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Do American Students Know Anything?? Instant-Test Tells All

Posted 47 months ago|17 comments|3,627 views
"Non cogito ergo non sum."
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Written by
BruceDPrice
Virginia Beach, VA
The Education Establishment likes to give the impression that children don't do anything but take tests ALL DAY, and teachers don't do anything but teach to the test ALL DAY. It's so horrible and unjust.

But somehow at the end of all this teaching and testing, children know approximately nothing. How can we trust all that whining?

Finally, I just want to know, in a very simpleminded way, what do these kids actually know? Do they know ANYTHING?

I'm talking down-and-dirty, which-way-is-up, twelve-inches-make-a-foot, how-many-hours-in-a-day, if-you-don't-know-this-you-are-dumb-as-dirt.

When you see Leno go "Jaywalking," you have the real bad feeling that for many people their education stops at the level of 6 + 3. What century was the First World War in? Seriously, I bet half the students in the US can't answer that. I'm very afraid they can't.

Okay, here's my Instant-Test. Ten easy questions. You get 60 seconds. If you're out of high school and miss any of these questions, you will want to have a scarlet D for Dunce tattooed on your forehead.

MATH: what is 8 x 9?

BIOLOGY: what is the main organ in the circulatory system?

WORLD HISTORY: Columbus sailed from what country in 1492?

LITERATURE: Shakespeare wrote in what language?

SCIENCE: what is ice?

ART: a painting of a hillside with trees and sky is called a what?

GEOGRAPHY: On your honor, can you point at Japan on a map of the world?

ASTRONOMY: Name 2 planets that go around the Sun.

MUSIC: a large group of musicians playing classical music is called a what?

AMERICAN HISTORY: Lincoln was president during what war?

Time's up. I'm willing to go out on a limb here. If someone can't point to Japan on a map, doesn't know what eight by nine is, can't name two planets that go around the Sun, and the rest of it, that someone is an ignoramus and the alleged "school" this student attended can be leveled with no loss to the country's IQ.

Indeed, this kind of ignorance is rarely a student's fault. There are far too many schools where very little is taught. By all means, blame the schools--and then fix them or close them.

Instant-Test can let parents have a better idea what sort of school their children attend. Children of twelve or fourteen should know these answers. Children of ten might miss two or three. Point is, these questions, simple as they are, require real information. Suppose a teenager knows only one or two answers. That's a serious problem. You could reasonably extrapolate from that limited knowledge and ask: just what does this person know? Anything at all? And also ask: just how bad is this school?

The big problem in America is not that children can't learn but that schools REFUSE to teach. Core Standards and National Standards hurtle toward ever softer formulations of what children should know. Kids are expected to talk about their feelings and tell how they would approach a problem. Correct answers are somehow not part of all that teaching to the test.

The belly flop into dumb started a century ago when John Dewey organized a blitzkrieg against knowledge. Social activities are good; knowing anything is bad or at best irrelevant. This anti-knowledge prejudice is now part of the public schools' DNA, its institutional heritage. Everything these people do is intended to perpetuate the plot: get rid of content; celebrate psychological and socialistic values; and hide the whole charade inside a sophistry wrapped inside a lie.

At this point, the overarching concern of too many elite educators is to create mechanisms by which children can get high grades despite knowing nothing. Instant-Test is intended to illuminate this destructive tendency.

The rallying cry here is: facts are fun and knowledge is power. The brain wants knowledge. Kids need knowledge. Schools should get back in the knowledge business ASAP.


(For a 100-question version of the same idea, see "20: The Quizz" on Improve-Education.org . Also see "47: Teach One Fact Each Day.")


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COMMENTS
Colorado
Colorado
Denver, CO
47 months ago: The question I have, what function do facts serve?

Reading, writing, basic math, basic science (not astronomy) have useful purposes in the society. These skill sets will help students outside of school on a daily basis.

What useful purpose is served by having the entire population know all of the same facts? Historical facts my help create a national identity but are useless for most careers.

In the modern age we specialize, this benefits society because it allows an individual to become an expert in a productive manner. This system means everyone does not need to be an expert on everything.

So instead of focusing on memorization of non-productive facts, I feel it would be more prudent for the basics of communication, math, and science to be the main focus of any K-10 testings system. 6 out of the 10 questions above would not add any value to the daily life of the student.

This does not mean I feel other subjects are not important but they are only important to people with a career in those academic fields. Testing outside of the four basic skill sets is an unfair, and unproductive system.

Thanks for the post.
Colorado
Colorado
Denver, CO
Content Removed by Colorado
Colorado
Colorado
Denver, CO
Content Removed by Colorado
BruceDPrice
BruceDPrice
Virginia Beach, VA
47 months ago: 1) The left-hand video gives examples of things that everybody needs to know.

2) If kids learn a fact a day--easy to do--they'd know all the foundational knowledge that makes a real education possible.

3) It just seem weird and selfish to me for an educated, sophisticated person to use so many glittering arguments on behalf of keeping other people dumb. How does anyone know what facts are "non-productive"? Not any facts I know!

4) Personally, I want to make other people smart. I especially want to make other people's kids smart. I'm a product of the Enlightenment, and want to give that gift to everyone else.
Colorado
Colorado
Denver, CO
47 months ago: I have nothing wrong with facts, but testing in my opinion should focus on the fundamentals.

Good article.
Altruist
Altruist
Eugene, OR
47 months ago: Some facts and a good knowledge base (exemplified by your short quiz) are a necessary foundation for further understanding and higher levels of thinking, but they are not the only thing that is important.

Dewey recognized that the most important thing is that students learn how to think and how to teach themselves.

Today it is important for students to learn how to do math before they are allowed to rely on calculators.

It is important for them to learn to read before they take off on computers.

They have to learn a lot of basic science before they can really understand how the world works.

There should be a progression where they learn to walk before they run.

As Colorado pointed out, the problem with facts, and which facts are necessary to memorize, is that what seemed relevant to us old geezers does not seem very relevant to the young.

Memorizing Shakespear's sonnets may seem important to you, but being able to rap and sing contemporary songs uses the same mental processes.

On the other hand I agree that there is no such thing as learning too much. We should always hold all of our students to higher standards.
Colorado
Colorado
Denver, CO
47 months ago: I love learning facts, I have my degree in history but I know its not for everyone.

good comment.
BruceDPrice
BruceDPrice
Virginia Beach, VA
47 months ago: Altruist, you must stop reading my articles immediately. You are starting to make sense.
Altruist
Altruist
Eugene, OR
46 months ago: Thanks! The difference is that you blame the educational institution for the sorry state of education, but having taught I see the major problems as being external. There are huge inequalities in funding, In learning environments, and in parental involvement.

We have seen that given great teachers and motivation, even the kids in the worst ghettos can do well.

So how do you get great teachers? If you look at those countries that have the best education systems, the teachers are revered. They are actively recruited from the best of the best and given commiserate high wages.

In this country people like you besmirch our hard working teachers and blame them for the problems. The problem is that we as a society does not value education. But it isn't just throwing money at the problem. Finland has the top education system but does it much cheaper than we do.

What we need to do is emulate the most successful schools, value education, and teach the kids that learning is fun. http://schoolmatters.knoxnews.com/forum/...
BruceDPrice
BruceDPrice
Virginia Beach, VA
46 months ago: Boy, this is so irritating because it's so dumb. I never discuss teachers. I blame nothing on teachers. I have little interest in teachers because they DON'T make policy. Indeed, they are the VICTIMS of stupid policies made by the commissars at the top, the Education Establishment. Those are the pretenders I besmirch.

I am always careful to talk about ELITE educators, TOP educators, but mainly I use the term Education Establishment. That's the top 500 people at most. Perhaps only the top 100. Perhaps there are only 10 running the show. They have PhD's. They are far to the left. They are carrying on Dewey's work of trying to create a socialist America. Get rid of them and maybe we could have a sane educational system.

Truth is, my work and my site Improve-Education.org may be the best friend that teachers have. I am pro teacher, anti elite educator.


Altruist
Altruist
Eugene, OR
46 months ago: The major problem with education in this country is that it is funded by property taxes which inevitably results in poor areas having poorly paid teachers and crumbling buildings. To be equitable the poor areas should receive more funding not less because they need to compensate for the rotten learning environments and special needs.

The No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top programs are good because they pumped more money into schools and are increasing accountability and determining which schools and teaching methods work. But they are bad because they treat education as a business where failing schools get punished by cutting funding. Instead we should pay inner city teachers bonuses to attract the best teachers to the worst areas.
Altruist
Altruist
Eugene, OR
46 months ago: That should be commensurate which means equal wages not commiserate which means to empathize with or sympathize.

I spoze if I'm talking education I should use gooder english.
BruceDPrice
BruceDPrice
Virginia Beach, VA
46 months ago: These oblivious comments inspired a rant. Besmirch teachers and blame them??? I almost never mention teachers. I am totally focused on the people at the top who control the system...

http://www.rantrave.com/Rant/Im-Anti-Edu...
46 months ago: "The rallying cry here is: facts are fun and knowledge is power. The brain wants knowledge. Kids need knowledge. Schools should get back in the knowledge business ASAP"

I believe you state America's attitude about education very well. That attitude is misleading and false and based on a bad information.

Knowledge by itself is not power. Whether in the head or in a book, knowledge can do nothing until its application is understood. Understood knowledge can be used, and can be used in powerful ways. By itself, knowledge is not power. The American education system bought this foolish argument a long time ago. And has educated on that foundation.

Applied knowledge can be powerful. Understood, applied knowledge makes things work. For example, if you understand percentages then you can understand what your home loan is about. A lot of people don't and didn't and the housing bubble was created. You'll object there were additional factors that created the housing bubble, and that is true. But. It rested on a lack of applied education, it would not have happened in a well educated, responsible society.

European schools teach knowledge for application. And are well ahead of the USA in education. American schools teach how to pass tests.

Now, a really smart fellow will obtain the knowledge and pass the tests and be able to use his knowledge. He will be able to apply his knowledge because he is smart enough to see application and connections with his knowledge, applied into the real world.

But European education recognizes that not everyone is a genius. And teach toward application. A student learns percentages, and then learns the practical application, applying percentage to his theoretical loan, learns how much he would have to pay each week, how much money he would have left and so on. Knowledge WITH application can be powerful. By itself, knowledge is as powerful as trivia. The idiot who said that knowledge was power led many people into a stultified American education system. Don't buy into that nonsense.

Let me give you a counter-example to make this point clear. A spaceship crashes on a remote planet. The pilot has degrees in engineering and biology and astrophysics. He is well educated, over-educated. But he hasn't a clue about how to chop down a tree or start a fire and can't deal with his environment and dies. Even though he has vast knowledge of many things. He knows he needs a fire, he knows if he had matches or other tools he could start a fire, hunt for food and build a shelter. But he doesn't have those tools and his knowledge doesn't have the foundational application his survival requires.
BruceDPrice
BruceDPrice
Virginia Beach, VA
46 months ago: But after you split all those hairs, what do you do with them?
(It's understood that you learn facts and how to use them more or less simultaneously. The application, as you put it, is just another part of the knowledge. The US has many schools that teach no facts, so the whole educational process is DOA.)
46 months ago: The Department of Education keeps educational statistics http://nces.ed.gov/. Since about 1995, an international group has formed that test and keep statistics. America was a member of the international group from the beginning. Those results are kept by the same organization. http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.as... is one example.

It is not splitting hairs to see that American students do poorly in math and science when compared to other country's students of the same grade level.

This was first observed before 2000 and has been more and more clearly defined. America students do poorly at applying what is taught.

You teach them arithmetic and the general population of students can not apply it, according to international tests. Not as well as their peers who are taught in other countries. And this trend grows worse at higher grade levels.

How is this possible -- was my question. And the answer is, American students are taught knowledge. They can fill in the blanks on the test and are passed upwards and onwards. But only the very bright students are able to apply the knowledge. Because application is not taught. It is too difficult for students to do what we used to call "thought problems", i.e. -- how many trips to the store must grandmother make to bake 13 cakes for the thanksgiving dinner (big family) when she can only carry 2 dozen eggs in her fanny pack, each cake requires 3 eggs except white cakes that need 5.

Application of knowledge, our schools do not teach that very well. My example here is small and not meant to cover all application of knowledge, but I try to illustrate what I am talking about, ok?

I've no argument with memorizing amazing and interesting facts, times tables, bus schedules or anything else. But in percentage comparison, we produce less qualified, well educated engineers and hard science people than most of Europe and the situation is growing worse, not better.

The specific area where we fail is teaching applied knowledge, understood knowledge a student can do things with. http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/index.asp?H... (and similar pages) tell this story more throughly. Don't expect to find the USA in the upper half of Math and Science. We do okay in English but poorly in Math and Science.

BruceDPrice
BruceDPrice
Virginia Beach, VA
46 months ago: I appreciate your leaving a comment and I don't want to waste time on trivial arguments. I just want to note, you are trying to make a distinction between kids learning knowledge ( AS IF THAT IS HAPPENING) and kids learning how to apply the knowledge.
The whole problem is that kids aren't learning ANYTHING. That's the name of the column.
(I have a long essay on my site titled "45: The Crusade Against Knowledge -- The Campaign Against Memory." The schools are set up to discriminate against knowledge AND the retention of knowledge. Until we fix both problems, discussing application is a moot sophistry.)
46 months ago: So my point is moot, I follow what you are saying better, now that we have discussed it. Moot, because without knowledge, there can be no, "understood, applied knowledge".
38 months ago: U.S. pupils, according to recently released reports, are slipping behind on their knowledge of U.S. history. Fourth graders were found to be better at learning American history than high school pupils in a recent study conducted by the Department of Education. I found this here: Most American students not proficient in American history

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