Here is something parents might want to ponder as they celebrate Thanksgiving with their children: A friendly argument around the dinner table could be a good thing -- especially if it involves current events or history.
A new scientific study shows that students who come from families that frequently discuss these topics learn more in college about American history, government, international relations and economics than students who come from families that don't.
Nor is this the only aspect of traditional family life that can help make children into better college students.
Last fall, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute surveyed 14,000 randomly selected freshmen and seniors at 50 colleges nationwide. Each student was given a 60-question "civic literacy" test that focused on American history, government, international relations and economics. Students were also asked about their family experience, including whether their parents were still married and living together, whether their parents had college degrees, whether the family had frequent conversations about current events and history, and whether English was the primary language spoken in their home.
By subtracting average freshman scores from average senior scores and controlling for other variables, researchers could measure how much civic knowledge, on average, students gained through family experience.
The data demonstrated that higher-quality family life led to students learning more about America's history and institutions during college. This finding is important for all Americans, not just those who are particularly concerned about family life, because the survey also showed that students who learn more about America's history and institutions during college also tend to be better citizens.
The students who did the best on the test were those who came from homes where the parents were both college graduates, were still married and living together, spoke English to their children, and frequently talked with them about current events and history. On average, seniors who enjoyed all these advantages scored 6.52 points higher than students who lacked them.
Among the other factors, the most significant was frequent family discussion of current events and history. It typically added 2.32 points to a senior's score. Among students who were U.S. citizens, using English as the primary language at home -- something immigrant families can strive to do -- added 1.80 points.
The survey reaffirms that how parents choose to raise their children matters more than where they were born or whether they went to college in determining whether those children become successful students and active participants in the civic life of our country.
Now, that's something worth discussing over turkey and stuffing.
Lt. Gen. Josiah Bunting III is chairman of the National Civic Literacy Board of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.