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Turn Down the Frogs

by on June 15, 2015 6:15 AM

With my current and former students working in a variety of customer service operations this summer, some of the stories I have heard have been pretty funny.

One customer called the front desk at a resort on Hilton Head Island to ask if the staff would please turn down the sound of the frogs outside of his suite. "That sound is natural" said the front desk employee. "It seems to get louder at night" responded the guest.

Another shared a story of working in one of the National Parks and being approached by a self-proclaimed outdoorsman. The outdoorsman asked the ranger how long it took the river to "go around." "I beg your pardon?" asked the student.

Apparently, this outdoorsman was under the impression that the water circled back around -- similar to the lazy-river water rides that can be found in amusement parks and hotels. He and his girlfriend had hoped to re-loop back to their launch site. He became even more agitated when he found out that taxi service to their car was not a service the park provided.

"Why wasn't I informed about this when I arrived?" he asked in anger.

From the recreation industry to food service and retail those who work in the customer service business get to see how uninformed and uneducated some people really are. Universities aren't exempt. I can remember teaching a class on causes of disability many years ago and, after several lengthy lectures and reading materials detailing our central nervous system, a student wrote her essay on the challenges of being paralyzed from the waist up. It still makes me laugh.

Is it true that our culture is dumbing itself down? Are Americans dumber today than they were in the past? How is our access and intake of information impacting what we know or don't know?

Does it matter?

On a recent trip through the Southern United States, my husband and I were reflecting on the terrain and the woods and the difficulty faced by those who were either fighting in the war between the states or slaves who were running away. We talked about Gettysburg and the number of lives lost and even "what if" if the outcome of the war had been different. We were surprised when we came across a billboard, tucked off of a rural road, that showed a huge Confederate flag with the words "Never Forget" in bold letters.

The lessons we learned about the Civil War enrich our understanding and our visit to the region.

One of my daughters shared that on a recent episode of the reality show called the Real Housewives of Atlanta, the cast was taken to a church with access holes in the floor, ostensibly to learn about the history of the Underground railroad. On camera and later played repeatedly on cable TV, one of the housewives (whose great-grandfather was a noted civil rights leader) says scornfully "Well, there has to be an opening for a railroad at some point. Because somebody's driving the train. It's not electric like what we have now."

Oh my.

If you've ever seen those TV segments in which a reporter goes into a crowd and asks basic current events or American history questions, the responses (and likely the editing) are astonishing. Based on those segments alone, one might think that the dumbing down of Americans is in full swing.

People like to blame it on technology, social media and the internet, the changing direction of public education and our obsession with testing. There is even a researcher at Stanford who believes that our increasing collective nitwittery is related to evolution -- our soft lifestyles and relative safety from the elements have dulled our ability to respond, react and learn.

In researching this article I found repeated references to a test from 1912 that 8th graders had to pass to make it to high school.

How many college graduates – or community columnists - could answer these questions today?

Studies by the Educational Testing Service that evaluated literacy, mathematical ability and use of technology put us at the bottom of the pile when compared to same age participants in other countries. Sadly, research demonstrates that people with less education in other countries sometimes outscore our college graduates.

In this writer's humble opinion, what we demand of our public education system has changed how much and what people are exposed to. With fewer resources and a growing list of expectations (test scores, monitoring of social issues, political correctness, etc.) something has to give when it comes to what can be included in the 6-8 hours our kids spend in school for 180 days per year. Opportunities for free play, experiential learning and students discovering knowledge have been replaced with test preparation, structured play and risk management.

Some might argue that the coming generations are just smart in different ways. For example, rather than memorize a chemistry formula or some historical fact, the answers are readily available at our finger tips with our computer keyboards and on our smart phones. In today's culture, if we want to know something, all we have to do is look it up.

But, how can one understand the world around us without having integrated the information? For example, how do we solve the intensifying issues related to race in this country without an understanding of history and culture and religion? Will our future leaders have the knowledge to lead and to manage foreign policy, the economy, social programs, etc. if they don't know what other countries are teaching as basic skills and knowledge?

The answers can't be found on

How do we as a collective society decide what is the baseline for knowledge, facts and common sense that one needs to be able to function in our society? How do we then deliver that? Together we need to develop a plan that provides our citizenry with the skills and competencies they need to be successful. We need less politics in our schools and more political science – as well as the three Rs.

In the meantime, can someone please turn down the frogs?


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Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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