Monday, September 24, 2007

"You can always tell a Harvard man..."

Here's a civics test that suggests American education is not doing very well.

I am not a college graduate, I am not even American, and yet even I got 91% on this test. (missed 5 questions, and confess to guessing instinctively on two that I seemed to get right)

At the Intercollegiate Studies Institute's website, we can compare our scores to that of students enrolled in major US colleges and universities...
Harvard ranks highest, reaching a Senior Mean Score 69.56% on this test. Yale, the other big name I looked for immediately, was fourth, at 65.85% for its Seniors. The lowest rated school listed was St-Thomas University in Florida, at 32.5%.
32.5%! For a test like this! Incredible. (Shape up, St-Thomas..!)

Am I really that much smarter than a Harvard Senior? Of course not, which begs the question: Why aren't the students of these institutions learning this material? What are they being taught, instead?

"You can always tell a Harvard man... you just can't tell him much", went the old saying. Seems like now, he needs to be told quite a lot of things, if the Republic is to survive.


truepeers said...

Not bad for a Canuck.

Let's just say that by posting this at Covenant Zone, you are boosting their monthly average score.

I thought the most noteworthy thing in their stats was how little scores improved between freshman and senior years. At the ivy league colleges, there was really no improvement. So Harvard only got the top score because it attracted the top kids, not because it taught them anything. Many people have made observations on this phenomenon: Harvard is a way of buying status and a network, but not great teaching.

I once heard a joke about the old-fashioned Harvard man, but I don't remember it exactly. It goes something like this: a freshman makes an inquiry of someone, something along the lines of: "excuse me, can you tell me where this path leads to?"

The reply: "A Harvard man never ends a question with a preposition".

"Excuse me, can you tell me where this path leads to, a--h--e"

Anyway, the Harvard faculty can complain this test was designed to flunk their kind of teaching. It's all a Catholic (ISI) elitist, conservative conspiracy.

For example, here's a trick question, why shouldn't C be the correct answer? diversity is now widely acknowledged as the answer to everything:
20) A “representative democracy” is a form of government in which:
A. all or most citizens govern directly.
B. a monarch is elected to represent a people.
C. citizens exhibit wide ethnic and cultural diversity.
D. a president's cabinet is popularly elected.
E. those elected by the people govern on their behalf.

And what's wrong with A or E, here?
27) Which statement is a common argument against the claim that “man cannot know things”?
A. Professors teach opinion not knowledge.
B. Appellate judges do not comprehend social justice.
C. Consensus belief in a democracy always contains error.
D. Man trusts his ability to know in order to reject his ability to know.
E. Social scientists cannot objectively rank cultures.

And most atrocious of all, why isn't E considered correct?
49) Free enterprise or capitalism exists insofar as:
A. experts managing the nation’s commerce are appointed by elected officials.
B. individual citizens create, exchange, and control goods and resources.
C. charity, philanthropy, and volunteering decrease.
D. demand and supply are decided through majority vote.
E. Government implements policies that favor businesses over consumers.

dag said...

Why do they give this test when the doors are closing rather than. as Binet did, give the test as they enter? It should be a diagnostic, a place to start to teach that which students do not know or understand. Too late when kids hit the pavement and seek employment, they already know it all, and have the paper to prove it. Proof? Look at the experts from ivy league colleges who work in at State Dept. They don't know American history, so how on earth are they going to cope with learning Islam and its history?

I do recall that the Yale student scorned his Harvard washroom companion saying, "At Yale they teach us to wash our hands after using the toilet."

To which the Harvard man says, "At Harvard they teach us not to piss on our hands."

Ah, I got my edgamakation from National Lampoon. And, by the way, I blew the doors off the kids at Harvard, though I didn't do anywhere near as well as Charles on the test.

Anonymous said...

The average St Thomas score was a bit more than a third of mine.

Oddly, I think I would do better on an American civics test than I would do on a Canadian one. Despite being born and raised in Canada. Wonder how our students would stack up against theirs on domestic civics. I wouldn’t be surprised if the yanks edged us out. I would be shocked if our students didn’t wallop them at comparative civics. Any wild speculation?

truepeers said...


Can't see how Americans would beat Canadians on a Canadian civics test. The intricacies of parliamentary democracy are taught down there?

How many houses of parliament are there in Ottawa, Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia?

Does the Queen have the right to call an election?

Charles Henry said...

na, I'm afraid I have to agree with Truepeers on this.. I think you could ask the average American university student simple, basic questions like, "what is the capital of Canada", and they would get it wrong. They just don't seem to be taught much through their school years anymore. Well, neither are our students up here... I'm appalled at the holes in their knowledge of basic geography and history.
I think the generation now being raised with internet access has been cursed by it more than helped by it. The internet has wiped clean our species age-old ability to simply remember what we've been taught... the information is always "out there", at our fingertips, readily accessible, so why bother with the labor of carting it around inside our minds. One can just look it up and in the blink of an eye, the hole is filled.

Charles Henry said...

Your comment about doing better on US civics than on Canadian civics reminds me of one of my funniest scary moments ever: the time I visited Ottawa with my American wife.
We went on a tour of the Parliament buildings, and by chance I was the only Canadian in the group. (we had all identified ourselves at the start of the tour; quite an eclectic group)
At one point a tourist from Thailand asked a question of the guide, I think about the role of the Governor General. The guide looked at me, and asked: "do you know?" I couldn't tell from her expression and tone whether I was being asked to cover for her or if she genuinely wanted to know if I, mr average Canadian, knew how the mechanics of governance worked for my nation. Turns out I did indeed know the answer, and quickly gave it. That knowledge sealed my fate: for the rest of the tour, the guide kept asking me to answer everyone's questions! And by the grace of God I just happened to know all the answers. (how many seats in Parliament, having to identify various provincial flags, dates, paintings of previous Prime Ministers... trivia like that...)

To this day my wife and I love to laugh together about how nervous I was getting on that tour, because soon enough it felt that to miss a single question would bring shame upon my nation..! I was a nervous wreck by the end of it.
I wish I could have asked the guide what in the world she thought she was doing, putting me on the spot like that, but circumstances got in the way and so I have no idea why our visit to the House of Commons turned into a real-life "who wants to be a millionaire" quiz show.
(At the end my wife turns to me: "I didn't know you knew so much about Canadian politics".
"Neither did I", I said.)

Anonymous said...

That’s an amusing anecdote. Actually, the small level of novelty that the guide showed sort of illustrated what I was getting at, so I’ll try to clarify my original point.

1. Despite the bad civics marks of the American students, I want to suggest that they probably know more about America than Canadians do about Canada. This is just a hunch and I doubt there is any objective way to measure and test this hunch. The feeling that I get is that Americans know more about their government than we do ours.

2. When I said us Canadian’s are better at ‘comparative civics’ I was trying to say that the average Canadian student probably has a higher level of knowledge about American government than the average American student does about Canadian government. And I think you both ended up agreeing on this point, though my phrasing was vague.

The first point is probably the more controversial one. Perhaps it stems from an idealized vision of the US. Broadly speaking though, I find Canadians to be pretty uninterested in their own history and political system. Well, English Canadians at least.

Does it matter? I’m not sure. Intellectual types have been complaining and fretting about the ignorance of the masses for many years. As long as they know how to ‘vote the f^#^&ers out’ every now and then I tend to think we’ll be fine.

truepeers said...

I think I basically agree with you na. The question, it seems to me, is, if you don't have to know xyz (maybe because it's all info available on the internet now) what do you make the now free brain cells do instead? If technology or changes in common sense free us of certain cognitive tasks, can we find a useful alternative task for our minds? Because if we never think about anything much we won't be much use to anyone in all kinds of situations; and a country consequently run by a tiny elite will not remain too free. The first rule of politics is kick the buggers out once they're in too long. But even that lesson seems to be hard for thirty-something percent of the population who still wanted to vote Liberal last election, after the Sponsorship scandal.

tiberge said...

@ Charles

You are a brain! I got 16 answers wrong, 8 of them on the economic questions #50 - 59.

I'm not able to conceptualize economic terms. Only if someone breaks it down into recognizable concrete terms can I - perhaps - grasp the meaning.

Like Truepeers I too was surprised about #49. I answered E, but on reflection, I can see that B is more accurate (at least theoretically).