It's common to point out that people don't know much about much...
And it always makes me wonder: How much DO people know about history, about math, or about geography?
More importantly, how would you assess "our" level of knowledge? What does the "public" really know?
This came up for me the other day when I was chatting with someone who (we discovered) didn't really know where Syria was. Is it near Iraq? How close is it Turkey?
That struck me as odd because Syria has been in the news for the past several years as it struggles with an ongoing civil war. Surely they must have seen a map of the country and its position in the Middle East! And yet, the location somehow didn't stick in their brain.
|How many Americans can describe the Declaration of Independence and what role it played in the US Revolutionary war?|
Does it matter if you know what year this document was signed? (Painting by John Trumbull, 1817-1819)
Last year, in 2018, I heard a brilliant talk by Roddy Roediger about what our collective memory is for historical events. Who won World War II? If you have an interest in education (especially history), it's worth an hour of your time.
This brings me to this week's SearchResearch Challenge. What DO we know, and how to we know what we know?
1. Can you find a high-quality (that is, very credible) study of how well the citizens of the United States (or your country, if you're from somewhere else) understand (A) history, (B) geography, (C) mathematics?
In this Challenge I'm hoping to learn some methods for finding reputable resources for assessing broad public knowledge. Next week we'll discuss some of the SRS methods I use when I try to answer questions like this.
And more importantly, for our SRS purposes, how does one frame a question like this to a search engine in order to find those resources? AND... how do you assess the quality of the resources that you find?
Obviously, asking a few friends a couple of calculus questions isn't a great way to measure the public's knowledge of math. Doing a man-in-the-street interview of geography questions also probably doesn't work well either--so what would work well?
In other words, what can one do to make a measurement like this? How can you tell how much the citizens of your country know?
Obviously, this kind of Challenge can take an arbitrary amount of time. But if I can motivate you to spent a few minutes searching for this kind of information, I think you'll get a good sense of the issues involved.
As always, please let us know how you discovered the sources that you find credible.