Is Bush smarter than a fourth-grader?

Notes from the political sidelines.
May 17 2007 3:58 PM

Is Bush Smarter Than a Fourth-Grader?

Maybe he's failing on purpose, to help our young people make gains in civics and history.

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Teresia is a small country that has been invaded by its neighbor Corollia. The king of Teresia is a long-standing United States ally who has been living in exile since the Corollian invasion. Teresia is an important exporter of uranium; it sends most of its supply to members of the European Union. The king appeals to the United States and the United Nations for military help in driving Corollia from his country.

Identify two pieces of information NOT given above that you would need before you could decide whether or not the United States military should help Teresia. Explain why each piece of information would be important.

C'mon, kids! How many countries does the president have to invade before you start getting the right answer?

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Only 13 precent of eighth-graders had an "acceptable" response, which is even lower than the president's own ratings. Just 3 percent of the responses were "complete"—so Bush is not the only one.

Bush can take some comfort as well from the sample answer in the NAEP report. That particular eighth-grader outperformed Bush by asking to know more about Corolla's motives and allies. But the student didn't ask anything about whether Teresia was really exporting uranium.

Of course, President Bush may be a great teacher, but how would he do on the test? The past six years have trained him well for one measure of basic fourth-grade achievement: "Students should know that the world is divided into many countries." Bush has spent enough time around the Coalition of the Unwilling to know that.

But other NAEP standards might be harder to meet. In civics, fourth-graders at the basic level should be able to "recognize that the president is an elected official" (somewhat more difficult since 2000) and "identify an illegitimate use of power" (which may have been Lynne Cheney's real objection to these standards all along).

The advanced achievement level for fourth-graders is harder still: "Given age-appropriate examples, they should recognize differences between power and authority and between limited and unlimited government." And there's just no getting past the section, "What Fourth-Graders Know." A "proficient" fourth-grader can name the two political parties. But to be considered "advanced," a fourth-grader must be able to "identify the legislative branch." By that standard, this administration could be stuck in grade school for a long time. ... 3:57 P.M. (link)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Hear Me Roar: These are tough times for the newspaper business, so editors everywhere should be grateful to Slate's parent company, the Washington Post, for an ingenious cost-saving measure—the reusable headline. Saturday's Post carried a story entitled, "Giuliani Tries To Clarify Abortion Stance." No matter how many times Giuliani addresses the subject, it's the only headline any newspaper will ever need.

The savings don't stop there. Today, the Post's Dan Balz was able to recycle Saturday's lede for his curtain-raiser on tonight's debate: "Much of the focus [is] likely to be on former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and his continuing effort to extricate himself from a controversy over his position on abortion."

This weekend, Giuliani was busy clarifying his abortion stance on Fox News Sunday. "Let's start with abortion and any confusion that remains about where you stand," Chris Wallace began. The more Giuliani tried to extricate himself, the more he had left to clear up.

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