Who says the national obsession called “American Idol” provides no redeeming intellectual qualities? One of the finalists of the singing competition show was featured on another TV show recently. Kellie Pickler, a very sweet, good natured and down to earth young lady, was a guest on a game show called “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?”
The geography question was, “Budapest is the capital of what European country?” She was stumped. “I thought Europe was a country,” she said. When she learned Budapest is the capital of Hungary, she responded, “Hungry? That’s a country? I’ve heard of Turkey. But Hungry? I’ve never heard of it.”
I don’t want to be harsh with our dear little Kellie. She may have come from a disadvantaged backwoods upbringing, and is not to blame for her education.
What worries me is this. She represents the rule, rather than the exception, regarding our level of general knowledge in this country.
According to the February 27th edition of the New York Times, “Fewer than half of American teenagers who were asked basic history and literature questions in a phone survey knew when the Civil War was fought, and one in four said Columbus sailed to the New World some time after 1750, not in 1492.”
I thought they even had a nursery rhyme for that one. What else did this study reveal?
“In the survey, 1,200 17-year-olds were called in January and asked to answer 33 multiple-choice questions about history and literature that were read aloud to them. The questions were drawn from a test that the federal government administered in 1986. About a quarter of the teenagers were unable to correctly identify Hitler as Germany’s chancellor in World War II, instead identifying him as a munitions maker, an Austrian premier and the German Kaiser.”
Some believe that the limits imposed by the “No Child Left Behind” law account for much of this gap. This is probably true to some extent, but there’s reason to suspect the roots of the problem lie deeper.
Author Susan Jacoby is also worried about our people’s lack of global awareness. According to her book, “The Age of American Unreason,’ our college level students don’t seem to be much more aware of the outside world, either.
Astonishingly, after over 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. (Isn’t that about the same percentage of Americans who didn’t buy into the Iraq War hysteria back in 2003?)
A 2006 National Geographic poll that found nearly half of 18- to 24-year-olds don’t think it is necessary or important to know where countries in the news are located.
Ms. Jacoby stopped in a bar on September 11, 2001 and overheard two patrons dressed in suits discussing the day’s events.
“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.
That was the moment Ms. Jacoby decided to write her book.
Along with our failing educational system, she notes another aspect of our culture. Surveys show that nearly two-thirds of Americans want creationism to be taught along with evolution.
Good God! Not only does our nation ignore geography and history, but thanks to the pervasive brain rot of fundamentalism, we also hate science.
The dumbing down of our country is proceeding as if it were the work of a deliberate conspiracy. We know the Republicans hate public education and are doing their best to undermine it. And their zealous exploitation of fundamentalism is limitless. Are they really adopting the Orwellian “1984” slogan, “Ignorance is strength?”
Before you stop me and tell me how far I’ve left the sandbox, let me just point this out.
“War is peace,” is another of Big Brother’s mottos. What kind of doublespeak is that, you may ask?
"I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we're really talking about peace." That was George W. Bush on June 18th 2002.
It doesn’t look like we need the Washington punditry to explain to us why Bush was re-elected. Ignorance is their strength.