Marc Carlisle: Are you smarter than a fifth grader? |

Marc Carlisle: Are you smarter than a fifth grader?

On the Marc

Which is the better poker hand, four aces or a pair of twos? Which car is faster from 0 to 60, a Ferrari Testarosa or a Subaru Brat? Who’s used more steroids, Bonds or Clemens?

Two are no-brainers, and one’s a coin toss ” in the hands of a good player, a pair of twos can beat four of a kind. Some questions don’t need to be asked, although sometimes the obvious answer isn’t the right answer.

Who is smarter, a 10-year-old fifth grader or a 35-year-old high school graduate parent? If you’re a fifth grader, you’d like to prove that I’m wrong to wonder if kids today could write a complete sentence without Spellcheck, add two-plus-two without a calculator, or communicate without using expletives, or awesome, like, or way.

If you’re the adult, sure you hate to help your kids with their homework, but that’s often because the kids are learning different things than you were taught. Even so, with five years extra to learn more and apply what you’ve learned for every year a 10-year-old has been in school, if you don’t know who is smarter, take a seat in the fourth grade class down the hall.

Surprisingly, the obvious answer isn’t the right answer in this case. For the past year, Fox television has posed the question twice a week, pitting adults against 10-year-olds in a game show called, “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?”

The show has been a ratings success, following as it does the No. 1 show on network television. I like to think that the show’s producers had a hard time selling the show to network executives.

After all, what adults would watch a show where they lose to little kids, and what kid would watch a show where a fifth grader gets an academic ass whuppin’ from adults? Good thing I’m not a network executive.

Millions of adults and kids tune in, and 9 out of 10 viewers who watch American Idol stick around for Smarter, which is advertising gold for Fox. That doesn’t mean it’s a popular show, however.

A typical review of the show is that while there’s no reason to watch Smarter, other than it comes on after Idol, there’s no reason to change the channel, either, because the show’s cute and inoffensive.

Apparently the notion of turning the television off never enters the heads of most viewers. On the downside, the show really bothers more than a few adults who think the show is unfair.

“I didn’t know what the REM cycle was until I called up my sister,” complained one viewer; after all, he didn’t learn about rapid eye movement and sleep patterns in grade school, while today’s fifth graders do. The question of different curricula aside, I wonder how anyone could miss all discussion, reference, or mention of rapid eye movement and sleep patterns in the past 30 years.

What else did this guy miss since leaving school? Is it possible he really stopped learning once he left school? I like to think that the show’s producers had just this result in mind, not only forcing adults into relearning what they’d forgotten, but tricking ossified adults into learning something new each week.

And that’s a good thing, a very good thing, because the adults are consistent losers on the show, and with as much good grace as they can muster, pay the price by turning to the camera and declaring to the world that “I am not as smart as a fifth grader”. Maybe, maybe not.

The fifth graders have a definite edge because they get the answers in advance of the show; even so, how could we compare fifth grade apples with a different curriculum to 35-year-old oranges who lived through the 1980s and 90s but didn’t learn anything during that time?

One way would be to pit adults against 10-year-olds after weeding out the new stuff, and ask the adults and the kids questions common to then and now. Here in Summit, there surely are elementary school teachers who’ve taught both generations, and who’ve kept tests from years ago.

A head-to-head competition, using paper and pencil, no PDAs or calculators allowed, and standing shoulder to shoulder answering questions at the board, would be a level playing field between parents and fifth graders.

Then we’d know for sure that adults are smarter than a fifth graders. Aren’t we?

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