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Are you smarter than a fifth grader?

I hate the whole concept of Fox’s television show, Are You Smarter Than a Fifth


Here’s why…

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel thought

it would be fun to have local teachers create

a twenty-question quiz

on stuff fifth-graders ought to know. Here are the

questions from the quiz, each of which is hyperlinked to the Google search

results for the question text:

  1. What

is a hyperbole?

  • Which
  • chamber of the heart receives blood from the lungs?

  • Is
  • the equator a line of latitude or longitude?

  • What
  • is a mixed number?

  • What
  • organ in the body produces bile?

  • What
  • kind of a root is a carrot?

  • Nomadic
  • tribes of American Plains Indians lived in what structures?

  • What
  • did American Indians of the Northwest coast use to symbolize their clan and tell

    family stories?

  • Which
  • is larger: 3/5 or 5/8?

  • What
  • are the three branches of the United States government?

  • What
  • are the names of the five Great Lakes?

  • How
  • many hydrogen atoms are there in a molecule of water?

  • “You
  • are as strong as an ox.” Is this statement a simile or metaphor?

  • What
  • part of speech is “after”: An adverb, conjunction or preposition?

  • Who
  • invented peanut butter?

  • How
  • many pints are in 2 gallons?

  • How
  • many feet are in 9 yards?

  • What
  • part of speech describes a verb?

  • What
  • is a proper noun?

  • What
  • is something found on a plant cell that is not found on an animal


    Go ahead. I dare you to compare the Google search results to the quiz answers. For nearly every question, the first or second Google link has the correct answer.

    In most instances, you don’t even need to click through to the actual web site.

    You can just read the short blurb for the link on the Google results page.

    [Also, note that question 14 is a trick


    and that the teachers’ answer

    to question 20

    may be incorrect (I think it should say chloroplasts, not



    So now we’re not only spending all this time in school making kids memorize

    stuff that literally can be found in mere seconds, we’re actually making game

    shows out of it (like we’ve always done) and framing it in such a way so

    that grown-ups feel stupid if they don’t remember information that

    most adults never need to keep in their heads

    . Let’s be honest

    here: when is the last time you really needed to know the names of all five

    Great Lakes, whether or not animal cells have cell walls, or who invented peanut



    blogged about this before

    . I know there is some core knowledge that we want

    all of our kids to know, both because we want them to be able to recall it even

    faster than the time it takes to search the Web and because it’s part of our

    cultural / societal background and heritage. But as I said in my

    earlier post

    , I’m guessing that this body of knowledge is much less than

    we’ve traditionally believed because of the technology that is now available to


    We used to have to memorize things because the only way we could store

    knowledge and information was in our heads. We passed that information down

    orally from generation to generation. Over time we learned to mark stone

    tablets, knot ropes, write on papyrus and then paper, and print books. With each

    technological progression, we needed to carry less factual information in our

    heads because it was available in other places and we could get it if we needed

    it. Our ability to store information digitally on hard drives, DVDs, and the

    Internet is just the latest transition, with a concurrent reduction of the need

    to carry around a bunch of disparate, disconnected facts that are irrelevant to

    our daily lives. There’s a reason we don’t make most individuals memorize the

    periodic table or the quadratic equation: they don’t need that information most

    of the time and, if they do, they can find it pretty easily.

    Am I smarter than a fifth grader? Yes, and it’s not because I have memorized

    all of this stuff. It’s because I’m an adult who can find the information that I need in mere seconds when I need it,

    critically consume information, and act upon information in professional, ethical, and productive ways.

    What do you want your fifth grader to be learning in


    Further reading

  • Pete Reilly
  • John Taylor Gatto
  • [Update: I love this follow-up on the Journals of Journeys blog.]


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