Thursday, June 30, 2011

An American History Quiz -- And What It Teaches About Inter-generational Dependence

Once upon a time in a land far, far away (west Omaha, to be exact) I tried an educational experiment that yielded some very interesting results about history, experience and the generation gap. Let me explain how it worked.

I was speaking to a group of older Christians at a local church.  Most of the folks in the audience were retired from paid employment but they certainly weren't retired from life itself.  I opened the meeting with the ominous declaration that I had prepared an American History quiz for them: 10 questions which I wanted them to answer on individual sheets of paper.  Well, the reaction to a “pop quiz” is almost always the same no matter the age of the crowd or the situation -- groans, looks of shocked dismay, and nervous movements that range from wiggling in the chair to abject flight from the room.

However, after I soothed their fears with the assurance that no grades would be given and no notes would be sent home in case of poor performance, these veteran saints settled down and accepted the task at hand. And they soon experienced the relief (even joyful pride) when they saw the positive results. For after the totals were added up, the average score was nearly 90%. That’s a B plus average. Not at all bad for a test for which there had been no prior study.  Unless, of course, you understand that merely paying attention to life as you live it counts as prior study.

And you guessed it; that itself is one of the important lessons to be learned from the experiment.

90%!  Pretty impressive historians these guys turned out to be, right? I wonder what the average would be if, say, a younger audience were to take the same quiz. I wonder how YOU would do. Do you?  If so - get ready because here it comes. It's the very same pop quiz I gave to those seniors; 10 simple questions about the history of our own country.

1) Who was Jackie Robinson?
2) Who was President of the United States during World War Two? (Look out, this is kind of a trick question.)
3) Who was Benny Goodman?
4) Who was Al Capone?
5) What general led the Confederate armies in the American Civil War?
6) Who led the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill?
7) Who was Clark Gable?
8) What was a U-boat?
9) Who was Charles Lindbergh?
10) Who was Wyatt Earp?

That’s it - ten simple questions.  And the answers need only be general identifications in order to get credit.  I didn’t require specific dates or other details.

How did you do?  Did you even get close to the 90% those senior citizens did?  If not, then you should take careful note of the second lesson to be learned in this experiment; namely, that older people in our society have a wealth of information about life, culture, history, business, relationships, finance, and just plain living. In particular, young Christians should be honoring and appreciating the knowledge gained by the older crowd and utilizing their knowledge and spiritual gifts to enrich church life.  As these older believers showed by this simple history quiz, they are an important repository of learning - a valuable resource that should not be ignored.

Let me now mention the second part of my experiment.  A couple of weeks after I had given the quiz to these retirees, I gave the very same quiz to a group of 20 high school students who were nearing completion of an American History course.  Most of them were getting ready to graduate.  Would you like to know how they fared on the same quiz?  Well, they didn’t score as high as the older people did. Not even close. Their average was less than 30%!  And that's with at least two of the answers having been included in class presentations just previous to the quiz! Oh, one more thing; these senior high students who fared so poorly on the quiz compared to the elders were a Christian high school.

This discrepancy should be viewed as an alarm clock for us all - an alarm to awaken us to the crying need for higher quality education for our youth, including American history and culture. And, trust me, being able to play complex video games, text messaging your buddies, and knowing all of the contestants on American Idol does not qualify as cultural attainment.

So, let’s start shaking things up in order to better educate and inspire our youth.  Older Christians should put a higher priority in their own lives on Bible study, reading, listening, conversing, and writing. That way the elders are not only examples to the young; they're making sure that their own minds are being richly furnished so that they'll have something worthwhile to pass on. The older believer must help the younger appreciate the critical importance of investing time and effort in learning.  These are practical, necessary and thoroughly biblical lessons.

We need to stop neglecting the wonderful resources we have in our midst, resources quite crucial to the completion of the church's mission.  The Bible makes it clear that education of the young is a primary responsibility of the mature, so believers should be far above the world in exhibiting an intergenerational fellowship.  We’re singing a lot of songs nowadays about breaking down the walls --- let’s make sure the walls of generation get broken down too.

So old folks, take the time and effort and patience to tell your stories to those following behind you. And young folks, take the time, effort and patience to hear what they have to say.  You just might find them more interesting and relevant and smarter than you think.

Oh, by the way, need the answers to the quiz?

1) The first African-American allowed to play in major league baseball.
2) Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman.
3) Big Band clarinetist and bandleader.
4) Chicago gangster of the 1920’s and 1930’s.
5) Robert E. Lee
6) Teddy Roosevelt
7) Movie star
8) German submarine
9) Aviator - the first to fly solo over the Atlantic.
10) Old West lawman and gunfighter