Thursday, February 14, 2008

Dumb and dumber?

There's a new book out by Susan Jacoby probing the depths of, and the reasons for, American anti-intellectualism. There's always been a strong undercurrent of disregard and even scorn for the life of the mind in this country, beginning with life on the frontier. Who were the teachers there? The ones who couldn't DO anything, like clear away trees or build houses.

The New York Times report on Jacoby's book offers some contemporary evidence of American ignorance, including the following:

The American idol stalwart, Kelli Pickler, on a recent episode of "Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?

"Ms. Pickler threw up both hands and looked at the large blackboard perplexed. “I thought Europe was a country,” she said. Playing it safe, she chose to copy the answer offered by one of the genuine fifth graders: Hungary. “Hungry?” she said, eyes widening in disbelief. “That’s a country? I’ve heard of Turkey. But Hungry? I’ve never heard of it.”

A recent National Geographic poll that discovered

that "early half of 18- to 24-year-olds don’t think it is necessary or important to know where countries in the news are located. So more than three years into the Iraq war, only 23 percent of those with some college could locate Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel on a map."

But what exactly was it that moved her to plumb the depths of her countrymen's ignorance? It happened on New York's darkest day, 9/11/2001.

"Walking home to her Upper East Side apartment, she said, overwhelmed and confused, she stopped at a bar. As she sipped her bloody mary, she quietly listened to two men, neatly dressed in suits. For a second she thought they were going to compare that day’s horrifying attack to the Japanese bombing in 1941 that blew America into World War II:

'This is just like Pearl Harbor,” one of the men said.

The other asked, 'What is Pearl Harbor?'

'That was when the Vietnamese dropped bombs in a harbor, and it started the Vietnam War,' the first man replied."

At that point, Jacoby said, she decided that she needed to write the book. I had a student once who, under severe stress, wrote on an exam that Lyndon Johnson dropped the atom bomb on north Vietnam, but that's not quite in the same category.

Sheesh...we've got some DUMB people in this culture, dumb and dumber.


german said...

geography never has been a strong point i remember student teaching in 1993. a sophomore class decided that they didn't need to know a map of europe. so they photocopied it and reduced down to the size of a playing card. worked well too til i walked into the teachers lounge moved a paper cutter and found the reductions.

TomCat said...

Perhaps the power that be figure that the more ignorant we are, the easier we will be to fool. When I was growing up, I learned how to think in school. Today, they learn what to think, and that poorly.

hillblogger said...

A huge chunk of my dauhgter's US history exams last year (she's in Year 12 at an international school) tackled the JFK-Lyndon Johnson/Vietnam years.

I was still a young girl during the Johnson years and while I knew/learned about US-Vietnam war, must say I learned a lot about this era or segment of US history when my daughter was reviewing for her exam.

Mandatory subjec in French high-school to study Philo 101. It's a must pass subject for baccaulaureat students (high school graduating students in US) in France -- overall, I say a good way to urge if not motivate pre-university students "to think."

TomCat said...

HB, you were a young girl? All this time, I thought you were a guy! {{blush}}

Philosophy is not offered in most high schools here.