In a new post at See Thru Edu, Robert Paquette notes that higher education has a history problem.

“Don’t Know Much About History” at Elite U.S. Colleges

Little more than a year after the ending of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, James Madison wrote Thomas Jefferson a penetrating letter on the political future of the country. Eleven states had ratified the Constitution and were trying to put its provisions into effect. To lubricate the process, Madison and others had offered to critics certain behind-the-scenes assurances that the first Congress would undertake immediately the passage of certain alterations to the Constitution, including a bill of rights. Madison let Jefferson know that in principle he had no objection to such an addition and would support it provided a bill of rights would be so crafted “as not to imply powers not meant to be included in the enumeration.”

As even the great nationalist John Marshall understood in rendering his decision in the Supreme Court Case of Barron v. Baltimore (1833)— the case too often conveniently ignored by Marshall’s modern biographers—the Bill of Rights, as originally intended, was designed to serve not as an incorporative tool with which to hammer states into federal compliance with this or that national regulation, but as a powerful barrier “intended solely as a limitation on the exercise of power by the [federal] government of the United States,” a limitation “not applicable to the legislation of the states.”

The framers, to their credit, crafted a simple document with an elaborate system of “parchment barriers” to prevent power from agglomerating power to itself. But, if the spirit of the people had become corrupted, Madison stressed to Jefferson, the stoutest parchment barriers would prove insufficient to protect private rights from an overbearing majority, especially one dumbed down, degraded, dependent, and pandered to by demagogues. Recent surveys indicate that a majority of the adult population, many with B.A.s and B.S.s, cannot identify the three branches of government. A majority cannot explain what the First Amendment protects. A small minority can come up with the correct number of judges on the Supreme Court. Only a tiny minority can name the Court’s Chief Justice.