I became aware of this video from the blog College Misery and Why Evolution is True. An anguished quip from the College Misery blog:

While grading essays, exams and reports, you may wonder, “Do these morons know anything?”

That’s a darn good question.

The video (yes, it is UGLY)

I thought to myself: “surely my students aren’t THIS clueless.”

So, I tacked on three questions to last week’s weekly quiz (which covered relative maximums and minimums and critical numbers for functions of one variable); I did NOT give them warning that I would ask them these questions, though I gave them a tiny amount of “extra credit” if they answered the questions correctly.

The data (discounting 2 international students): 2 sections of “engineering/science” calculus, a total of 53 non-international students. Median mathematics ACT: 28, Mean: 28.15.

The questions:

1. Who won the US Civil War? (94.3 percent got it right)

2. Who is the current US Vice President (84.9 percent got it right)

3. Who did the US attain its independence from? (100 percent correct)

For question 1, I counted “Union” or “North” as correct. For question 2: it had to look like “Biden” or “Joe Biden” to be correct. For question 3: though the correct answer is England, I counted Great Britain or UK as correct as well.

1. 2 left blank, one said “US” which I didn’t count as correct. 3 misses out of 53. 94.3 percent correct.

2. 8 misses; 2 admitted that they didn’t know, 2 said “Pat Quinn” (our governor), 2 said “Dick Durbin” (our senior US Senator), 1 said “John Boehner” (Speaker of the House), 1 said “Reagan”. (He is popular in this area as he graduated from nearby Eureka College). 84.9 percent.

3. zero misses.

So, the above video is not representative at all. Now one might find it troubling that ANYONE missed 1 or 2….that’s for sure.

Caveat: yes, these were written questions, but they came without warning and they were attached to a mathematics quiz. And one can note the math ACT scores and wonder if, say, a very low level freshman mathematics class would have done as “well”. (say, “college algebra”, which is really a remedial course)