WASHINGTON, D.C. Concerned by the results of a survey indicating that 60% of American teenagers can name the Three Stooges but only 40% can name the three branches of the U.S. government, professional educators today vowed a new emphasis on core knowledge students need to succeed in a global economy.
"A twenty-point gap is not good enough," said Morris Byrum, incoming president of the American Association of Assistant High School Principals. "We need to get back to the basics that produced nearly universal Three Stooges literacy back in the 1950's."
Students at high-achieving public school districts around the country complained that the test question was misleading. "Everybody knows there were actually four Stooges--Larry, Moe, Curly Joe and Shemp--but the question just said 'Name the Three Stooges,'" said Evan Adamik of New Trier West High School in Downer's Grove, Illinois. His mother, Mindy, says the family spent over $2,000 on test preparation courses for her son, and that she would demand that his scores be corrected.
Aaron Lipkind, the researcher who conducted the study, admitted that the format in which the question on the three branches of government was asked may have accounted for the high percentage of correct answers. "We used fill-in-the-blank for the Stooge question, but for the three branches of government we gave the kids multiple choices," he explained. "A, animal, vegetable, mineral. B--chocolate, vanilla, strawberry. C--legislative, executive, judicial. D--Ruth, Bader, Ginsburg.
Developmental psychologists view mastery of small groups as an essential building block to more complex cognitive skills. "If kids don't learn the Three Stooges, how are they ever going to move on to the Jackson 5?" asked Janet Hightower, an associate professor at Northwestern University. "Because of inflation, Ocean's 11 has now become Ocean's 13."
Economists say mastery of entertainment trivia will become increasingly important as televised and on-line quiz shows account for an ever-larger share of the world's industrial output. "Forty years ago a kid could grow up and get a good job in the steel mills, but those days are gone," says Milton Gelson of the Center for the Study of Depressing Trends. "Today, if that kid can't sing, his best hope is to win American Idol."