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Posted May 20, 2014 | comments Leave a comment

Roger Barbee: A senior survey

By Roger Barbee

I have been re-reading about Earl Shorris and The Clemente Course in the Humanities he established. His thoughts and observations concerning how the study of the classics can help people rise out of poverty led me to question the general knowledge of the seniors I teach.

They are on the cusp of entering the "real world" or college or the military, and I wanted a sense of how prepared they are. So I thought of 25 general questions that I consider indicative of their ability to compete in a global setting. I make no claims to the survey being absolute, but I think it gives a general view of where the 60 graduating seniors who took the survey are in terms of general knowledge and this is an indicator of how prepared they are for citizenship, work or college. How do you compare with the graduating 60 seniors?

A survey -- you are not required to do this activity, but if you do, please take it as if it counted for a grade. It is anonymous.

1. What is the name of the mountain east of school?
2. List in order the towns from north to south in Shenandoah County on U.S. Rt. 11.
3. Name one play written by Shakespeare other than Macbeth or Romeo and Juliet.
4. What American novel has as its heroine a girl named Scout?
5. What is the title of Twain's novel about a boy who runs away with an escaped slave?
6. What are the first five words of our National Anthem and who wrote the poem?
7. Name the Hawthorne novel about a woman who has to wear a scarlet A.
8. What form of government does the United States have?
9. The English language has 8 parts of speech--list 5 of the 8.
10. In 1941 Japan bombed what U.S. naval base?
11. Name the three branches of our government.
12. Name one president born in Virginia.
13. Name one god or goddess from Greek or Roman mythology.
14. In what U.S. city did the Harlem Renaissance take place?
15. Name one of the Gospels.
16. What color is Moby Dick?
17. Name the river that flows through Shenandoah County -- be specific in its name.
18. To what state did the 49ers rush?
19. In what battle of July 1863 did the Confederacy have its high water mark?
20. On what pond did Thoreau live and write about the experience?
21. Name the Revolutionary War patriot/preacher of Woodstock.
22. Name one capital city in Europe, one in Asia, one in South America.
23. Explain the difference between its and it's.
24. If you are standing on the coast in Tampa, Florida looking west, what body of water are you seeing?
25. Name 10 states with their capital.

In my opinion, knowledge makes for a better quality of life. All semester students have asked why they need to read Shakespeare or Golding or Chaucer. They asked how that could help them in "the real world." I always responded that having knowledge of literature would add to their general knowledge and give them lessons about life. Understanding how too much ambition led to Macbeth's downfall is a lesson we all need to heed. So my little survey is an attempt to see what these graduating seniors know about their world and the larger world they will encounter.

Each reader can draw his or her own conclusions about my survey. Perhaps it is just a bunch of silly questions that mean nothing. However, I offer that it suggests our elected School Board members, our parents, and our teachers and administrators need to do better for our students. You may choose to argue with my conclusion, but one fact I know is that the results are not the fault of the 60 students, for they are only products of their culture and environment. Maybe we are sending our graduates onto the river of life with a good enough boat but no paddle.

Here are the correct numbers for each question with some comments.

1) Three
2) 10. Six students named the towns correctly but went from south to north, not following directions.
3) 25.
4) Five. This surprises me.
5) 17.
6) Forty-nine knew the words, but only three knew the writer.
7) 23.
8) Seven. This is, in my opinion, a tough question easily missed.
9) 38. We will master this before they graduate - shame on them and me.
10) 42.
11) 52. Tthe high water mark of the survey.
12) 40.
13) 44.
14) 7.
15) 19. From the "Parson's Tale."
16) Nine.
17) Four.
18) 30.
19) Two.
20) Zero.
21) 21.
22) Four.
23) 21.
24) 26.
25) Zero. I find this disturbing for the future of our country.

Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at redhill@shentel.net.

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