Thursday, May 31, 2007

So Much For Book Learnin' ...

Earlier today I was riffling through a box of childhood papers (pictures, report cards, test scores, and such) looking for a picture of me as a newborn. As I was telling CBD Saturday, I was born with black curly hair. Yeah, I don't know what happened either.

This is the closest picture I could come up with. Not at all curly, but freakishly adorable. So the story goes, the photographer asked my mom, "Lady, you sure you want her hair like that?"

But as long as I was riffling, I looked through my report cards, dating all the way back to first grade. Ah, Mrs. Prinz. I loved her. The main comments all centered around one theme: I talked too much. Me? Really?! I suspect this was less a social exercise and more an attempt to procrastinate and drag others down with me. But I also got a lot of comments about what a joy I was to have in class. Aw.

I have stanine tests from 2nd, 4th, 5th, 9th, and 10th grade in that box. My scores were pretty consistent. Early on, I was in the 98th percentile. By high school, I dropped to 96. Such a slacker I was.

And so I was amused to find myself watching "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" tonight. I'd never seen it, but tonight, the contestant screwed up the first question, so his wife, originally there to cheer for him from the audience, was enlisted to take his place. She has a PhD in psychology. She ended up walking away with $175,000. She didn't know the answer to "How many pecks are in a bushel?" and I realized that I didn't, either. Maybe I knew it a long time ago, but that information had long since vanished. The answer, if you don't know either, is 4.

So, apparently, I'm not smarter than a 5th grader, though when I was in 5th grade, I was pretty smart. And I passed the Mensa exam a few years ago. Good thing there were no questions about bushels and pecks.


Blogger Markbnj said...

Hey Beth.

You and me both. That's why I don't watch tv anymore.

I think it's part of the dumbing down (see idiocracy--intro video on youtube)
of our country...

9:31 PM  
Blogger Jeff Hunter said...

I've watched 5th grader a couple times. The questions are entertaining, but it just really shows that we're teaching our children some pretty useless stuff. I know, I know, process of learning, blah, blah, blah. But how many pecks in a bushel? Who cares? When was the last time you bought apples by the peck?

8:25 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

No kidding, Jeff. So much of what we're taught has absolutely no application to our everyday lives. Hell, even most of what I learned in college doesn't apply to anything I do from day to day.

The pieces of paper are pretty, though, sitting in my desk drawer.

8:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So did you ever represent your school in the Scripps National Spelling Bee? That's the TRUE "smarts" test.

Back when I competed, they awarded you a Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary inscribed with your name. And to think I got rid of it when I replaced it because too many of the words I was looking up weren't in there...

1:11 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Aw, that's too bad that you got rid of your dictionary!

I don't remember my school ever having a "formal" spelling bee. We had casual ones, but they didn't lead to anything, so nope, no National Bee for me.

And not to detract from your accomplishment, but I wonder how much good it does for kids to cram their heads full of spellings of words they'll never use? It's good to learn etymologies and such, but as with most "education," it doesn't end up applying to everyday life.

I'm a good enough speller that I'm the one everyone always asks, "Hey, how do you spell ... ?" And a good enough speller that misspellings bug the crap out of me. Typos are one of my biggest pet peeves.

1:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wee, always loved that pic. Now you have to put the Aqua Net Christmas pic up!

1:37 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Funny, Trac. I don't have a scanner and that picture is rather dark, so I don't think I can just take a picture of a picture. But someday, I'll get it into the computer and everyone can be amazed at my gravity-defying hair!

1:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a woman and I won an American Heritage Dictionary in a scholarship contest sponsored by the National Football League. Wrote an essay, won a dictionary. Always thought it would have been fun to attend college on a football scholarship. I'm also a former reporter who covered the National Spelling Bee back in 1980. That was before the high-tech set now. We sat at long tables and passed dictionaries to one another. Twenty-seven years later I remember the kid I covered missed on "marmoreal." It means "marble-like." I was thrilled to find Richard Ford used it in his latest novel. Of course, I can't remember the kid's name.

12:34 AM  
Blogger Ron said...

I read the comments about the inanity of much of what we are teaching our kids and I have to disagree. Education isn't really about teaching useful skills that will directly serve us in a chosen profession. That's what a training program is all about. Real education is about forming the mind to think rationally. When I was in college (a lot of years ago), I was forced to take a class in symbolic logic. To my 19 year old mind, nothing could have possibly been more useless. The amount of work involved kept me from spending the time I needed to devote to my major area of study. It ended up being the one class that kept me from a 4.0 that semester, even though I worked harder on it than on any of my other classes. With the insight that comes from now being idle enough to sit around thinking about things that mean little to anyone but me, I've come to the conclusion that out of all of my educational experience, there are a few things that have served me better than all of the others: 1) being forced to memorized untold numbers of poems, vocabulary lists, formulae, and rules of grammar; 2) learning to diagram sentences; and 3) that damned class in symbolic logic. Being able to think rationally, speak correctly, and rely on my memory have allowed me to find a modicum of success in my life. All three of those things I considered absolutely useless. None in any way pertained to my chosen field, but without them, I suspect that my life would have been radically less fulfilling.

9:20 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Ron: You raise good points. (Must be that education serving you well, eh?)

Certainly, I had classes that seemed inane at the time that were in fact helping me build a foundation, but I also had classes that, to this day, seem like wasted time.

Though maybe the lesson of those classes was to teach me: 1) I won't master everything I approach, and 2) I can understand the value of things relative to the perceived lack of value of other things.

My "gifted" classes in junior high seemed stupid at the time, but helped develop my critical-thinking skills. My "interpretation of poetry" class in college, though?

Sometimes a tree is just a tree.

9:36 PM  

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