Yesterday's Light

Images in Space and Time

Seeing Red

Red on red, New Orleans, La

I know I’ve expressed this sentiment before, but sometimes you just have to be impressed by ignorance.  Mind-boggling, stupid, in your face ignorance.  But then, we’re Americans.  We’re pretty much capable of anything.  At both ends of the intelligence spectrum.

So what have we done now?  Or more correctly, not done?  Pay attention in school, apparently.

An article in this weekend’s paper started out by describing the process that immigrants go through in the U. S. to gain citizenship.  Part of that process is studying American history and government and then taking a test.  A test that they have to pass.  It’s not a hard test by any stretch – you just have to learn some of the basics.  Most of the immigrants who take the test do very well.

Well, somebody decided to see how well us “natives” could do on the same test (without studying).  Needless to say, we didn’t do so well.  Pitiful, in fact.  But there was one question that they used that just blew my mind (what little of it there is left at this point).  And that question was this:

“Name the two parts of the U. S. Congress.” 

A no-brainer, right?  How could anyone who went through the American school system not be able to come up with the “Senate” and the “House of Representatives”?  It’s kind of like asking somebody if the sun comes up in the east or the west.  It doesn’t require much thought.  You just know it.

Well maybe not.  The article said that only 61% of the American respondents got it right.  The rest – the other 39% – didn’t have a clue.

In other words, just about 2 in 5 Americans in their test sample must have missed that class back in high school or grammar school or wherever the hell some teacher might have mentioned it.  Amazing.

Maybe we should give this test to people before we let them vote.  If they don’t pass, they can’t vote.  The problem with that, of course, is that only about half of all eligible voters actually vote.  If we make those people take a test, and if we can apply that same proportion to the individuals who actually vote, we’re probably going to wind up with just a few folks deciding who gets to run things.  Only 61%  of the people who’d like to vote will pass the test.

But wait a minute.  What am I talking about?  Congress doesn’t do anything anyway.  That’s probably why we don’t like them very much.  Last I heard, they had about a 12% approval rating.  They work for 3 days a week and then go home to raise money for their next election.  And they get more recesses than my grandchildren get from school.  You know, that place where they’re supposed to be learning what the two houses of congress are called.

Maybe it doesn’t matter who gets to pick ’em.


10 Responses to “Seeing Red”

  1. oneowner

    Now let me get this straight – There’s two parts to the U. S. Congress???
    61% seems high to me. At 3M we had college students (all science majors) working part time. While all had good math, computer and chemistry skills, they could barely put 3 words together without making it look like a text message. I’m glad that schools put a great deal of emphasis on math and science but it shouldn’t be at the expense of other social studies, English and, yes, liberal arts.The classical education system doesn’t exist in the USA anymore. 😦

    • Paul Maxim

      I think we’ve had similar experiences, Ken. I’ve worked with some tremendously bright engineers over the years – they were capable of fixing or building anything. But most of them couldn’t spell or write a complete sentence. Apparently, those were “useless” skills.

      Even so, the U. S. is rated 25th in math skills today (according to a recent study). That can’t be good. It’s bad enough that we can’t go to the moon anymore. If we become even more ignorant, we won’t even be able to find the damn thing with a telescope!

    • Paul Maxim

      Thanks, Richard. Funny what you said about New Orleans. To me, it was like being in a deep cave. Narrow streets (in places) and high buildings. It was hard to tell where the sun was, unless you were down by the river.

    • Paul Maxim

      Thanks, Juha. I assume you’re asking about the red windows. It looked like the windows had some kind of red film or plastic over them (on the inside). And the sun was reflecting off of the walls on the other side of the street (the side I was standing on), making the windows glow a little bit.

  2. themiddlegeneration

    Your photo was astonishing! And perfect for your title. Those are shocking facts, and very distressing. I have heard similar things because I know 2 people who have taken the test. Granted there are a lot of trivial facts on the test, but basics about our form of government- that is a disgrace.

    • Paul Maxim

      Well thank you very much. Yes, there are a few “clunkers” on the test. There’s something like 100 of them that the Immigration Service can choose from. I’ve looked at most of them – and I missed one (the question was “how many amendments are there to the constitution”. I thought it was 23, but it’s 27.). But most are god-awful simple, in my opinion. The person being tested has to know 6 out of 10 (it’s an oral test). Most immigrants, as I said, do quite well. As for the rest of us – as you say, it’s a “disgrace”.

  3. cooperscave

    This image and the one above are really great, colors pop.

    • Paul Maxim

      Thanks, Don. I’ve always been a sucker for red! And the red windows were just amazing in that reflected light.


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