The Literary Salon

A free salon wherein patrons and passers-by may view or contribute ideas on literary and generally intellectual matters. The blog will strive to maintain its commitment to wit, humour and perspicuous analysis.

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Location: Toronto, now Ottawa, Ont, Canada

Friday, May 05, 2006


I can't say I'm surprised, but a new report suggests that most young Americans (18-24) don't know their basic geography. This is something I hear educated Americans complain about all the time. You can read another report here.
Similarly, I remember one day about two or three years ago when I worked at Chindigo: somehow the name Baghdad came up, and the female employee I was working with at the time (who was by no means a blockhead, but no genius either) didn't know it was the capital of Iraq. Keep in mind that Iraq and Baghdad had been in the news unceasingly even then.
What's the most alarming about the report is that half of those surveyed couldn't locate New York State on a map, and the survey was conducted in New York! My U.S. geography isn't the best, but it's better than that.
I don't think I've ever said this on this blog, but America has the curious distinction of being the one country in the world where you can find the smartest and dumbest person standing side by side. Canadians aren't geniuses, but the average Canadian is, upon the whole, better off.


Anonymous RK said...

This is by now (in)famously true and known. But I wonder how many Dutch schoolchildren today would know where to find Frankfurt on a map, or how many French ones, Amsterdam?

As far as education is concerned (or,as my students would write, 'as far as education,'), the Sixties have a lot to answer for. When I were a nipper in Holland, we did six years of three foreign languages (French, German and English) without the option. Now, only one is mandatory, the others are optional. Guess which one 95% of the kids choose?

Ontario, I'm told, had a province-wide high school final or university entrance examination (I forget which) until (you guessed it) 1965.

What amazes me is that by the time our students get to 4th year, they are very decently literate. As Philip Henslowe (alias G. Rush) put it in Shakespeare in Love: "It's a mystery."

11:24 p.m.  
Blogger Pious Labours said...

Wow, RK's first comment! cool.

I'm sure kids in Europe are not super geniuses, but it's hard to deny that the average High School graduate in continental Europe is smarter and knows more than the average North American BA holder, to say nothing of general literacy.

I'm told that if you wanted to graduate high school in the 60s in Toronto, you needed 5 years of Latin and 2 of Greek. I got ripped off!

I believe there should be some type of general entrance exam. Perhaps nothing as rigorous as the SAT, but something that tests literacy and general knowledge, perhaps with a sub-test in the student's chosen field.
It's funny how University is not a big deal in Europe, but, as I said, the students there are on the whole smarter. A BA means virtually nothing now. In fact, I would rather I didn't have one; that way I would be unique.

12:00 p.m.  
Anonymous RK said...

Nothing to stop you learning Latin. It's now the latest fad in summer schools. One of the best, I believe, is in Cork in Ireland. One never regrets it.

11:55 p.m.  
Blogger Pious Labours said...

I resumed my Latin a few months ago, doing about a chapter a day until a string of rejections came. Sure, I'm going to Ottawa, but I still haven't recovered. Maybe in the summer.

11:08 a.m.  

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