Skip to comments.College Seniors No More Knowledgeable Than 1950s High School Grads
Posted on 12/19/2002 3:08:50 AM PST by kattracks
(CNSNews.com) - The college seniors of today have no better grasp of general knowledge than the high school graduates of almost half a century ago, according to the results of a new study.
The average of correct responses for modern college seniors on a series of questions assessing "general cultural knowledge" was 53.5 percent compared with 54.5 percent of high school graduates in 1955, according to a survey by Zogby International.
The Zogby poll of 401 randomly selected college seniors was conducted in April for the Princeton, N.J.-based National Association of Scholars and released Wednesday.
"The average amount of knowledge that college seniors had was just about the same as the average amount of knowledge that high school graduates had back in the 1950s," said NAS President Stephen H. Balch.
Balch noted that the high school grads of half a century ago performed better than today's college seniors on history questions, while contemporary students fared better on questions covering art and literature, with no appreciable difference on geography questions.
The questions asked in the April poll by Zogby were virtually the same as questions asked by the Gallup Organization in 1955, with a few questions being slightly modified to reflect history.
"The questions were just about identical, as identical as we could make them," said Balch. "In most cases, they were absolutely identical."
Balch attributed the stagnation of performance on general knowledge questions to several factors, including a decreased emphasis on general knowledge in high school, placing colleges and universities in the position of having to fill academic gaps among students entering college.
"This is fundamental knowledge that everyone should have and if your students are being admitted without it, then that only reinforces the need for you to take general education seriously," Balch said.
But Balch said he didn't consider such actions to be remedial in nature, noting that "the remedial problems have to do with students not being able to write or read at the eighth grade level and still getting into college. There are many institutions in which that's a difficulty. You have people who just don't have the skills let alone the knowledge."
Even though the NAS study raises questions about the caliber of general education offered in high schools, colleges and universities also bear some responsibility, Balch said.
"I think it probably has a lot to do with the dumbing down of curriculum, both at the college and high school level," said Balch. "It looks good, certainly, to say 'more people are graduating from college,' but is there any real intellectual yield from it?"
Also part of the problem is that many colleges are placing less emphasis on liberal arts education in favor of more specialized education geared toward specific career paths, which Balch said isn't necessarily in the best interest of students or society.
"I think these results, which don't seem to show a great deal of value-added in the general cultural knowledge domain - I think these results are quite interesting and disappointing," said Balch. "We would hope that the college students of today would have done a good deal better than the high school students of the past."
Also contributing to the trend is an easing of college admissions standards. While Balch doesn't advocate a return to standards requiring competency in Greek or Latin, he does say colleges should "insist that the student coming have basic areas of knowledge."
A solid background in general knowledge, Balch said, is "very important both for good citizenship and, for many people at least, for a happy and interesting life," by providing students with what Balch called "cultural furniture that allows them to be better citizens."
Click here to read the general knowledge questions.
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By picking the right metrics I can make todays college grads look dumber that 1900's seventh graders. So just how many ounces should one feed his plow horse?
Mine were rather good.
Yeah, but can a 1950s high school grad create an Excel spreadsheet to show population trends in Asia or determine how much additional RAM is required in a given computer to run Windows XP?
Comparing education now to the 1950s is meaningless. There were far fewer distractions for a student in the 1950s so it should come as no surprise that a student from that era has more "book knowledge." On the other hand, students of today tend to be more worldly. My sons regularly communicate with kids from around the world on computer and when they are doing homework, they literally have the world at their fingertips (via the Internet). A Google search will turn up far more information on an obscure subject than a textbook of the 1950s.
And what did the students of the 1950s end up doing with their lives? Smoking dope, protesting the war and listening to acid rock. Well, many of them did, anyway.
Please keep me posted.
Click for latest column on UPI, "Junk Science - Harvard and Beyond" (Not yet on UPI wire, nor FR.)
Are you a recent college graduate? Did you read the questions? Good grief, anyone who cannot answer all these questions is an ignoramous. When I tell people the main problem with this country is that most people stupid, they do no believe me. It is apparently worse than I thought.
1-Which is the largest lake in North America?
2-What is the national language of Brazil?
3-In what country was the Battle of Waterloo fought?
4-Who made the first non-stop transatlantic solo flight?
5-What professions do you associate with Florence Nightingale?
6-What is the capital city of Spain?
7-What composer wrote The Messiah?
8-Who wrote a play entitled. A Midsummer Night's Dream?
9-Which planet is nearest the sun?
10-What is the name of the decoration given to those in the armed forces who are wounded in action against an enemy?
11-What great scientist do you associate with the Theory of Relativity?
12-Which of the following states border on Canada?
In the mid '50s none of that existed. By the mid 60s the high school graduates of the mid '50s were too old to be hippies.
These links open a new window. The questions are also in my previous post.
Thanks for both posts.
If you do not know which states border Canada, how can one correctly assess immigration problems along the border?
If you do not know that Einstein is reponsible for the theory of relativity, when someone says "Way to go, Einstein!" how will you understand what is meant?
If you do not understand the significance of the Purple Heart, how can you appreciate the sacrifices of those in our military?
Increasingly we are turning out students who are totally divorced from the history of our culture. They make decisions based on contemporary trends, without understanding the historical background on many issues. This is dangerous, because it means a significant portion of the population can be manipulated by celebrities who purport to be "experts."
Of course, never before in history has a crop of youngsters thought they knew more either though, too.
...oh the irony. :o)
In the mid '50s none of that existed. By the mid 60s the high school graduates of the mid '50s were too old to be hippies.
Many high school grads from the 50's and 60's served in Vietnam.
In recent years 20% of college freshmen need to take remedial courses in English and arithmetic to bring them up to what used to be barely high school level.
I also had a student that did not know that Switzerland was in Europe, another student that did not know that Spanish was spoken in Spain, and another who thought you could take the train to Europe.
I am not making this up. I also discovered at the time that my son had an abysmal knowledge of geography (he was in high school) because it was never formally taught, and most of his history textbooks had very few maps. I had to do a crash course here at home to make sure he could locate things on a map!
The curriculum is too full of things that are PC and not enough basic knowledge.
I did not write the questions, but you are correct. Since "Handel's 'Messiah,'" might have given away the answer, they should have written the question, "what composer wrote the oratorio, 'Messiah'?"
But then, that may have been unfair, since most college graduates probably do not know what an oratorio is.
These tests give you a grade equivalent, but also an age equivalent. The age equivalent can be interpreted as, "If an average student of "such and such" an age took this test, he'd score the same as you."
When my 14 year old's score reflected that he had the general knowlege of a 30 year old, I knew they must have slacked off on teaching this sort of thing.
My kid is not a genius, but he has a well-rounded knowlege of history, science, geography, and all these were included in the general knowlege section.
I, personally, don't put all the blame on the schools and curriculum. I think parents have quit talking to their children. And alot of knowlege can be passed on in simple conversation. In everyday conversation, you mention a place, an author, a fact of history, and the child asks about it, then you explain it.
And to those who say knowing how to use computer programs is more valuable than a knowlege of history, it has well been said that those who don't know history are destined to repeat it.
Politician. In Massachusettes you could easily become a Senator.
School Teacher, in any government school. (If you have children, please do not home school them. Send them to a private school.)
Leader in any of the following: BATF, FBI, DEA, CIA, DHSS.
Please avoid public-sector jobs where you actually have to produce something or would be responsible for anything.
Agreed. That said, the curriculum is also too full of tests based solely on memorization skills (here's a map of Europe, fill in the names of each nation) instead of application (discuss the significance of the following five nations...). I know I can't remember facts I can't put in context, and suspect most others are the same.
Of course, handing out worksheets and grading multiple choice tests is much easier than essay, or even short answer questions.
Sammy, Sammy........either you weren't around in the 50s or you spent the decade under a rock.
I was there and we had more 'real' honor society students than the NEA "educators" turn out today.
I don't know of one kid in my high school class that ever got picked up for inhaling anything.
One student out of 200 got pregnant (and left school rather than bring the baby to finish with her).
Almost every male student was concerned that he was going to end up in Korea rather than college and most of us did.
My father-in-law passed the GED test when he was in his 60's but was refused a diploma because he dropped out of school prior to 6th grade.
Did you know that the word "gullible" is not in the dictionary?
Why? Because socialists want children in school from the cradle through age 22. Read this letter from Marc Tucker, the president of the the National Center on Education and the Economy, to Hilary Clinton written in 1993.
If anyone wants to know what government education is really about, read this book on-line for free.
I dare say you did not read the story. In 1950, there were no computers. I think your statement reflects the Zogby poll.
As a grad in 1950 that went off to fight a war, I find your comment demeaning at the very best, I could add stupid but wont.
Don't misinterpret me. I am not defending our current educational system, I think it's terrible. Then again, I think it's better than the 1970s era (when I was growing up). My high school resembled "Welcome Back Kotter."
I will say that I would rather be a kid today then a kid in the 1950s. I think kids today have far better opportunities available to them.
I graduated in 1950. We knew respect and discipline and some people demeaning us here is an insult. Most did not even bother to read the story or if they did, they did not comprehend.
The war started two weeks after graduation, off I went as a "stupid" volunteer. None of us ran to Canada.
Does this contribute to the fact that most of them go around with the pants so low you can see their split infinitives, if not their dangling participles?