“American intelligence”: an oxymoron? Follow-up 2

In the New York Times today:

Survey Finds Teenagers Ignorant on Basic History and Literature Questions

In all reality, I’ll let you read the article and see what you think. The results reported in this article were established by a multiple choice questionnaire, given to 1,700 seventeen-year-olds, over the phone.(!) This isn’t exactly ideal testing conditions, and I suspect that in more formal conditions the results would have been different. The article also seems to want to spin the findings in a negative way. Right off the bat, the article states:

(…) and one in four said Columbus sailed to the New World some time after 1750, not in 1492.

Now, that’s not good; how is it that 25% of today’s 17-year-olds weren’t exposed to the refrain “in fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue”? However, if one out of four got it wrong, that means that three out of four probably got it right. And remember this is over the telephone. I bet that in different conditions the results for this question would have been closer to an 80% to 85% success rate.

Believe me, I’m in no way trying to justify. The American education system is in a disastrous state. Nevertheless, I found that the arguments presented in this article didn’t really support the somewhat inflammatory title.

The leaders of Common Core, a “new research and advocacy organization” that commissioned the study, also contend that the No Child Left Behind law plays a role in the, disappointing at least, results because it has created a teaching environment that is now too focused on reading and math. This comment reflects what seems to be, at least partially, at the heart of the problem: a lack of means in the American public schooling system. Is this what it’s come to? To emphasize the pathway (reading, writing and arithmetic) the system must sacrifice the destination (literature, history and the sciences)? Of course, this isn’t just a question of money; there is a cultural problem somewhere that is creating a feeling of non-necessity for education in a significant portion of the American population.

This gracefully leads me into the next paragraph…

If I’m posting today it’s to say that I did finally order “The Age of American Unreason” by Susan Jacoby from Amazon (see this post and this one too). So stay tuned for a head-first dive into the question of the state of American intelligence.

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