Worse Than I’ve Been Telling You

There’s a jaw-dropping video making the rounds of Facebook, Twitter, et al. It shows several Texas Tech students being stopped on campus and asked questions that any American should be able to answer. In our sleep.

Who won the civil war? Who is the Vice-President of the United States? From whom did the U.S. win independence?

I know I get tiresome on the subject of civic ignorance, but these students–college students at a reputable university–are so embarrassing it is hard to believe this wasn’t staged (and even harder to understand how they gained admittance. Evidently, Texas Tech is not what you’d call selective.)

Not only were the students unable to answer the simplest questions about American history (one of them, upon being asked who’d won the civil war asked “who fought in that war?” Another asked “was that in the 1960s?”), but–to add insult to injury–they could all give the names of both actresses Brad Pitt had married, and the name of the television program on which someone named “Snookie” had appeared.

This does answer a persistent question of mine: namely, what kind of people elect buffoons like Louis Gohmert?

And it certainly explains why Texas is my go-to source when I need examples of stupid public policy to use in my classrooms.

As uninformed as many of my undergraduate students are, I truly do not believe that a similar effort on the IUPUI campus would yield such a collection of pitifully ignorant and utterly shallow responses.

I hope to hell I’m right about that, because otherwise, America is over.


  1. Now I have to go back and double check, was it England, Great Britain, or United Kingdom? Thinking just England at the time.

  2. I’ve failed… it wasn’t any of those, it was just Britain… hence, “the British are coming!”

  3. Jay Leno used to interview folks on the street who also made incredible remarks. One very well-spoken young woman who looked to be 25-30 and said she was in medical school in some brain-based field of study I don’t recall (it may have been psychiatry). She – like others interviewed – could not define the term “cranium”. It was apparent that only the most ‘jaw-dropping’ comments got on the air, were likely not a true representation of most students, and may even have been staged.

    If your college students know the answers to those FB questions, it’s likely most others do as well.

  4. I and many friends saw the video you refer to and were as appalled as you were.
    I would really like to see that replicated on a whole lot of campuses to see if the results would be similar.
    I sure hope not but, am not holding my breath.
    Most young people don’t seem interested in voting anyway. I bet if you could vote via a Smartphone they would!

  5. The editors of that added another video a few days later that basically said that if they had gone to ANY campus in the states, they would probably get similar responses. They were not picking on Texas Tech students. She said that this video was not rigged and that they were an active group on campus trying to get more civic knowledge to the student body. She wanted to say that they were actively hoping that viral videos like this would not be as shocking if the Main Stream Media had stopped (basically) shoving reality tv down everyone throats and actually discussed issues that are more important than Snookie. Their goal is to get more students involved on campus and teach them more about important issues that affect them. I can’t find it but when I do, I’ll put the link up in another comment. I applauded their response.

  6. When we were growing up the topics that we and others thought that we should know were entirely different than today. History was one but there were many more. Like baseball statistics. What makes a woman a great wife. The natural superiority and inferiority of different races. How our closest foreign neighbor, the north for southerners, the south for northerners, lived and spoke and cooked.

    Of course the thing that has changed most dramatically between then and now are the fields of science and technology and environmental and global interactions. Typing has replaced cursive.

    When I was young I successfully resisted learning a foreign language as a waste of time. Now its my most embarrassing cognitive shortcoming. I did however learn one of my most useful skills for today, touch typing, even though the only reason I learned it was a strategy to meet girls.

    Times change. And our need to bump through life limits our learning. Critical shortcoming. We are now in posession of such a tiny fraction of what is known that we are as dependent on each other for survival as my heart cells are of my lung cells. Positively frightening. Even more, how few of us even understand those limitations.

    We are each an insignificant speck of life. Yet life drastically needs our help. Resolving that is the stuff of life.

    Yesterday celebrating the historic milestone of installing a class room on a comet, Jean-Jacques Dordain, Managing Director European Space Agency, quoted Geneviève Fioraso, the French State Secretary for Higher Education and Research, saying “The only way to reconcile risk and success is expertise”.

    What’s yours?

  7. I’ve been worried about what I call “the dumbing down of America” for years. This is just one more bit of evidence — if I needed one after the recent election — that my fears are justified.

  8. And they walk among us and vote for Perry and the stellar Senators and reps. I’ll bet their parents aren’t much better. But they KNOW what’s right for the country!

  9. I don’t think the results would be much different on a liberal campus in Southern California, or probably on most campuses anywhere. I’d like to see this happen at IUPUI, just out of curiosity. I was amazed at the general stupidity of undergrads at IU-Bloomington when I was down there. Based on the teachers I had in the Indiana public school system back in the 1990s, honestly I don’t know why I was so surprised.

    I’m not a Republican. But I’m skeptical that it’s really much better on more liberal campuses than Texas Tech.

    Pay teachers more, and take it out on students less, that’s what I think. What kind of good teacher wants to start out at $35,000 a year (about $16 an hour, I think, barely more than you can make after 2 years cashiering at Trader Joes?) and put up with the culture of bureaucracy and teaching-by-the-book/for-the-ISTEP that we have in this state?

    Then again, while it’s annoying that people can be so ignorant in a world flooded with high-tech gadgets, I’m not really convinced it would have been much better back in the days of one-room schoolhouses on the prairie. Look at historic textbooks. Talk about “utterly shallow”.

  10. Quite ironically, I just walked into my house have having spent a couple of hours working with middle school students who are preparing for the We The people simulated congressional hearings when I saw today’s post.
    . A friend of mine and I — we’re both retired social studies teachers — do this because we feel strongly that civic illiteracy is one of the crucial educational issues not being adequately addressed today.
    The comment made by the student on the second video is spot on. Children are simply not exposed to what’s going on because they have their own cyber world, one which meets their interests which I can only call juvenile.
    Kids always have their antennae out and in their world there are so many places that they can go that fulfills their interests (but not needs!). They’re a niche market. World affairs, national and local politics, and that which is “dull” or boring doesn’t fit that niche.
    This week’s New Yorker has a great cartoon (p. 36) titled Adam and Eve and Courtney. Courtney is an adolescent standing in the Garden of Eden (we assume) w/ the adults flanking her. Her comment is, “This is very BORING.”
    And she’s correct. We have blurred the lines between news and entertainment so that unless things hold our attention, we’re bored.
    For me and my generation television was our (only?) window to the outside world but that window was also filled w/ mezzo sopranos from the Metropolitan Opera, Meet the Press (w/ Lawrence Spivak), live coverage of the political conventions (before they became scripted coronations), and lots of other stuff that was topically adult.
    The difference between today’s kids and me as a teenager is that they are not exposed to things that we were exposed to.
    Also, there were only three television networks in the 50’s.
    That’s why We The People and other civic ed. programs are so important
    It’s our fault that even the basic facts about our government and history are so little known by college students in prestigious universities such as Texas Tech.

  11. This really concerns me in light of the recent plan to limit the high school history curriculum in Colorado. The idea of only teaching the “good” history is frightening. Let’s all pretend there was never any slavery in this country. Let’s pretend there was no need for a civil rights movement. We already obfuscate our roles in the war of 1812 and the Spanish American war. Students don’t learn about the March of Tears. Frightening. Frightening.

  12. Alan Watts stated in one of his self-help books in the mid-1970’s, “Man is going to computerize himself out of existence.” We are teetering on the edge of that abyss today with electronic devices taking over the lives and minds of young people. The age of thinking and action are becoming part of our past; the lack of basic knowledge in the Texas college video is strong evidence of what is happening nation-wide at all levels of education. Those who were questioned didn’t get to college and forget the American history answers; they weren’t taught the information in lower levels of education. They are bombarded with information about TV characters, phony reality programming, the ever-evolving sex lives of celebrities and those “baby bumps” that keep appearing. Is college too late to begin teaching the beginning of this country? I don’t believe so; it is never too late to learn…even about the past. It could be too late for some of them to realize they have the capacity to learn; about the past, the present and look to the future. They could broaden their horizons if they put down those phones and electronic gadgets and pick up a book or use those gadgets to research educational information and not entertainment. The media must admit its part in the lack of knowledge being imparted but; who taught the teachers who neglected to teach the basics to our young?

  13. When I tried to register for the required government (civics) classes in high school (northern In), they were all full. I told the guidance counselor that I couldn’t register for the gov’t class and they told me, it’s okay. But I wanted to take it instead had to fill the hour with another English lit class. All seniors were required but somehow, I was able to graduate without it. That was back in the 70s.

    It’s no wonder I didn’t get involved in civics, I never had a chance. Now we have the internet and I can learn anything I want. A new language, politics, celebrity crap and it’s all at our fingertips. We as parents need to make sure that kids learn and care about how our government runs and if we fail that, then what hope is there for the future generations? And rightfully so, who would WANT to be a politician these days? The schools will always fail if we don’t take responsibility for teaching our own kids what it takes to run a country. Therein lies the problem. Don’t blame the schools anymore. They have enough on their plate with fighting the re-writers of history, the climate denialist and the union busters, etc.

  14. Sadly, I feel like many adults would also do poorly on such basic civics questions. And not just in Texas. Many people just don’t see it as important.

  15. I’m not as startled about what young people don’t know about American history as I am about mature adults not questioning politicians about claims they make.

    Senator McConnell … six years ago … promised that steps would be taken to keep Obama from getting a second term as President. What were McConnell’s plans and what did he actually do? Nobody seems to have asked.

    A couple of weeks before our last election, the Republicans started running a TV commercial that claimed the U.S. House of Representatives submitted 350 bills to the U.S. Senate and Harry Reid refused to bring any of them to the floor. What subjects did the bills cover? Nobody seems to have asked.

    The answer to either of those questions might have produced different election results. And then again … maybe they wouldn’t.

  16. Perhaps we should teach FACTS in school and not a liberal agenda. I’m certain that would end the ignorance.

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