Thursday, February 28, 2008

Kids These Days?

Evidently, today's high schoolers know as little about history and literature as yesterday's high schoolers, which is to say, not very much at all. According to a new survey reported on by the New York Times:

The survey results, released on Tuesday, demonstrate that a significant proportion of teenagers live in “stunning ignorance” of history and literature, said the group that commissioned it, Common Core.

Incidentally, is it really "stunning ignorance" any more? I mean, these sort of surveys have been coming out on a regular basis ever since I was old enough to read the paper, I would think that in nearly two decades (at least!) we would all have gotten over being stunned. But then perhaps there are groups of people who are uniquely susceptible to stunning, since I would assume that anyone engaged professionally in wringing their hands over the ignorance of youth would also be aware of the tragic devolution of the English language brought about as once-emphatic adjectives slowly become commonplace through overuse, and would certainly not want to contribute to such a trend.

Now, I am certainly all for preserving our shared tradition of history and literature but... but... 25% of students think that Columbus sailed sometime after 1750, 6 in 10 can't identify Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, and only 50% know Job is known for patience? How many potential Jeopardy champs does this country really need?

The thing that makes surveys such as these particularly unhelpful is that we all know that our school system is doing a subpar job of delivering education. Or, to be more specific, a few public school systems effectively deliver a comprehensive education to most of their students while many more are manifest failures at this task. What new information does this study provide as to the state of education in the United States? None, that I can particularly see.

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