Friday, October 11, 2013

Surrounded by the stupid.

WASHINGTON — It’s long been known that America’s school kids haven’t measured well compared with international peers. Now, there’s a new twist: Adults don’t either.

In math, reading and problem-solving using technology – all skills considered critical for global competitiveness and economic strength – American adults scored below the international average on a global test, according to results released Tuesday.

Adults in Japan, Canada, Australia, Finland and multiple other countries scored significantly higher than the United States in all three areas on the test. Beyond basic reading and math, respondents were tested on activities such as calculating mileage reimbursement due to a salesman, sorting email and comparing food expiration dates on grocery store tags.

Is this really a surprise to anyone? When you can confuse a store clerk virtually to the point of tears by handing her a quarter to accompany the $5.00 bill you had already given her after she'd wrung up up the sale for $4.25, you know you are deep into stupid territory. This actually happened. A sales clerk had taken my $5.00 for a $4.25 purchase and entered the amount into her cash register. When I belatedly fished out my quarter from the depths of my Mary Poppins bag and handed it to her, she froze. A confused look came over her. She bit her lip, staring at the five dollar bill and the quarter.

"You gave me too much money."

"No, I gave you the quarter so you could give me back a dollar bill."

"But I only owe you 75 cents."

"Not if you add the quarter to it."

"But I don't need the quarter! That's too much."

I took back the quarter. I then took the additional three quarters she handed me. I paused for effect and to give her brain a chance to have closure on that transaction. Then I put all four quarters in one hand and asked, "Can I have a dollar for these four quarters?"

That's when she almost started crying.

And I almost started laughing.

But I'm not that mean. Almost. Not quite.

Americans are stupid. We are stupid and we are uninformed. But thankfully we score high marks on self-esteem. Yes, that means we are arrogant. This is important because if you aren't arrogant when you're stupid, you might just learn something. Like how to make change.

But wait. All this stupidity is easily explained. It is not, in fact, a result of lowering standards and expectations of performance; nor is it the result of the increasing political power of the teachers' union and the federalization of education through the Department of Education. No. That's just silly talk.

It is all about the inequality.


However, my retarded reptilian brain remembers this little video from 2008, and I wonder whether it can be reconciled with the pronouncement that stupidity is simply an expression of inequality.

It would appear from this video, that at the very least, some of our fellow citizens' stupidity results from listening to NPR and reading the NY Times.


  1. As I commented on this on another website, "Obviously, since the white Europeans, white Canadians, and the Asians all did well on the test, but the diverse Americans did not do nearly as well, well, the test was racist. So, the test results don’t mean a thing. I mean, were there questions on the test on how to make Purple Drank? Were there questions on how to game the welfare system? Were there any questions on how to register dead people to vote, and then get them to the polls so the proper Communist would win? No? See? The test was racist. How well do you think those uppity Europeans and Canadians, and Japanese people would do if they were tested on such relevant issues as those, hmmm??"
    This little jewel is also interesting in the same lines:

    1. I honestly believe that culture matters more than color. Unfortunately, the culture of many races is so dysfunctional that it's easy to dismiss them as stupid. They aren't. They have been made to be stupid. If we're not careful, we are heading in that same direction. There is no skin color that protects you from the fatal stupid of bad culture.

    2. And of course there's Marxism, the equal opportunity stupefier. Related post by Sarah Hoyt.

  2. Reminds me of running a register as a youth. Z tapes and X tapes and balancing the drawer at the end of the day. Only had a problem with somebody giving extra change one time because it was some oddball amount. An extra quarter? No problem. Does anybody still count the change back to the customer? I don't know how common it ever was but that's how I was trained and it always seemed like a good idea to me.

    1. Honestly, I was stunned. And embarrassed for her. And more than a little horrified. I mean, WTF? It was one of those moments when you wanted to say, "All righty then...America deserves to become a third world nation. Its citizens already are."

      How DO you function when you are that stupid?

    2. But I don't want to be a third worlder. It's gonna suck.

  3. That's not only happening to cashiers. Alas.
    A week ago I was serving as a test supervisor on professional licensing exam. Whole state of NY has 2 locations for the test: us (NY) and Rochester. So half-a-state candidates came over to a hotel on Times Sq. to take the 8hr professional test. Mind you, to be eligible for the test you gotta have at least 4yr college AND 5yrs of practice in the background, at a minimum.
    Certain rules apply in what you can bring to the Practicum part, in particular, only single-memory calculators are allowed.
    So I walk along the rows before the test starts to inspect the desks and I see one designer has a complicated calculator with all kinds of Fx functions, including conversions, etc. I tell her to put it away, and she starts screaming at me: but it WAS allowed at the Spring exam, why can't you allow it now (that means she failed in the spring). I said: "forget about the spring, concentrate on what's allowed now - you had your admission letter with requirements and you had this info on the exam site, so don't play ignorance to me. Your calculator is not allowed - but as someone who's been grading these exams for several yrs I can tell you - you can solve all test problems with a pencil on paper, it only requires arithmetic, not high math - like calculating areas of spaces and such." But she still yelled that it's "not fair"(!) and that I'm putting her at a disadvantage to others and she'll report me to the authorities! Obviously, the prospect of multiplying width to length was unbearable to her...

    1. Two things in your story stand out to me immediately. The first, obviously, is that she wasn't just cheating, she NEEDED to cheat, and the second was that she wasn't the least bit ashamed of her attempt to cheat.

      When did shame become extinct in this country? How do people actually maintain any moral discipline without it? I've always thought shame was a more powerful and useful weapon than physical punishment. But now, we don't have it. Oh, unless, you're a dog. There is dog shaming. HAHAHAHA!

  4. 'When I belatedly fished out my quarter from the depths of my Mary Poppins bag and handed it to her, she froze.'

    The key word here is 'belatedly'. I always hand over all the cash before the cashier rings it up and I've never (ever) had an experience like this. She was probably new on the job and nervous, not stupid.

    So next time, give her the five dollar bill and quarter at the same time and see what happens. The problem had nothing to do with her math skills. She likely had not yet been taught how to cancel the transaction on the cash register which I suspect is why she started to cry.

    1. Heh. Yes, that's why I wrote belatedly, to imply without all the necessary explanation that she had already rung in the $5.00 against the purchase and the cash register was telling her that the correct change was $.75. However, this still doesn't lessen the stupid because she coulda/shoulda easily have done it in her head and that was my point. She could not do such a simple math problem in her head. Could. Not. This was stunning to me.

      But it gets worse. Yesterday, I kid you not, I was at Target buying bath towels and the young cashier was talking with the couple checking out in front of me. She seemed a lovely girl, very bright and friendly, and she was explaining to them why they should take out a Target card. She said, "But you get 5% off your purchases. So if you buy $100.00 dollars worth of stuff, you get like $10.00 off"

      I. Give. Up.

    2. "She said, "But you get 5% off your purchases. So if you buy $100.00 dollars worth of stuff, you get like $10.00 off""

      Ye gods! *facepalm*

  5. I’m saying that nervousness, unfamiliarity, inattentiveness, boredom, absent mindedness, bad luck or even a mental block can make pretty smart people, seem pretty stupid sometimes. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been stuck for a fairly common word and ended up babbling on for a sentence or two to come up with an alternate way to say it. It probably didn’t sound particularly sophisticated.

    Maybe she meant to say two hundred dollars (and for a split second thought she had) but one hundred dollars slipped out – then later slunk off in disarray after realized what she had said (or pretended not to notice). I don't make judgments about a person's intelligence based on a single incident. I ask for multiple lines of evidence. (There I go talking like a scientist, again.)

    On the other hand even though making a judgment in any single case is difficult, many of these incidents strung together does allow you to make an inference on the overall state of our culture. If twenty people tell you 5% of 100 is 10, odds are not all of them were caused by tongue slippage.