The Ability of College Freshmen to Identify Adam Smith and Karl Marx

By Manton, Edgar; English, Donald | College Student Journal, September 2000 | Go to article overview

The Ability of College Freshmen to Identify Adam Smith and Karl Marx


Manton, Edgar, English, Donald, College Student Journal


The problem of this study was to determine the numbers and percentages of first semester freshmen at Texas A&M University-Commerce who could correctly identify the individuals who are generally considered to be the "fathers" of communism and capitalism. A questionnaire was administered to all entering freshmen students enrolled in a business computing systems course. Of those students surveyed, 26.6 percent were able to identify Adam Smith as the "father" of capitalism, while 37.2 percent were able to identify Karl Marx as the "father" of communism.

Introduction

The free enterprise economic system is now operational in most of the world -- even the last remaining avowed communist nations such as China, Cuba and North Vietnam have incorporated free enterprise segments into their economies. Having had such a widespread and profound impact on the worlds' economies, what is the level of awareness of the founder or the synthesizer of the free enterprise system? Previous studies have indicated that American freshmen college students were much more aware that Karl Marx was the founder of communism than that Adam Smith was the founding father of the free enterprise system. (Manton and English, 1984 and 1988)

There is a need for Americans to raise their level of economic understanding. In the state of Texas, as well as other states, it is the obligation and responsibility of the public school system to teach students about our economic system. In 1973, the Texas Legislature mandated that all public high schools provide instruction in the "essentials of the free enterprise system." Subsequently, the State Board of Education amended school accreditation standards to require that all schools: (a) offer an elective free enterprise, course to all high school students, (b) incorporate the study of the free enterprise system into the required high school social studies courses, and (c) correlate free enterprise education instruction with the elementary curriculum. (Texas Education Agency 1979, 1) The Economic Education Act of 1977 gave the State Board of Education power to expand the scope of free enterprise education and listed deadlines for the implementation of economic education in Texas public schools. Adopted measures for grades 10-12 were implemented by the 1978-1979 school year. (Texas Education Agency 1979, 1)

It was decided to survey the college freshmen class of 1998 to see what, if anything, had changed since the prior studies that were conducted in 1984 and 1989. This knowledge had been described in the previous studies as a "measure of students knowledge of economic heritage."

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study was to determine the number of first semester freshmen, at Texas A&M University-Commerce, who could correctly identify the individuals who are generally considered to be the "fathers" or founders of communism and of capitalism. The researchers also investigated the effect that a high school economics/free enterprise course, in the state of Texas, has upon the ability to correctly identify the founders of the respective economic systems.

Procedures

A questionnaire was administered to all entering freshmen students enrolled in GBus 128, Business Computer Systems in the fall 1998, to gather the data for this study. This is a required course that is usually taken by prospective business majors during the first semester of college enrollment. Thus, the sample would be composed primarily of recent high school graduates. The questionnaire contained nine questions. These questions were of the multiple response and "yes/no" type. There were two key questions asked. One was, "Which of the following persons is generally considered to be the `father' of communism?" Respondents were asked to select one of five persons listed. The choices were: (a) Josef Stalin, (b) Leon Trotsky, (c) Karl Marx, (d) Lenin, and (e) Mao Tse Tung. The other key question was, "Which of the following persons is generally considered to be the `father' of the free enterprise system? …

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