Are Czechs smarter than Americans? /Jsou Cesi chytrejsi nez Americane?Are Czechs smarter than Americans? | Czechmatediary
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Are Czechs smarter than Americans? /Jsou Cesi chytrejsi nez Americane?

idiot_v_genius google imageRemember we had that heated discussion in one of my posts about  Americans and their poor knowledge of geography? You guys ended up leaving 102 (!!) comments! Jamie was one of those involved commentators who kept pursuing the idea that there is NO difference between us and the Americans as far as general knowledge goes. He also promised to send me a research paper on exactly this issue and he kept his word! Here is most of the article, although I could not fit in all of the questions. But you get the idea..

CZ: Pamatujete si , jak jsem jednou psala clanek o Americanech a o jejich spatnych znalostech zemepisu? Vyvolal takovou diskuzi, ze jsme skoncili se 102 komenty!!! Jednim z komentatoru byl Jamie, ktery tvrdil, ze vseobecne znalosti Cechu a Americanu jsou na stejne urovni. Take nam slibil odborny clanek, ktery jeho hypotezu pry potvrzuje. Jamie dodrzel slovo a clanek poslal. Zde je ho vetsina, ale vsechny otazky se mi tam bohuzel vmestnat nepovedlo.


Author: Vladimír Kajlík

Periodically, readers are showered with newspapers articles decrying progressive decline if not outright abysmal state of American public education. The conclusion, usually supported by various sorts of statistical “knowledge surveys”, provides presumably ample evidence for such a decline. There would be not much to report if we just assembled such articles from Europe and America to state the facts and to confirm assumed trends.

If general public education in America is as bad as it is claimed, how come then that America, which presumably, provides the worst kind of public education, performs so well when it comes to international ratings, producing the best of academic results. Further, if the American students are as “clueless” as the survey discussed in this paper suggests, then why not to subject European students to the same treatment and see how well they will cope with this “elementary school stuff”.

In 1996 The American magazine published educational survey conducted by The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research (RCPOR), providing the hard data for the argument that “Nearly 90% of the … American college graduates would fail a simple quiz on material for elementary school students.”

The original survey consists of 20 questions in roughly five topic groups, the first group covers knowledge of civics, i.e. basic knowledge about the nation’s political leaders, about current political landscape (political parties, dominating issues, etc.), second group of questions covers history, historically oriented questions inquiring about common Western heritage. The third group of questions quizzes the knowledge of literature (again in broader European context). The fourth group tests basic knowledge of geography and finally, the fifth group of questions addresses knowledge of elementary math. (J. Herrick 1996)

We translated the American survey into Czech language and then adjusted few questions to make it more “domestic” and thereby more palatable to Czech students. (Thus for instance, if the question was “Who was the president of the USA at the beginning of Korean war…”, we would ask “who was the president of the Czechoslovakia at the beginning of Korean war …”, etc.).In conducting our survey, we selected a random group of High school graduates entering College or University and College/University juniors (freshmen) chosen from a random selection of Czech schools and colleges from various regions of the Czech Republic to match the Roper Center selected group of students chosen from a random selection of US Colleges and Universities.

Would you please tell me the names of four countries in Asia? /question not modified/
As for geography; only 66% American students could identify four countries of the Asia, while 91% of Czech students could do so.

EX:3 questions (out of 11)

How many US /Czech/ senators are there?
Fewer than half (44%) of US students knew the number of US senators and 57% of Czech students knew the correct answer for number of Czech senators (this number fell to 52% in 2006). Both groups of students display sharper gap of knowledge about the current political representation when it comes to specific details of the political structure.

Would you please tell me who was a president of the US /CR/ at the beginning of Korean war?
84% American students were unable to identify the US president in office at the outset of Korean war, tallied by 67% of Czech students unable to answer the same question about the Czech president (ignorance about the question in 2006 tailed the American students percentage from 1996) Students named incorrectly Czech presidents from Zapotocky to Husak.

Would you happen to know which major work first told the story of Achilles and who wrote it? /question not modified/
Only 16% of American students could answer the question about the story of Achilles and naming the author, compared to 39% of Czech students. The rest of literature question fared even worse.

Would you happen to know which major work first told the story of Achilles and who wrote it? /question not modified/
Only 16% of American students could answer the question about the story of Achilles and naming the author, compared to 39% of Czech students. The rest of literature question fared even worse.

Math: 2 questions (out of 5 total)

What is the perimeter of a room 65 feet wide and 35 feet long? /question modified to metrics/
Question on perimeter of a room: 53% of American students correct; 89% of Czech students correct.

What is the percentage equivalent of 5/3? /question not modified/
Question on percentage equivalent: 48% of American students correct; 70% of Czech students correct.If we Accept the Roper’s Center 4.5% margin of error (results within +/- 5%), then results for American students and Czech students are very close for answers in humanities, that is on cultural, political and historical questions. In respect to questions #1, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, both groups are equally knowledgeable or ignorant of their civic, political, cultural, and literary history of their countries.

The most disparate answers were revealed in questions #4, 15, 16, and 18, where Czech students fared much better in basic geography (questions #12-14) and all basic math questions (#16-20).

In an overall assessment: Czech students responded only to 5 questions worse than American students (questions #5, 7, 9, 10, and 11) out of 20. Those were questions on literature (questions #9, 10, and 11), question on the source of the phrase (question #5), and the question on the non-Christian religions (question #7).

While we find the Czech students’ answers to show somewhat better results in civics, politics, and history, the survey’s margin of error allows us to conclude a virtual parity in general knowledge (general ignorance) of students in their respective countries. This should not come as a surprise to us. As I. Illich observed already about half century ago; “[public] schools are fundamentally alike in all countries, be they fascist, democratic or socialist; big or small; rich or poor.” (I. Illich 1970)

A distinct similarity of the public educational systems around the world stems from a common heritage of European Enlightenment with its philosophical underpinning firmly anchored in French Philosophes, J. J. Rousseau in particular. Since 1850s, Europe and England strive to achieve ideal form of uniform, state run public educational systems and so it does, maybe to a lesser extent, America.

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20 comments… add one
  • Ladi February 11, 2010, 10:05 am

    🙂 !!!

  • Tanja February 11, 2010, 11:05 am

    The thing is if you look at all of the questions like I did – and their results – it really looks like the Czechs know more….but I am not surprised, the Czech educational system is based on memorization…teaching logic is a different story..

  • Lucka February 11, 2010, 5:56 pm

    I have worked in education in both Czech Republic and U.S.A. I must say I am not surprised by the poor results the American students show. Students here in US usually have to only “show up” to get a decent grade.

  • Tanja February 12, 2010, 11:53 am

    Here in California it depends on the school you go to. Some schools are ‘slower’ because they have so many Hispanics who do not speak much English and they unfortunately slow down the other kids. But I like the fact that the American educational system is more creative and fun for the kids…not just memorization and mean teachers like it is (was?) in Czech 😉

  • Vlastimil February 13, 2010, 7:28 am

    schools, as we know it, are not needed. Only elementary school is needed, so we will force children to memorize what we know (knowledge transfer) and then we can let them to question what they learned and let them to explore things to get even more knowledge. The most successful people are usually self-taught and in many cases college drop-outs. If you really have a desire to learn something, you don’t need any schools. Of course, some skills can be obtained only by following a “master”, but it is more about obtaining skills , not knowledge…

  • Vlastimil February 13, 2010, 7:30 am

    And of course Czech are the most intelligent nation on Earth…. Ask any Czech…they will tell you..:)

  • Tanja February 13, 2010, 10:54 am

    Yeah, ask me and I will totally tell you!

  • Tanja February 13, 2010, 10:57 am

    I just recently listened to a program on Radiozurnal about this very thing! Karel Gott, for instance, was a drop out.

  • Vlastimil February 13, 2010, 10:58 am

    you see? as always, I am always right 😉

  • Jamie February 13, 2010, 2:07 pm

    One of the things you have to think of is that by the time students get to a Czech university (where the survey was done), they have already survived several weeding processes, so even the sample wasn’t really comparable to a sample of “American high school graduates” or “American college freshmen”. The Czech students entering university are more of an elite group than the Americans, but according to this they aren’t that much better than the less elite mix that gets into an American university.

    The American educational system used to be based largely on memorization also, but a few decades ago something changed that. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the early baby-boomers (i.e., “the ’60s generation”) were graduating from college and being hired to teach the larger masses of younger baby-boomers. They were very anti-memorization. One of the changes they brought was that they told the kids, “You don’t need to remember all the facts, as long as you understand the concepts.”

    This can be translated as, “You don’t need to know anything, as long as you understand what someone has told you to think about it.”

    Or even better: “Don’t try to learn anything, just accept my propaganda.”

    American society is now suffering because of this.

  • Vlastimil February 13, 2010, 7:15 pm

    Actually, we need only handful of intelligent people to tell the less intelligent majority what to buy, what to say and what to think… We need an army of people smart enough to apply for loan, to buy house , cars and get stuck in this devil’s circle… Too many intelligent people is a real threat to world economic stability and well-being of the human population. The human intelligence should be regulated 😉 😉

  • Kimmie February 14, 2010, 8:50 pm

    Being an American and the fact that I have lived in Czech Republic I believe Czech students are smarter than Americans. A family friend of ours who has children that are in advanced classes here in the states took both of her children to Czech to have them tested to see how they matched with the Czech school system. They both were 2 grades below where they should be based on the Czech school system. I believe that our American school system teaches the students to pass the test and not to remember what they learned. I am still wondering if moving back here was a good idea, because of the education. My daughter is in a very good school here and I feel it is not even comparable to where she would be if we would have stayed in Czech. This is my feeling being an American and experiencing the Czech school system.

  • Jamie February 14, 2010, 8:57 pm

    Kimmie, are you saying that the Czech kids are smarter, or that they know more? In some of the grades they know more material than American kids do (although this slacks off in high school), but in general, Czech people are not smarter than Americans or than people of any other country.

    Also, why do you call the country Czech? That’s the name of the language, not the name of the country.

    It was not a mistake to bring your child back to the States, because the Czech school system is geared toward kicking kids out at various ages, whereas the American system keeps them in school and tries to lift their level. (What that level is depends on which school district you live in. If you don’t like the results in your present district, you should probably move to another one.)

  • Marika February 15, 2010, 2:27 pm

    My children had the opportunity to experince Czech school for brief three weeks 1st and 4th grade. My daughter had a chance to experience the school of economics ( stredni ekonomicka skola ) sophomore year last year. Both of my children enjoyed the school, especially going home earlier then in their California schools. They said the school was easier less pressure and a lot more fun. Yes, it is more repetitive but that is how little kids learn. Younger kids brains are sort of in a “primitive thinking way”.
    The logical thinking does not kick in until they are about 13 years of age, with boys it might take longer.
    This might be one of the reason’s way the Czech kids
    scored better. The kids in first grade in U.S. go to school from about 8:00am till 2:30pm. That is a very long day for a six year old. There is only so much attention the kid has. The curicculum is getting constantly harder, no wonder an average kid hates school by the middle of second grade and does not really care if he or she is failing in middle school.

    Bottom line the kids did not get the basics when they were cute little first or second graders. Simply because the teacher had to move on in order to cover the material in the school year and there was not enough time for the good old fashion repetitive, which by the way works in most cases.

    That was the average child then there is the intelligent child who, as Vlastimil said, will teach himself or herself because he or she has the thirst for knoledge.

    Then they are the kids with learning disabilities who are constantly push to do the impossible instead being trained for job skills and being able to live on their own.

    I still believe the american education system is better especially the higher level education. Everything is pretty much standarized so you can compare the schools across the nation when the kids take those standarized tests in spring. Colleges choose their applicants by looking at SAT and other tests. To the best of my knoledge Czechs do not have this kind of system.

    Vlastimil there is probably the same amount of intellignt people as there was 100 years ago ( I am sure you are familiar with the bell curve ). They just have the chance to be in colloges or being drop outs together because it was probably the SAT test that united them in the first place. Rememeber, kids used to go to college depending on how rich their father was so you could have Albert Enstein on east coast and Isaac Newton on west coast. They would never meet each other, just imagine what they could create together.
    Like you said, the Czechs are the most intelligent people, good thing it is a small nation, right?

  • Vlastimil February 16, 2010, 12:49 am

    OK, joking aside, the amount of intelligence on Earth is constant…the problem is, it is being shared by more and more people every year 😉

  • Marika February 16, 2010, 8:47 pm

    Yes, it could be potentially dangerous but try to be more positive, it’s good for your health, here we are communicating through Czechmate diary. Just think how truly amazing technology is these days because few geeks were able to get together and create something for general population(:

  • Vlastimil February 16, 2010, 10:39 pm

    Thanks!! I am one of those geeks :))

  • Marika February 16, 2010, 11:48 pm

    I think I already know that.
    Vlastimil Says: February 13th, 2010 at 7:30 am
    And of course Czech are the most intelligent nation on Earth…. Ask any Czech…they will tell you..:)

  • Richard March 17, 2010, 3:44 pm

    Seems awfully bias to me. As far as studies have shown. The United States is usually ranked either #1 or #2 when it comes to the best education systems.

    The U.S. averages at least 12 years of schooling

    United States 12
    Norway 11.8
    New Zealand 11.7
    Canada 11.6
    Sweden 11.4
    Australia 10.9
    Switzerland 10.5
    Germany 10.2
    Finland 10
    Poland 9.8
    Denmark 9.7
    Israel 9.6
    Japan 9.5
    Netherlands 9.4
    Ireland 9.4
    United Kingdom 9.4
    Belgium 9.3
    Slovakia 9.3
    Cyprus 9.2
    Hungary 9.1

  • Jamie March 17, 2010, 10:44 pm

    The reason the other countries average so few years of schooling is that their educational systems are based largely on kicking people out. The US system tries to help people finish the highest level of schooling they possibly can. This is why many girls whom the Czech system spits out come to the US as au pairs, stay to get bachelor’s or even master’s degrees, and then become greatly contributing members to US society. If they’d stayed home in the Czech Republic, their potential would have been wasted. That country has a lot of geniuses working as hotel receptionists and bar waitresses. It’s pretty tragic.

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