Sunday, July 01, 2007

Smarter Than a 5th Grader?

This came across on my RDI homeschoolers list. This is the sort of thing that has me doing a long hard look at my goals for homeschooling and what has prompted the change in direction I'm trying to implement. (This came from the May newsletter, 2nd one from the top of the list)

4. Article: Smart Like a Fifth Grader
By Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller

Can you name the primary colors, the five Great Lakes, and the capital of North Dakota? Most fifth graders would know. But would you?

This is the challenge presented by the popular new Fox show, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? Each week fifth graders face grown-ups who have many years' experience on them. The youngsters smile and answer questions while the adults frequently reveal themselves as less knowledgeable than the children.

Isn't that cute? No, it isn't.

This show is doing our children and all of us a great disservice by perpetuating the myth that education is nothing more than the ability to memorize. It communicates a quiz show mentality that encourages a zest for the accumulation of answers to trivia questions. It teaches that facts and dates of historical events and other trivia are the essence of a learned person and a good education.

What kind of root is a carrot? What are the three branches of the United States government? Who invented peanut butter? What is a proper noun? How many pints are in two gallons? These questions and others like them are simple recall questions. They require one right answer. These types of questions help viewers create a narrow view of learning and the important process of education.

Here is a significant question for you. Whatever happened to thinking?

How are an animal cell and a plant cell the same? How are they different? Come up with options for improving your neighborhood. Rank order them from most to least important. What do you think would happen if your classmates did not know the fire drill regulations? Is there a pattern in these poems? What does it mean to you? Sequence the main ideas presented in the story. Predict the results, if this planet had only half the amount of water it has now? What is the best way for two people to work together on a project?

How about a TV show that asks adults and children to summarize, generalize, or analyze data? What about requiring evaluation, appraisal, and putting what was learned in one setting to use in another?

Real education is much more than covering content, regurgitating factual information for the test makers, or excelling at Quiz Bowl. It is now and always has been a drawing out of what already exists within the child, rather than a putting in of what we see as perceived deficiencies and information gaps. The main purpose of education is to foster the creation of who and what children choose to be.

Does Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader help viewers see the role of educators as one of helping students learn to be solution oriented, self-responsible, personally empowered, and self-expressing? Hardly! Does it in any way deal with the concepts of respect, sharing, acceptance of differences, integrity, forgiveness, or love? Nope! Does it help those students who watch the show realize that the answers to the most important questions aren't in the back of the book, but rather are found within each individual? We don't think so.

How many hydrogen atoms are in a molecule of water? Which is larger, 3/5 or 5/8? What organ of the body produces bile?

Wisdom is not knowledge. Wisdom is knowledge applied. The application of the knowledge you have to new and unique situations is the essence of wisdom. Somebody please create a TV show that moves the view of education beyond the factoid mentality and our preoccupation with memorization, test scores, and artificial standards to the vibrant center of the human connection that touches the spirit and showcases the heart of teaching.

Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the authors of The 10 Commitments: Parenting with Purpose. Chick Moorman is also the author of Spirit Whisperers: Teachers Who Nourish a Child's Spirit. Both books are available at Chick and Thomas also publish a FREE e-mail newsletter for teachers and another for parents. Subscribe to them at or

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