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55 PERCENT OF SENIORS IN COLLEGE FAIL TEST ON HISTORY AND LITERATURE

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A study found college seniors do not know much about history or literature - with nearly a quarter unable to identify Franklin Roosevelt as president during the Depression or distinguish between sections of "The Communist Manifesto" and the Constitution.

The survey by the Gallup Organization was Sunday released in conjunction with a National Endowment for the Humanities report calling for a core curriculum in colleges that would teach students "basic landmarks of history and thought.""A core of learning . . . encourages community," NEH Chairman Lynne Cheney said in the report "50 Hours," which offers a sample core curriculum. "Having some learning in common draws students together - and faculty members as well."

The NEH-commissioned survey asked students in the spring of their senior year 87 multiple-choice questions about history and literature. Fifty-five percent flunked, answering fewer than 60 percent of the questions correctly.

Even more troubling, the study said, was that more than a third of the questions were taken from a 1986 test for 17-year-olds. When only the questions designed to be answered correctly by most 17-year-olds were considered, 49 percent of the college seniors still failed.

The students even had trouble with five history questions derived from tests given to people trying to become U.S. citizens. Only two of the questions were answered correctly by a high percentage of students - and on one of those, 24 percent did not know Roosevelt was elected during the Depression.

Of the 696 students at 67 colleges who took the test, 68 percent failed the literature section and 39 percent failed the history section.

Eighty-three percent did not know T.S. Eliot wrote "The Wasteland" and "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," and 58 percent could not identify Plato as the author of "The Republic" or Shakespeare as the author of "The Tempest."

Only 58 percent of the students knew that the Koran is a sacred text of Islam - with 12 percent identifying it as a Jewish text, the survey found.