Thursday, November 20, 2008

Ignorance Isn't Bliss

My favorite columnist, Cal Thomas has written an article reporting on the national results of the latest Intercollegiate Studies Institute civics test:

For the third straight year, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) has found that a large number of Americans cannot pass a basic 33-question civic literacy test on their country's history and institutions. The multiple-choice questions ask about the inalienable rights mentioned in the Declaration of Independence (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness), the name of Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1933 series of government programs (The New Deal) and the three branches of government (executive, legislative, judicial). No, I didn't peek at the answers. I received a good education.

The random sample of 2,508 American adults, ranging from those without high school diplomas, to people with advanced degrees, revealed a minimal difference in civic literacy between the uneducated and the highly educated. Fifty-six percent of those surveyed could identify Paula Abdul as one of the judges on "American Idol," but only 21 percent were able to recognize a phrase from Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. I had to memorize that speech in high school. What are they memorizing now?

This article is a must read. And you should also take the time to go to the ICI website and take the test for yourself. I scored 87.88, missing 4 out of the 33 questions, but learned something that I didn't know in the process of taking the test. I was hoping for an A, and if I'd gone with my instincts on two of the questions I would have gotten it. The scary thing is just how bad Americans do on this test across the board. What is even scarier is that the elected officials who took the test did WORSE than the national average.

It's no wonder that we're in the state that we are. God help us.


A friend said...

Cool - I only missed one. Now I'm feeling quite superior today, LOL. When you consider that I now measure the years since any 'formal' education in decades, I guess some of it stuck after all!

Honestly, though... Most, if not all of those questions were in the curriculum of middle school civics and basic American History in high school (here in NC, anyway). I think the problem is not so much that it's not taught anymore as that kids just don't care about civics and history. Speaking as someone who is a recovering public school teacher (I'll never quite get over it) I was never so shocked in all my life as when I first stood in front of a class full of kids with my Social Studies degree and found out that about 1 out of 20 kids actually CARED at LEAST about the grade they got in class, and only about 10% of THOSE kids actually LIKED history/civics. That added up to be about 1 or 2 of the entire day's worth of students.

While I find reading books about history (and the Bible too for that matter) facinating for their insights into our human condition and thought processes - not to mention all the intrigue and salacious parts - apparently the vast majority of people just don't see any relevance to their daily lives.

As the old saying can lead that horse to water....

Jonathan said...

BRAVO! And God bless you! How wonderful that you were a teacher and willing to put up with all of the nonsense that goes along with that. Too bad I didn't have you for my teacher. My history teacher used it as a front to be a coach. I don't remember us being taught anything at all - although he did require that we memorize the preamble to the Constitution (which all of us had learned on Schoolhouse Rock as kids on Saturday mornings.)

A friend said...

I don't deserve too many accolades on the teaching front - only taught one year, was hired as a 10th day teacher and out of my certification area. Having that 'bump' of kids move on and thereby losing the extra teacher at the school (me) and not getting my contract renewed was the best thing that ever happened to me. When you are dreaming of blowing your students away with a very large handgun (at least my dream bullets were blanks...but they did make that %&*% kid mess his pants while everyone laughed...what a nice dream...), you know you might have not made the best career decision.

Now I teach adults for fun one evening a week. They pay me good money to share my knowledge with them and appreciate my 'wisdom'. Maybe not the best thing for the youth of America, but much better for my sanity, and I get the teaching bug out of my system.

Speaking of the 'coach/teach' issue - when interviewing for high school social studies teaching jobs straight out of college, one of the first 5 questions inevitably was 'what can you coach?'. Sometimes the principal was even kind enough to just ask that one first, before I got my hopes up that it was a 'real' interview where they were actually interested in my teaching abilities.

I found out pretty quickly (at least back then, and I suppose it's probably not changed too much) that if you can't coach, it's hard to find a job teaching 11th grade US History. I had excellent references, stellar grades and a superior rating on my student teaching, but apparently the most important consideration was the amount of testosterone and coaching experience of the candidate. Considering that the only time I got near a ball field voluntarily was when I was marching my band geeky self across it for 4 years of college half-time shows, and I lacked the particular body parts needed to produce testosterone at the required level, I didn't get those jobs.

The 'can you coach?' hiring phenomenon probably explains the history teacher you had. Heck, I think I had the same one. My High School US History class would probably had learned a lot more if I HAD been the teacher, but they wouldn't have liked me nearly as much, since I would have actually made them do some WORK for their grades.

Oh, and LOVE School House Rock - my kids watch in the van all the time and actually 'dig' it. I have to say that one of the downsides of cable TV and 24 hour kids channels is that they don't appreciate good Saturday morning cartoons anymore... sigh...

Jonathan said...

Yeah, he was pretty bad all around... he couldn't coach either. Ended up his career as a Principal. (I know you're probably no more surprised than I was.)

I understand the desire to wreak justice in the halls of learning. Most in my family have been educators. I have heard many stories. I even considered briefly doing lateral entry as an English teacher... before I did some research and discovered that they were insane if they thought I was going to subject myself to that kind of punishment for that little money.

I have found that the handgun dream is generally just an allergic response to stupidity.

I really wish that they would strip athletics out of the schools. It seems to me that it would be far better if they did. If the sports were no longer tied to schools there wouldn't be all of these academic eligibility rules that keep kids that are obviously never going to be students from doing something that they are legitimately good at. You also wouldn't end up with 1/3 of the faculty in the school pretending to be teachers. Who knows? It may actually produce positive results.

What did you play in band? I played trombone. (I also played football, but I marched in 9th grade. It was more fun than football.)

So right on not appreciating Saturday morning cartoons. I lived for Saturday morning and 3 hours of Looney Tunes! And Schoolhouse Rock was so totally awesome!