Vice President Bin Laden

Lunch Scholars, a video by two Olympia High (Washington) journalism students spotlights ignorance. Asked the state capital, students guess Seattle, even though they live in the capital city, Olympia What countries border the U.S.?  “Canada?” says a girl. “That’s a state. Never mind.” In what war did the U.S. gain its independence? “That war,” the Civil War and the Korean War  get as many votes as the Revolutionary War.  Who’s the vice president? George Bush, Bill Clinton or “someone named Bin Laden.”

In a statement on Olympia High’s student newspaper site, filmmaker Evan Ricks admits the editing included the “funniest responses.”

“Though there were many correct answers to these pop questions, the comments in national forums concentrate on the negative, and, as usual, do not take into consideration the amount of editing it took to get these funny, incorrect answers. So, we are taking down our video.”

Taken down on Vimeo, the video was reposted on YouTube.

Olympia High ranks as one of the best in the state in graduation rates, AP test results and SAT scores,” reports KXLY. The high school is the defending state champion in the Knowledge Bowl.

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  1. I went to a high school that most years ranked in the top 10 in the state on the annual standardized tests, often was state champion in the Academic Decathlon, and had 95% of its graduates go on to attend college. That said, there were some definite dim bulbs in my class and it wouldn’t have been hard to edit together a similar video. Not everyone can be on the high end of the bell curve…

  2. Of course, the story blames teachers, but could it be the kids themselves who are most to blame? Nah.

  3. Roger Sweeny says:

    A number of years ago I saw a video someone had made at a Harvard College commencement. The star had a large piece of tree branch and he asked people where the atoms to make it up had come from; it had started as a small seed. Most everyone said from the soil though the correct answer is from the air (carbon dioxide) and water.

    I don’t really “blame” students or teachers for the terrible showing. Most of school consists of memorizing for a limited period of time things students don’t care about, using them in a paper or test or project, and then forgetting them.

    • soil isn’t incorrect…while much of a tree is comprised of carbohydrate compounds that were initially made from photosynthesis, many minerals and nitrogenous compounds are absorbed from the soil.

      • Roger Sweeny says:

        If you burn the tree, most of it will oxidize to CO2 and H2O and go off as vapor. You will be left with ash containing minerals but it will comprise less than one percent of the mass of the unburned tree. The star made it clear in his questioning that he wanted to know where most of the mass of the tree had come from.

        • Michael E. Lopez says:

          Good faith question here…

          Wouldn’t most of the mass come from the soil in the form of water? Just because when you burn it, it vaporizes, doesn’t mean that it didn’t come from the ground initially.

          I mean, maybe trees suck moisture from the air in vast quantities that dwarfs the water they get from the soil… I don’t know. I’ve never given this question much thought, so I’m just trying to think through it on the basis of what y’all are saying.

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            Yes, most of the moisture comes in through the roots. But the answers the students gave were the solid parts of the soil.

        • Oh, you didn’t say most

  4. > where the atoms to make it up had come from

    Um, that would be “supernova explosions”, right?

  5. That said, it’s this sort of appalling ignorance that makes it hard to hope for the future. Those kids will be VOTING, folks, in all 52 states (well, not all of them, of course, but probably nearly 10 percent of them).

    • I don’t think that voters today are on average any more ignorant than in the past, except maybe back when only white male property-owners who could pass a literacy test were eligible to vote (not that I support those kinds of restrictions).

    • Mark Roulo says:

      On April 4, 1943 the New York Times ran an article with the title “Ignorance of U.S. History Shown by College Freshmen.”

      The lead paragraph began: “College freshmen throughout the nation reveal a striking ignorance of even the most elementary aspects of United States history, and know almost nothing about many important phases of this country’s growth and development…”

      The article complains about the lack of geography skills: “Most of our students do not have the faintest notion of what this country looks like. St. Louis, located on America’s most famous river, the Mississippi, was placed on the Pacific Ocean, Lake Huron, Lake Erie, the Atlantic Ocean, Ohio River, St. Lawrence River and almost every place else.”

      and their knowledge of U.S. presidents: “Virtually every President of the United States from George Washington to Franklin D. Roosevelt were listed as having lost their lives in this manner [assassination. Note that in 1943, FDR was still alive.]”

      Finding students who don’t seem to know much/anything about history and/or current events is not new. I suspect that things weren’t any better in 1883, either.

    • Personally, I’m more offended at the elected representatives who would have the same difficulty answering the questions.

  6. I’m curious about why the video was removed from Vimeo.

  7. Many, many years ago, my sociology professor at the U. of Texas at Austin told the class one day, “Only 20% of the world’s population care about anything; it’s they that keep the world running, keep technology and culture advancing, save the records of the past and change the world for the future. The other 80% of the world’s population just ride the wave obliviously. They have no idea what’s going on around them, and don’t want to know. They’re happy in their eternal ignorance as long as the bread doesn’t run out and the circuses don’t go away. These percentages have never changed, from ancient Egypt and Sumeria all the way through today.”

    I never forgot that quote. (Note: The wording isn’t exact, but I can guarantee that it’s really darned close to exact!)

  8. Ponderosa says:


    I’m not surprised that teens were equally ignorant in the Forties. That doesn’t make it OK. To me this is an indictment of the wretched slackness of our public schools. Kids like those interviewed drag down the level of learning in classes. They do no work, evince no care, misbehave and enlist their parents’ firepower when they get low grades or detentions. All of this wears down us teachers to the point where it’s very hard to keep up the fight for rigor and real learning. Show me the public school where kids face meaningful consequences for slacking off and/or misbehaving. School should be a sacred and respected institution; behaving like Beavis and Butthead there should result in serious negative social sanctions.

  9. Thomas Garrison says:

    “The high school is the defending state champion in the Knowledge Bowl.”

    This is not true, and sadly cannot be true. Olympia is only the Quad-A champion. In Washington, at State the Knowlege Bowl teams are divided by division and never compete against each other (even at the highest level). I know this made us sad when I was a senior (16 years ago), as we could only claim the embarassingly convoluted “third place triple-A” spot (which probably included AAAA at the time), despite having thumped the AA and B champs at regionals (which were free-for-all).