A Plethora of Bloopers

April 16, 2012

Did you know that “the Boston Tea Party was held at Pearl Harbor”?

Not my opinion. One the bloopers gathered by History Professor Anders Henriksson in an enlightingly hilarious book, Ignorance is Blitz: Mangled Moments of History from Actual College Students. He claims these are all direct quotes he collected from three decades of student tests and papers at colleges and universities in North America. He promised he did not cheat. “I don’t think anyone could make this up,” he says. “You’d have to be Mel Brooks or Woody Allen, and I’m not that clever.”

Read on and weep for the state of education in American colleges today.

“The airplane was invented and first flown by the Marx brothers.”

“Hitler’s instrumentality of terror was the Gespacho.”

“Plato invented reality. He was teacher to Harris Tuttle, author of the Republicans. Lust was a must for the Epicureans. Others were the Vegetarians and the Synthetics, who said, ‘If you can’t play with it, why bother?’”

The professor claims he collected these from public and private colleges, including City College of New York and the U.S. Military Academy. The latter may be where he got some of the military bloopers:

“Germany’s William II had a chimp on his shoulder and therefore had to ride his horse with only one hand.”

“The Germans took the bypass around France’s Marginal Line. This was known as the ‘Blitz Krieg.’”

“Corruption grew especially ripe in Zaire, where Mobutu was known to indulge in more than occasional little armadillo.”

“John F. Kennedy worked closely with the Russians to solve the Canadian Missile Crisis.”

“Americans wanted no involvement in the French and Indian war because they did not want to fight in India.”

History was bad enough. Economics, religion and English did not fare any better.

“The plurious of wealth was therefore uneven. The rural populous was reduced to tenement farming.”

“Good times ended when England suffered civil war between the Musketeers and the Round Ones.”

“Martin Luther Jr.’s famous ‘If I Had a Hammer’ speech.”

“Judyism (sic) is a monolithic religion with the god Yahoo.”

“Moses was told by Jesus Christ to lead the people out of Egypt in the Sahaira (sic) Desert. The Book of Exodus describes this trip … including the Ten Commandments, various special effects and the building of the Suez Canal.”

And then there is the blooper that an alert reader in Henrietta, NY sent me: “Saint Paul spread Christianity to the genitals.”

As a radio show from my youth might put it, “Tain’t funny McGee!” (Young readers can Google this quote.) The serious among us have to wonder about the quality of education in colleges and universities today.

These humorous bloopers may be exceptions but my own experiences with college students today are not encouraging. Students in medicine, engineering, mathematics and science seem to be doing okay, though I can’t help noticing how many are from foreign countries. In the humanities, education and social sciences there are  problems. A recent philosophy graduate I talked to had never heard of, much less read, Aristotle, Aquinas, Bertrand Russell or John Dewey. I understand many humanities majors at major universities have never taken a course in Shakespeare. Many colleges and universities today don’t even offer basic courses in Western Civilization or the U.S. Constitution. They do offer a smorgasbord of courses in Sustainable Society Issues, Women’s Studies, African Civilizations, Multicultural Literature, Introductions to Yoga, Jazz, Poker, and Sports Management.

The low level of knowledge exhibited by our college students today can’t all be blamed on educators though. In our understandable desire to foster more equality in education—and all other nooks and crannies of society for that matter—we forget that to succeed in college you need an above average IQ. Alas, we are not Lake Woebegone where all the children are above average.

It is not politically correct to talk or write about IQ. Nevertheless, as almost everyone recognizes, there are differences in intelligence among people. I am aware of strongly held dissenting opinions, but the vast majority of researchers tell us these differences can be roughly measured by IQ tests.

In order to benefit from a rigorous college education these experts say you should have an IQ of 115 or higher. Only about 15% of the American population falls into that group. Today about 45% of American youth attend college. Many of them do not graduate of course. Many do graduate but only by taking courses most people would not call challenging. Perhaps they are the ones responsible for most of the bloopers.

President Obama is pushing to increase college enrolment even more. Rick Santorum accused him of snob appeal and worse. That’s going too far. The President says he wants more young people to have post-high school training, not necessarily in a traditional four-year college. I agree. I question whether even graduating from high school is an absolute must for all. But that is another story.

Last Monday, for instance, there was an article in The New York Times decrying the drying up of funds to train the jobless. Atlas Van Lines came to a job center in Louisville, Kentucky, wanting to hire 100 truck drivers. The Atlas recruiter couldn’t fill the jobs because most of the unemployed did not have the skills needed to get a commercial truck driver’s license. To master those skills they would have had to take a course that cost $4000. They couldn’t afford this and the government job center did not have the funds to subsidize.

Why not take some of the money subsidizing college educations for the 30% of students with IQs inadequate to the challenges, and spend it instead on vocational job training like the example above? (I know that is politically unlikely but it is a good idea anyway.)

At the other end of the academic spectrum the high IQ folks who do succeed in college don’t make a plethora of bloopers (pithy words with faulty facts). But they are often prone to a plethora of high-foggers (excessive words with foggy facts). Like the ones who wrote the new report for the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability. Here is a small sample:

“The United Nations University’s International Human Dimensions Program (UNU-IHDP) is already working to find these indicators for its “Inclusive Wealth Report” (IWR), which proposes an approach to sustainability based on natural, manufactured, human, and social capital. The UNU-IHDP developed the IWR with support from the United Nations Environment Program, to provide a comprehensive analysis of the different components of wealth by country, their links to economic development and human well-being, and policies that are based on social management of these assets.”

By my calculations this has a Gunning Fog Index of around 25. This means you would need 25 years of schooling to follow the drift. Not sure how high an IQ is needed to write these committee reports.

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. My blogs (and my book) typically come in at about 9 or 10 on the Index (you need a 9th or 10th grade education to follow). We still have a stock of Fog Index posters that will give you the formula for calculating this Index. If you want a free copy email me and I will put a copy in the mail for you. billjane@hawkhill.com.

Leave a Reply