Texas Tech students parade their knowledge

November 4, 2014 • 2:57 pm

Here a group of Texas Tech students (a decent school in Lubbock, Texas, birthplace of Buddy Holly) are asked five sets of questions:

1. Who won the Civil War?
2. Who is the Vice-President of the United States?
3. Who did we (the U.S.) gain our independence from? And in what year?
4. What (television) show is Snooki on?
5. Who is Brad Pitt married to? And who was he married to before that?

They got two of these groups of questions uniformly right and largely tanked on the rest. Guess which ones.  See the video below:

Now, instead of feeling superior, let’s wonder at an educational system in which students can’t answer the easiest questions about history and politics but know a lot about celebrities.

h/t: Merilee

135 thoughts on “Texas Tech students parade their knowledge

  1. No surprise or shock whatsoever. Merely another ineluctable consequence of our mindlessly equalitarian postmodern culture.

    Since the Sixties, a college “education” after graduation has, for most high school students, taken the place of a saner era’s far more sensible and hugely more useful vocational school education; an education that would actually prepare most high school students for a life’s work more suited to their intellectual capabilities, and of far more benefit to society as a whole. As it largely was in saner eras, a college education is, or ought to be, an undertaking reserved for a society’s intellectual elite exclusively irrespective of that elite’s ability to pay which last was, sadly, not often the case even in those saner eras the availability of scholarships notwithstanding.

    Also not surprisingly, colleges themselves have exploited our culture’s mindlessly equalitarian postmodern idiocy in respect of a college education for all. It’s the money, of course. Idiots and geniuses pay the same, and there are far more idiots than geniuses.

    1. You don’t need to be a genius to know who won the civil war or who the Vice President is. Not knowing these things means you’re ignorant, but not necessarily an idiot

      1. Nightglare,

        Of course! The problem for me is that the video above reminded me of this depressing report:

        Among high-school students who graduated in the bottom 40 percent of their classes, and whose first institutions were four-year colleges, two-thirds had not earned diplomas eight and a half years later.

        That figure is from a study cited by Clifford Adelman, a former research analyst at the U.S. Department of Education and now a senior research associate at the Institute for Higher Education Policy. Yet four-year colleges admit and take money from hundreds of thousands of such students each year! Even worse, most of those college dropouts leave the campus having learned little of value, and with a mountain of debt and devastated self-esteem from their unsuccessful struggles. Perhaps worst of all, even those who do manage to graduate too rarely end up in careers that require a college education. So it’s not surprising that when you hop into a cab or walk into a restaurant, you’re likely to meet workers who spent years and their family’s life savings on college, only to end up with a job they could have done as a high-school dropout.

        Colleges should be held at least as accountable as tire companies are. When some Firestone tires were believed to be defective, government investigations, combined with news-media scrutiny, led to higher tire-safety standards. Yet year after year, colleges and universities turn out millions of defective products: students who drop out or graduate with far too little benefit for the time and money spent. Not only do colleges escape punishment, but they are rewarded with taxpayer-financed student grants and loans, which allow them to raise their tuitions even more.


      2. I pretty much agree with Nicholas’
        points, but nightglare is also right. All these students must have graduated from high school with at least acceptable grades. What kind of high schools does Texas have? What do they teach?

    2. These students probably outperformed students from the Southwest part of the state on all entry requirements though

    1. So did I, but how would a group of students at a Canadian University fare when asked these questions (or a set of equivalent Canadian questions)? I don’t have any idea as far as Canada goes but I would not be surprised if a similar exercise in the UK would produce a similarly dispiriting set of results.

      1. I hope they’d know, for instance, who brought the constitution home to Canada, when that happened, when Canada became a federation, etc. I think most would know that – unless they’ve all gotten dumb since my time.


      1. I always felt bad for the students because they were trying to be nice.

        The best one I saw was when he was talking to one lady about the states of Canada and her son piped up and said, “hey! Canada doesn’t have states, it has provinces!” That kid was smart.

        Also, I can’t believe how young Rick Mercer looked.

        1. I remember that Brian Mulroney (yukk!!)was in fact the first canadian (but not first- nation) president – of Iron Ore Company of Canada. He was actually a lawyer from Baie Comeau QC and ‘yukk’ sums him up pretty well

  2. I’m sure these students were taught about the Civil and Revolutionary Wars. What these students have retained is a reflection of the broader “culture” in which they live. In the state of Texas, go here to see who are the highest paid public employees (and Texas is not an outlier). You probably can’t really even take solace in the presence of some medical professors in the list, since as Assistant Profs they seem likely to be public employees only in the sense that they have hospital priveleges in teaching hospital(s).

    This is what Americans value and their kids have absorbed those values in deciding what they think is “interesting” and worth learning and remembering.

    1. Oh … and I don’t mean to leave the impression that I think that the incomes of people reflect their “value” to society. Unfortunately, most Americans seem to think that incomes rdeally do reflect the value of people to society. So not only do we have gross inequality, a large segment of the American people tend to confer respect to people in proportion to those people’s incomes as well.

    2. “I’m sure these students were taught about the Civil and Revolutionary Wars.”

      Concur, just as I’m no less sure that they were taught the correct answer to the following NSF adult science literacy survey question which, per Lawrence Krauss, approx. 50% of American adults miss:

      “T or F: the Earth goes around the sun and takes a year to do it.”

      There are few science facts/concepts more basic than that. How hard must one work at forgetting that?

      I forget what percent (25%?) of college students (at least at one university) cannot find Iraq and Afghanistan (where several thousand U.S. service members have been killed)on a map where the countries’ names are clearly labelled, per Susan Jacoby.

      This is a bloody anti-intellectual U.S. mass pop culture, against the pervasive influence of which teachers have to stand their ground on a daily basis.

        1. The North probably gets involved more quickly. Alternatively, the USSR conquers more of Europe. And places like Oak Ridge Tennessee and Huntsville, Alabama remain backwaters rather than getting important nuclear plants or post-war rocket work.

        2. My crystal ball says that we would’ve better off in some ways. The South had some huge library collections and prestigious universities before much of the South was burned to the ground. The brain drain would not have been so great. Slavery would probably have piddled out within a decade, anyway. The really big problem (and why this is a pipe dream) is that southern control of the Mississippi mouth & New Orleans would have completely turned shipping within the continent on its ear. My crystal ball goes cloudy on this point.

          1. If we are being serious, why would the North have given up control of the Mississippi? Assume a McClellan victory in 1864. Does he really make peace on southern terms. I see more of some kind of Panama Canal scenario, possibly with the CSA splitting into a Texas Republic of the western CSA and an eastern CSA. The US probably also grabs northern VA (to protect Washington) and possibly the anti-slavery/anti-secession Appalachian regions. As for slavery, I don’t see the South surrendering it for many years, but they don’t get back the already freed slaves and they don’t get back the runaways after the war

            1. I figure the North would never have given up control, which is why I was thinking it was a pipe dream. (the scenario was assuming a war didn’t happen in the first place, because secession happened peacefully). All rampant speculation, of course, but there would’ve been massive tariffs imposed by the South, a huge urban population imbalance in the North that needed cheap shipping — war was probably inevitable in any event under such a regime.

          2. “Slavery would probably have piddled out within a decade, anyway.”

            In this alternate scenario, what would be your prediction about the piddling out of racial discrimination/civil rights/liberties in the U.S.?

            1. With better educational resources in the South, I’d like to think that we would’ve joined most of the rest of the world in this regard much sooner. say… by the 20s or 30s. But hell, what do I know?

  3. Future republican presidential candidates. I was so excited that the one girl knew it was the north. Damn my expectations are low. 🙁

    1. Something else I wanted to add. I knew all but the snooki question and who Brad was married to. If those kids were watching me answer they’d probably think I was the idiot. :p

      1. I guessed “Real Housewives of New Jersey” for the Snookster, the Brad Pitt ones I got correct…I don’t know why. Late Nite TV jokes, I think.

    1. I knew them all, even though I’ve never seen Snooki or her show. My brain has an annoying tendency to recall snippets of trivia which float by, I’m sure to the detriment of storing and recalling more important stuff.

      1. Yeah, I haven’t watched that show either but the media has bombarded my brain & I couldn’t help but absorb that knowledge. Very sad.

              1. 😀 It’s funny, because when anybody types QED, I always think of quantum electrodynamics. I never remember what QED means to “normal” people. (I’m blanking on QED at the moment.) QED vs QCD, no problem (even if I have no working comprehensive knowledge of how to do the math)

  4. I hate videos like this because you know that they have been heavily edited to exclude everyone who actually got the answers correct. (Jay Leno had a running segment exactly like this when he was still doing the Tonight Show.)

    1. Even if it was edited it does not matter in the least. No one who graduates from high school in the USA should not know the answers to the first 3 fundamental civics questions.

  5. What date were they using for us gaining our independence from Great Britain? I could tell you with certainty that Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown was in 1781, but is that the date they wanted? If, on the other hand, they wanted the date of the signing of the Treaty of Paris then I would be hard pressed to tell you precisely. I think it was in 1783-ish. But I’d have a strong desire to google to make sure before saying for certain.

      1. We’re almost certainly over-thinking it. And I *knew* I was most definitely running far, far afield it when I started to wonder if the date the treaty was signed counted more or whether the dates Congress and Parliament ratified the documents should be taken into account. 🙂 But considering the middle school social studies level of the questions I guess they most probably were fishing for the signing of the Declaration.

        1. Exactly! I would have looked blank and then said “this is a trick question right?” BECAUSE of overthinking it, and then they would have edited it to make me look stoopid

          1. ALSO (and then I’ll shut up) the first part of the question could have been answered ‘England’ but I believe the pedantically correct answer should be ‘Kingdom of Great Britain’. Over thinking again. OR I could have given my dad’s favourite description of the Revolutionary War – “the victory of British settlers over a foreign king with German mercenaries”

          2. Actually I think if you had come up with any date between 1776 and 1790 they would have given you a bell.

    1. There is really no issue with the answer. It is 1776.

      Independence Day is called that for a reason.

      It celebrates the date of July 4 1776 written on the Declaration of Independence which was the formal document declaring independence from Britain.

      It appears that the actual “legal” date is two days earlier on July 2 1776 when the Continental Congress approved a resolution of independence. Took two days to agree on the formal document.

      The subsequent war was fought because Britain refused to accept the above declaration.

      1. “There is really no issue with the answer. It is 1776.”

        Well, since some of us disagree, you’re calling us all wrong, eh? And there’s no difference between “declare” and “gain?”

        I declare I’m a billionaire.

  6. “feeling superior?” Witnessing this level of ignorance day (and I see it day in and day out) doesn’t make me fell “superior” at all; it sends me into a deep depression.

    It’s disgusting.

  7. I’m somewhat unusual, then, if I can answer the first three questions easily, the second with a few seconds of thought, and have no idea regarding the last.

  8. My wife and her sister come from Lubbock and learned early it was a place to be from. Their father sold insurance to the Buddy Holly group. Their mother, an expert in textile chemistry, taught home economics at Texas tech. The university had been blacklisted for some time by Federal agencies, including the NSF (as I vaguely recall) for firing professors who supported Adlai Stevenson. When I visited in the 60’s Lubbock boasted about having the worlds largest mule. At the time we took the train to Amarillo, 90 miles away and got picked up there. On the train we met Amarillo Slim, a famous gambler who bought us dinner. A very courtly gentleman in western attire. My father in law took me to a Lions Club event in Lubbock. I was impressed with the courtliness of the members to me in spite of my beard and long hair. They all lined up their extinguished cigars on a ledge outside the building and picked them up after the meeting. A tornado destroyed the football stadium and the black section of town. The civic minded citizens promptly rebuilt the stadium. The president of Tech announced that men grew beards to hide their ignorance and that Jesus did not have a beard. I could go on and on. Yes indeed, Lubbock Happens!

    1. I can imagine what you just relayed as a scene in Mad Men. It’s similar in imagery to when Don goes to Florida.

    2. Natalie Maines (of the Dixie Chicks) came from Lubbock too. If you listen to the lyrics of ‘Lubbock or Leave it’ she wasn’t too impressed with the Xtian right part of town…

      Dust bowl, Bible belt
      Got more churches than trees
      Raise me, praise me, couldn’t save me
      Couldn’t keep me on my knees

      From the same album as the memorable Not Ready to Make Nice. I do love “Fuck you!” songs…

    3. Life in Lubbock, Texas, taught me two things: One is that God loves you and you’re going to burn in hell. The other is that sex is the most awful, filthy thing on earth and you should save it for someone you love.
      – Butch Hancock

    1. A snooki is a 4-foot tall, ball-shaped, semi-intelligent creature who goes to clubs a lot and appeared on a horrible US “reality” show with her cretinous pals.

  9. educational system in which students can’t answer the easiest questions about history and politics but know a lot about celebrities.

    They fail on the factual knowledge because they don’t have any reason to care about it. They care about celebrities because everyone talks about them.

    If they can be taught about why the factual knowledge is important, they might start to care about it and talk about it.

    When I teach students, I try to show how apparently abstract knowledge ties directly into to decisions they make every day.

    1. Texas students are taught to the coded standards and they get nothing but multiple-guess questions for almost all of their schooling. The second they turn in the text their brains go *flush*

        1. That’s right. College Freshman taking general chemistry perpetually walk into my office concerned about their lousy grades and say “I go to the XYZ tutoring service and am still doing poorly on exams…”. The XYZ tutoring service (which costs them more money beyond their substantial tuition and fees) offers them algorithms for answering questions without understanding what the hell they are doing. The students are truly mystified that I seriously think they should read the textbook and spend time gaining a conceptual understanding of the material before they take on problems. They want something to memorize, something they needn’t trouble themselves with minutes after handing in the test.

  10. They can vote! Do you think people ‘on the street’ would do much better? Scary, no!?

    Great Britain only recognized US independence in 1783 in the Treaty of Paris. The Brits were militarily defeated at Yorktown in Oct., 1781, as much by the French as by colonists. Until then the British were winning, and 1776 was a joke.

    Didn’t know the name of Brad Pitt’s first wife. I apologize for (vaguely) knowing who Snooki is.

    1. Mitch McConnell re-elected apparently (30-year senator for folks outside the US).

      These are the same voters chanting “throw the bums out” before waddling into the booth.

      1. Worthless Repug dipshit Doug Lamborn reelected by a 20-point margin. He has one of the worst voting records in the House. Cory Gardner probably is unseating Udall in the Senate (5-point margin). All the most moronic local County Commissioners are getting in, too.

        1. Makes you want to turn conservative. I remember Bill Buckley Jr. saying something like – voting should be limited to well to do and educated. I can see some merit in that view. A hundred dollar poll tax and a quicky civics test as you enter the booth.
          That would keep out the riff-raff and most college students.

          1. I really, really hate to say it – because it reeks of Jim Crow and all, and such systems were rife with abuse… but that is pretty much the rationale for setting up the separation of powers — all under an assumption that the electorate was voting at least semi-intelligently (i.e. on things they had a stake in, on things they knew about on some level).

          2. The only other things that come to mind (in addition to some kind of periodic literacy/numeracy testing) would’ve been to curb free speech in a bunch of ways: elimination of parties (the polity votes for individuals), elimination of political advertising, handbills, etc. in favor of position papers on matters of the day (no paper, no hat in ring), and wide dissemination of said position papers to the voters, all paid for out of the general fund. Oh well. I can dream, can’t I?

          3. If voting were to be limited only to the educated then, by the evidence of this video, it would be over in minutes as there wouldn’t be any voters! This is a sad indictment of the educational system.

            1. Let’s grant that, at least in part, it is an indictment of the education system. Would you agree that it is at least also an indictment of the anti-intellectual mass culture rampant in the U.S.? (Re: Hofstadter’s “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life,” and Jacoby’s “The Age of American Unreason.”)

  11. Yes, and you just thought Americans were stupid in Science. They also know less about American History than half the people in Europe. Probably couldn’t find Europe on a map either.

    When someone actually attending College cannot identify the Civil War, what could they possibly hope to gain there?

    Also, what was that one guy’s major — sports management? Oh yes, this is Texas.

    1. What they hope for, and for the most part get, are four years of bread and circuses followed by a passport and ticket good for lifetime travel in the American middle class. There’s no ‘civic-mindedness’ about college at all. The notion that citizenship in a democratic polity requires intellectual preparation is just that–a notion, and one laughed at if thought of at all.

      Of course, the middle class ticket these days is the equivalent of steerage passage for immigrants in the late 19th-early 20th centuries. Good luck, graduates, and may your ignorance see you through!

  12. Perhaps we worry too much about Texas textbook. The students don’t seem to learn anything from them anyway.

  13. By the way, the question as to when Independence — kind of goes along with that thing we call the 4th of July. The Declaration is the thing folks not Yorktown or the signing of a treaty.

      1. Well, that’s when the Declaration was approved.

        The Continental Congress declared independence on 2 July. And Jefferson expected 2 July to be celebrated.

        But the Declaration wasn’t signed by everyone until 2 August.


    1. D’ya think the title “…since 1877” might possibly mean from 1877 to the present???

      Typo ergo sum Merilee


  14. In my previous life, I worked with the Bundeswehr. One day, one of the German officers was doing a crossword puzzle and asked me who Hoover’s VP was. I, of course, had no clue. One of the German NCO’s piped up and said that it was Charles Curtis. I was amazed. I still am.

    1. Charles Curtis… I’ve heard that name. Oh, in one of Damon Runyon’s stories, some Broadway hoodlum was introduced in a swanky party as “The Honorable Charles Curtis”. The story was… (had to check my copy of Furthermore) Madame la Gimp.

      It’s kinda alarming that that’s stuck somewhere in my brain… but I do love Runyon and his idiosyncratic never-used-a-past-tense English, and his sense of irony and black humour.

      1. Oh.
        1. The North.
        2. Not a clue.
        3. 1776. The English.
        4. The Kardashians? (though her name doesn’t start with a ‘K’. Not sure whether I’d be more embarrassed if I got that wrong, or right).
        5. Angelina Jolie, can’t remember.

  15. I blame the kids and also somewhat the education system. As a college student in Texas who was educated in Texas schools all my life, this information was more than made plainly to me. I think the problem lies in the fact that kids have no passion or motivation to learn these things so they simply choose not to. If you look at high schools, the divide between the advanced level classes and the regular level classes is very high as one is a group of motivated students and the other contains a large percentage of disinterested students. I think standardized testing should be eliminated but of course who’s Rick Perry to listen to me?!?!

    1. “I blame the kids and also somewhat the education system . . . this information was more than made plainly to me. I think the problem lies in the fact that kids have no passion or motivation to learn these things so they simply choose not to.”

      To respectfully and congenially seek to clarify, are you saying that part of teaching is to imbue passion for learning in, and motivate, students to learn these things?

      I conjecture that more than a few students over time have said to the effect, “My teacher should have MADE me do (fill in the blank).” I have seen that sentiment in writing.

      Ought the student not motivate himself and get off his duff?

      I think it just as reasonable that parents (or some Romneyesque MBA/JD Fortune 500 venture capitalist politico) are just as obligated to come up with scintillating, motivating rhetoric to persuade students to do better academically.

      What carrots are currently sufficient to motivate someone to go into teaching? What ought one say to a high school graduate to persuade him to make a career of teaching, as opposed to becoming a Romneyesque venture capitalist/hedge fund manager?

    1. My feeling would be that four out of five is optimal (wrong though I know this is, I can’t help feeling snobbishly glad that I don’t know who or what Snooki is).

      I’m afraid I fail, though. I had to look up the US Vice President (I’m Australian), although I slapped myself when I saw it. And I wasn’t completely confident of my (correct) Brad Pitt answers.

          1. Honey Boo-Boo is history, dude. The matriarch’s boyfriend was molesting one of the daughters, and they canceled the show last week. And there’s a hyphen in “Boo-Boo”. Jesus.

            Oh fuck. I’m going to go kill myself now.

            1. “The matriarch’s boyfriend was molesting one of the daughters, and they canceled the show last week”

              G*d works in mysterious ways… 😉

              (sorry ’bout that..)

  16. Canadian, age 50 here – before watching video or reading any comments:

    1. “the North”, “Yankees”
    2. Joe Biden
    3. England, 1776
    4. No clue
    5. Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Aniston

  17. 1. Who won the Civil War?

    The Union Army – eventually. Following the 1968 national election, the Confederate States began a resurgence.

    2. Who is the Vice-President of the United States?

    Currently, Joe Bidden

    3. Who did we (the U.S.) gain our independence from? And in what year?

    The United States currently holds territory originally claimed by indigenous people, British, Spanish, and Mexican nations. The confiscation of land by the US is called “gaining independence.”

    4. What (television) show is Snooki on?

    I don’t know. I doubt it matters to anyone other than themselves.

    5. Who is Brad Pitt married to? And who was he married to before that?.


  18. Don’t be too tough on the kids. There’s a CNBC interviewer named Joe Kernen who didn’t know that Ireland and Northern Ireland are different countries or that one uses the Euro and the other the Pound. His reaction was that “It’s sort of the same island, you guys should get it together”.

  19. Reblogged this on peakmemory and commented:
    I am of two minds about this post. On the one hand, interviews of this type are edited to show the most egregious cases, it gives us no sense of the magnitude of the problem. In at least one case, I believe the person did know the answer but was experiencing a tip of the tongue state, something that happens to all of us.
    On the other hand, it is appalling that any college student would not know the answers to the first three questions.
    See this study for some perspective:

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