Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Higher Learning

Up until several months ago, the California Academy of Sciences home page sported an incredibly simple quiz on elementary science. I don’t know why the quiz was removed, though it’s possible someone in Public Relations decided that making visitors to the site feel like idiots wasn’t in the best interests of the academy. Only 21% of adults answered all of these first three questions correctly.

Question #1
How long does it take for the Earth to go around the Sun?

A. One day
B. One week
C. One month
D. One year
E. Not sure

Question #2
The earliest humans lived at the same time as dinosaurs

A. True
B. False
C. Not sure

Question #3
What percentage of the Earth’s surface is covered by water?

A. 0-25%
B. 26-50%
C. 51-65%
D. 66-75%
E. 76-85%.
F. 86-100%
G. Not sure

The subsequent few questions (which I didn't save anywhere and no longer remember) weren’t any harder, but winnowed the perfect scorers down to 6%. Keep in mind that a solid majority of Americans go on to some higher education beyond high school. So, most quiz-takers were highly (if not particularly well) educated folks. Yet, on the same site, 80% checked the box saying that science education is “essential” for the future of the country and the economy. How would they know?

When I first saw the quiz, I chuckled and then read out loud the first question to an acquaintance who was in the room (and who doesn’t read my blogs). He has a high school diploma and is anything but dense.

“Go around the sun?” he asked.

I answered, “Uh, yes.”

“Oh yeah,” he said. “That’s why the sun rises and sets.”

Jay Leno was nowhere in sight. My response was polite (until now). Actually, fully 47% answered that first question incorrectly. I’m not proposing a solution. As I grow older I am increasingly of the sour opinion that there are no solutions to most human deficiencies, including my own more than ample share of them. Grammar school science is, in fact, taught in grammar school; if most folks choose to forget it all afterward, so be it. I do propose, however, that we remember to laugh whenever a politician (of any stripe) sweet-talks voters in the usual fashion by expressing faith in their intellect. We also should wonder how many of the pols themselves can answer the same questions -- most clearly have trouble with grade school math.

I shouldn’t have to say (and for anyone who has read this far I’m sure I don’t), but the answers to the three above are D-B-D. Among adults who took the quiz, the percentage of correct answers for each of those questions respectively: 53, 59, and 47. 79% missed at least one.

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