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?
  2. Which
    chamber of the heart receives blood from the lungs?
  3. Is
    the equator a line of latitude or longitude?
  4. What
    is a mixed number?
  5. What
    organ in the body produces bile?
  6. What
    kind of a root is a carrot?
  7. Nomadic
    tribes of American Plains Indians lived in what structures?
  8. What
    did American Indians of the Northwest coast use to symbolize their clan and tell
    family stories?
  9. Which
    is larger: 3/5 or 5/8?
  10. What
    are the three branches of the United States government?
  11. What
    are the names of the five Great Lakes?
  12. How
    many hydrogen atoms are there in a molecule of water?
  13. "You
    are as strong as an ox." Is this statement a simile or metaphor?
  14. What
    part of speech is "after": An adverb, conjunction or preposition?
  15. Who
    invented peanut butter?
  16. How
    many pints are in 2 gallons?
  17. How
    many feet are in 9 yards?
  18. What
    part of speech describes a verb?
  19. What
    is a proper noun?
  20. 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

[Update: I love this follow-up on the Journals of Journeys blog.]