The Culture Quiz
When the last man to fly in space alone, Gordo Cooper, died a few months ago I was upset. The next day in school, whenever my friends and I needed a subject for conversation, I said, “Hey, you know – Gordo Cooper died yesterday.” The only response I got was: “Who’s he?”
Not a single person I talked to in school that day knew who he was.
I figured that this might reflect not only on the kids in my school but on their education, so I decided that it would be a good idea to make up a quiz that I could give to a representative sample of kids at my school, with the results appearing in the school newspaper (which I work on as a section editor). I worked with my Dad a little, and settled on the following questions:
1. Who was the first American in space?
2. Who perpetrated the Bataan Death March?
3. Who were the Khmer Rouge?
4. Name the first book of the Bible.
5. Who wrote, “With malice towards none; with charity to all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right…”
6. Who did Churchill refer to when he said “Never in the field of human conflict, has so much been owed, by so many, to so few.”?
I thought that these questions were common knowledge – and that if they weren’t, they should be. And how did the kids in my school do on this poll? I don’t know.
I don’t know, because I decided to show the questions to one of our paper’s chief editors (also a student) and he said that he didn’t like them. I discovered a couple of things that he thought were wrong: First of all, three of the questions dealt with war, and two with religion, and he didn’t like that. Secondly, he himself couldn’t answer the questions, so naturally they must be no good. I asked him if he thought it was right to interfere so much in my section; he said that it was if I was going to do such a “controversial” topic.
His reaction surprised me, because I was prepared to encounter resistance from the teachers, not the students. Nevertheless, I told my ‘chief’ that I was determined to use these questions, and I added that my intent was not to show that Amity High School kids were stupid, it was to find out how good a school we had – here we had a chance to be a real newspaper. He was skeptical, and further worried that teachers would be angry with him if I rapped the school in our paper (he also thought that I couldn’t fill up enough space with a story on that). I told him that I would take all the responsibility myself, and that if the story didn’t work out that he could fire me from the newspaper. He gave me a shaky go-ahead.
I sent the questions out to my writers that night with their assignments, and I added an additional note to one of them, whom I knew I could trust. I said in that additional note that I was worried about being sabotaged, and that if my friend got any letters from any other editors about the assignment that I’d appreciate his sending me a copy. In the meantime, my section co-editor was “urging” me not to send out my assignments.
The same evening one of my writers – the one who I could trust – forwarded me a note from my co-editor that was sent to everyone on my section, except me:
“If you have recently received an assignment for the January issue, please disregard it for now. Soon, we (meaning I and not Dan) will be notifying you of the real assignments.”
The sight of this note really steamed me, and if this co-editor had been sitting next to my computer I probably would have punched him right in his characterless nose. It’s a good thing that I didn’t, because the next day he was quick to confess that he’d been instructed to send out that note by the chief-editor that I’d started with.
That brings me up to the current point. I’ve decided to leave this until after midterms, at which point a few friends of mine with character will help me get my poll out to the students. As for the Chief, his attempt to stop this thing hasn’t gone to well – the results will appear in my column in the school newspaper, on this blog, and (who knows) maybe in another national magazine.