by Pa Rock
Yesterday I noted that high school students in Oklahoma and Arizona had done very poorly on a citizenship test that (one would hope) even their parents could have passed. Today I came across a very good web site that got into the nuts and bolts of exactly what the students did not know.
Jeff Hoard is a freelance writer and researcher who lives in the woods of British Columbia (that's in Canada, kids). He states that in his spare time he searches for signs of "Idiocracy." Not surprisingly his searches led him to the story on the citizenship survey of Oklahoma students. The information that follows was pulled from Jeff's blog, The Idiocracy Index.
The question on the survey that drew the highest percentage of correct answers from the 1,000 students who were polled was this: What ocean is on the east coast of the United States? Sixty-one percent (610 students) were able to correctly answer that it was the Atlantic Ocean. Presumably, some had actually been there.
The question that garnered the least number of correct responses was this: How many justices are on the Supreme Court? Only ten percent (100 students) knew that nine justices sit on the Supreme Court. That was probably the toughest question on the survey, but a new justice was recently appointed to the Court, stirring a lot of news about the Court and its structure and balance, so more students should have gotten that right. (Are we watching too much Survivor and not enough news programs?)
The other questions went like this:
What is the supreme law of the land? Twenty-eight percent (280) knew that it is the Constitution.
What do we call the first ten amendments to the Constitution? Twenty-six percent (260) correctly answered that those amendments are collectively known as the Bill of Rights.
What are the two parts of the U.S. Congress? Survey says: The Senate and the House. Twenty-seven percent (270) of the students got that correct.
Who wrote the Declaration of Independence? The author of that critical document in our history was Thomas Jefferson. Only 14% (140) of students knew that answer.
There was an upsurge of correct answers on this question: What are the two major political parties in the United States? Yet, even on something that basic and well known, less than half of the students surveyed knew that those two political parties are the Democrats and Republicans. Forty-three percent (430) answered correctly.
We elect a U.S. Senator for how many years?
Just 11% (110) knew that the correct answer was six.
Who was the first President of the United States? Twenty-three percent (less than one in four) knew that George Washington was our first President. Come on guys, he's on the dollar bill!
Surprisingly, at least to me, more of the students knew who is in charge of the executive branch than knew the father of our country. Twenty-nine percent (290) answered correctly that the head of the executive branch is the President.
Here is another interesting way to look at the results of this survey:
Of the 1,000 students who were polled, 46 got none of the answers correct, 158 got only one answer correct, 246 got two answers right, 265 (the highest concentration) correctly answered three questions, 177 managed to answer four right, 80 got half correct- five out of ten, 22 got six right (the passing point), and six proved to be real scholars by getting seven correct. None of the 1,000 students who took the survey got more than seven out of ten correct.
So what is the problem? Why did a thousand high school students in Oklahoma do so badly on a test covering what should be a very basic part of their political and historical heritage. The answer is complicated. A lot of really talented people can't afford to teach and have to take jobs in industry or other economic sectors to feed their families. Schools are running so scared of test scores that they concentrate heavily on teaching the test, to the detriment of all other knowledge. Parents are working longer and harder, often both parents, leaving children unsupervised and homework unchecked. And the whole world appears to be angry. It is so much easier to stand around and yell than it is to roll up your shirt sleeves and begin to fix problems.
Knowledge itself is also being pushed under the church bus. Sarah Palin tells people that dinosaurs and people walked the earth at the same time - she's seen pictures! Places like Kansas and Texas go crazy trying to push science out of textbooks and replace it with Creationism, whatever the hell that is. (People who want their children to go to competitive universities and become medical doctors want real science taught in classrooms. People with serious illnesses and injuries - even fundamentalist Christians - want to be treated by people who have been educated in real science.)
Education will get back on track in this country when teaching salaries are high enough to attract really good teachers away from business and industry. Education will begin to recover when school districts start putting more books in their school libraries, books open to a wide range of real life, and quit allowing small-minded moralists to roam through the stacks and haul books that offend them off to community bonfires. Education will start to mean something again when we revel in ideas and encourage students to step outside of their comfort zone and see what this big world is all about.
Education will have arrived when the spelling bee attracts the same enthusiasm as homecoming, when the honor roll is as anticipated as the football starting lineup, and when every child is praised by their parents for what they have learned in school - every day. It's within reach and well worth the effort.