Greetings from Australia!
Karl Fisch’s latest blog, Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?, and a horrific current event inspired me to mine the Stager Archives for another old article (originally published in 2007).
I witnessed a horrific spectacle last night. Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister, Julia Gillard, was a contestant on the Aussie version of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? Yup, that’s right – an accomplished attorney and Deputy Prime Minister was a shameless combatant in this nationally televised trivia porn.
You MUST watch this 10-second clip!
I know what you’re thinking, my fellow Americans. Does Arne Duncan have what it takes to demonstrate his intellect on pressing questions like, “Which wood is cricket bats made of?” (That was in the 5th PLANTS category)
Is Plants an actual subject area and if so, is it important to know how cricket bats are made?
Deputy Prime Minister Gillard is another in a long-string of accomplished thoughtful professionals whose intelligence drops in half when it comes to matters of education. Ten months ago I wrote about her crush on American public education saboteur in the Australian publication, Crikey. Educators can learn nothing from Chancellor Klein’s visit Gillard is pushing a national curriculum, standardized testing, data-driven decision-making, school ranking and other equally despicable fantasies across her nation in the name of educational quality. She embraces the worst of American trends in public education with two fists.
I will be enormously sad if the Australian teacher unions capitulate on such matters of importance as have their American brethren.
Gillard is also advancing a plan called The Digital Education Revolution under which Aussie schoolchildren may or may not gain access to a personal computer. The most objectionable aspect of this plan is the fact that I am less than an hour’s drive from one of the first schools in the world where every student got a personal laptop computer nearly 20 years ago. In fact, I led professional development at that school 19 years ago! It was the stated policy of the state government in 1990 that by 1991, every child would have a personal laptop computer.
It’s depressing that every 20 years we need to have a revolution to do what we promised to do 20 years ago. Such bureaucratic amnesia proves Stager’s Second Law of School Reform:
Educators will continue to invent what already exists, each time with diminished expectations.
In any event, here is the February 27, 2007 article I wrote for The Pulse.
Is Your State Commissioner of Education Smarter Than a 5th Grader?
Tonight, the Fox Television Network will perform a great public service. TV will demonstrate to millions of households what some of us have known for years. Much of what school teaches is utterly useless nonsense.
Jonathan Kozol, Herbert Kohl, Susan Ohanian and Alfie Kohn have long proposed that politicians and business leaders imposing educational standards and high-stakes tests on children should be forced to have their (current) scores on the same tests published in the newspaper. Quick! Name an official with the courage to do so!
While the Miss Crabtree generation laughed at a pie in the face. Fox hopes that the MCAS/FCAT/STAR/TAKS generation will yuck it up to Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader; a light-hearted confection celebrating the humiliating prospect of an adult being “outsmarted” by a kid. If the show is successful, it will be expose the dirty-little secret of American education – school curricula is focused on trivia.
Trivia is the fuel that propels game shows. Some game shows are based on chance or physical prowess, yet some of the most enduring ones are based on “knowledge.” Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy “test” the knowledge of contestants, but what sorts of knowledge are being assessed? Successful contestants combine rapid twitch reaction with spelling, vocabulary and memorization of esoteric factoids. Understanding, experience, talent or effort is not required and therefore unmeasured. That stuff may not be quick, relevant or prone to multiple-choice questions.
The appeal of Game Shows is that the viewer thinks, “I’m smarter than that guy!” Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader ingeniously plays on our fear of appearing stupid and the schadenfreude we enjoy when someone else looks like a buffoon.
I can hardly wait for “State Department of Education Week” or “Business Roundtable Showdown” on Are You Smarter that a 5th Grader!
sample question from the program web site
Do we agree on what it means to be “smart?”
There is an unfortunate paradox in play here. What many of us see as the dumbing-down of American education is now being sold to the television audience as intelligence. Where American Idol (the lead-in to …5th Grader) celebrates perseverance, talent, individuality and personal expression, Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader rewards being a smart-aleck and implies that education is a zero-sum game.
The incessant quest for one hundred percent of students to be above the norm reduces schooling to a contest with lots of losers and no exciting cash and prizes. Teachers who camp out in-front of conference booths selling multiple-choice clicker systems hoping to use such technological goodies in their classroom should think about the consequences of their lust. Classrooms are not game show sets and teachers should be more than game show hosts.
However, it should be noted that Jeff Foxworth, host of …5th Grader, is an accomplished artist who has spent more than twenty years perfecting his craft and entertaining millions. Regardles of whether you enjoy his brand of humor, he has a unique style and a strong sense of self. No memo will cause him to change his style or tell a joke he doesn’t think is funny.
By the way… Have you heard the latest Jeff Foxworthy joke? You might be a redneck if you let some anonymous bureaucrat bully you into what and how you teach.*
Oh, I love that joke!
Game shows are one way we escape from thinking. Is the same true for 5th grade?
*That’s not really a Jeff Foxworthy joke and should not be construed as a slur against rednecks. I made it up.
Veteran educator Gary Stager, Ph.D. is the author of Twenty Things to Do with a Computer – Forward 50, co-author of Invent To Learn — Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, publisher at Constructing Modern Knowledge Press, and the founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. He led professional development in the world’s first 1:1 laptop schools thirty years ago and designed one of the oldest online graduate school programs. Gary is also the curator of The Seymour Papert archives at DailyPapert.com. Learn more about Gary here.
4 thoughts on “Are You Smarter than a Deputy Prime Minister?”
Your observation of our education minister is correct. She like many before her have no clue when it comes to education. They somehow think that the public want a system of test score reporting and sell the myth that it is good to keep schools accountable through the medium of test scores.
I sit in regular meetings discussing how we are going to make sure our school is at level pegging or better to the other schools in our area…. We even discuss the possibility of destroying our broad curriculum in the effort to rebuild a narrow sited academic program of teaching to the tests.
Our reality in this country (Australia) is that competition amongst schools is massive, and survival depends on the 1 measuring stick – that being test results. How then do we as an institution survive when fee paying parents make their decisions based on our test results?
As a new dad I have already made the decision that my boy will not be sitting these tests – Rather he is going to spend a day with his parents or grandparents at the local Zoo – exploring and learning!! Maybe slowly promoting this is the answer!!?? 🙂
I would DIE to see Duncan on one of those shows! Was Duncan ever even a freaking teacher??!
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