human behavior

Only 2 thangs come outta Oklahoma…

Posted in American Culture & Politics by humanb on September 20, 2009

us_dollar_frontAccording to a recent article, in observance of Constitution Day a conservative think tank commissioned a survey of the civic knowledge of Oklahoma high school students.

The survey posed 10 questions from the U.S. citizenship test question bank to 1000 students. Ninety-two percent (92%) of immigrants pass the test on their first try, which requires answering 6 out of 10 questions correctly. Only 3% of the students would have passed the test:

Only 23% knew the name of the first president of the United States.
Only 29% knew who was in charge of the executive branch.
Only 27% knew the 2 parts of the US Congress.

All other questions had similar or smaller percentages answering correctly, except:

60% knew which ocean bordered the east coast of the United States.

[Deep sigh.]

While I know nothing about the curricula at Oklahoma high schools in 2009, I would venture that the curricula are similar to the curriculum at my run-of-the-mill public school in the early 1990s in small town Pennsylvania.  That is, I would venture that the answers to all of these questions were taught repeatedly in junior high school, and a few reinforced in high school. I do doubt that civics is still taught widely, however. (I had a class devoted to civics in the 6th grade.) But you don’t need a year of civics class to know the answers to these questions. These are also the types of questions whose answers can be learned in watching or reading the news, or watching historical films. So why are these students so ignorant of such basic historical, political and geographic knowledge?

If you ask some of the Australians I have the misfortune of enduring, they would say the answer is quite simple. Americans are idiots (to which I silently respond, “But we have better manners”). The fundamental problem with America’s young is a lack of intellectual curiosity, which I doubt is unique to America’s young. It’s not the education system. The young are naturally more interested in those things directly relevant to themselves, their popularity, their self-image, and their wants. They are also increasingly more interested in those things which they see have value in today’s society: beauty, fame, wealth, a ridiculous number of Facebook friends and knowledge of ever-changing popular culture. This isn’t new either.

I imagine there are two driving forces behind American youth ignorance: 1) the exponential growth of information itself, and of all sorts, which is available via a diversity of sources and competes with more mundane information like history; and 2) the emphasis (or lack thereof) that parents place on traditional subjects of learning and learning for its own sake – regardless of its employment/income potential. No one has to know the name of the first president of the United States in today’s America to earn their George Washingtons. In fact, they don’t even want to work for a dollar. Show them da Benjamins.

P.S. I mean no disrespect Oklahoma. Apparently, Arizona students had similar results, and the blog title is a movie quote which replaces Oklahoma with any state, depending on the circumstance.

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