2009 March on D.C. which drew a crowd estimated at over 800,000 people. Deneen is also an Ambassador with, a social media platform that promotes free speech, and with the America First Policy Institute (AFPI) which advances policies that put Americans first. Deneen testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources in May 2011 and before the Ohio House Public Utilities Committee in December 2011. Previously, Deneen was a host, Outreach Director with overseeing its outreach program, a Project 21 Senior Fellow, and Manager of Media Relations with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Prior to joining CORE, Deneen worked at Philip Morris USA for 20 years. During her corporate career at Philip Morris she worked in various positions, her last as Project Management Coordinator in the Information Management department where she was responsible for the department’s mandated quality processes, communications, sales information and database management. Deneen began her Philip Morris career as a secretary and advanced to positions of increasing responsibilities. Deneen worked full-time and attended classes at night for 11 years to earn her B.A. in Managerial Marketing from Pace University, New York City. Deneen served on the Board of Trustees with The Opportunity Charter School in Harlem, New York. She appeared in educational videos for children, worked as a runway fashion model, and auditioned for television commercials. Her interests include ancient history, pistol target shooting, photography, and volunteering at her church. Deneen currently resides in Connecticut with her husband Tom.

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