Mom Isn’t Smarter Than Fifth-Grader, But Don’t Tell

As if we needed one more television show to further undermine the authority and prestige of parents in homes across America, the Fox network gives us Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?

As anyone raising a fifth-grader will admit, there's a lot of material in the curriculum that we adults never covered — or at least that we don't remember learning. Maybe it's the result of the new, improved "information superhighway," offering instant access to all kinds of things that weren't in the encyclopedias at the local library.

More likely, it's a reflection of the hormones growers put in chicken, which probably are making our kids smarter, if not able to run around headless.

All I know is, schools are teaching a lot of stuff to fifth-graders that I'm pretty sure I never knew at the ripe old age of 10 and still don't know today.

Now, thanks to the Fox network, my fifth-grade daughter can see just how much I don't know, thus eroding her perception that mom is the inexhaustible font of knowledge and expertise on all things.

As if helping with fifth-grade homework weren't already humiliating enough (decimals… let's see… no, of course I remember…). My daughter's material is so demanding that I developed an all-purpose response to encourage my young scholar toward greater diligence: "I've been to fifth grade. It's your turn."

The other night, I tuned into an episode of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?

Sadly, it turns out, I'm apparently not.

If you haven't seen it, you're missing a delightful trivia show your whole family can enjoy together.

Host Jeff Foxworthy, the comedian who brought us "You might be a redneck…" humor, ably handles the emcee role with witty remarks and a knack for creating suspense just in time for a commercial break.

The show features five real-life fifth-graders — the Class — whose job it is to help the contestant with hard questions by giving him or her hints and letting the contestant peek at their answers. The contestant on the episode I watch is Mensa member Jason Ramsey.

I'm willing to admit that my fifth-grade knowledge base is rusty at best, but surely Mr. Ramsey will be smarter than a fifth-grader.

In round after round, Mr. Ramsey demonstrates his acumen for recalling facts about history, geography and literature.

The capital of Brazil? (Me: "Um. Wait. I'll think of it.") Brasilia. Probably not a tough one for an actual genius, but I'm impressed.

The first line of "Romeo and Juliet"? (Me: "Is it 'to be or not to be?' No, that's another one.") Yesssss. He gets it right.

I realize I'm pulling for Mr. Ramsey not only because it would be fun to see someone win a million bucks on TV, but because he represents a whole segment of society that is quickly losing respect in the eyes of the next generation — adults.

As the show progresses, I realize I know many of the answers. My self-esteem as an educated adult starts to grow. Heck, I may not be smarter than a fifth-grader, but at least I know some of the same stuff as this Mensa member.

And then… the million-dollar question.

With what country does Russia share its longest land border?

I'm thinking China. The Mensa guy also says China. My son (an eighth-grader — most certainly not smarter than a fifth-grader) thinks the correct answer is Mongolia.

Fortunately, my fifth-grader isn't in the room, because the answer is Kazakhstan, a country whose name I cannot spell without and whose 4,000-mile border with Russia has, for 47 years, somehow eluded my consciousness.

The show ends, and I turn off the television to find my daughter and put her to bed. Hopefully, on the way upstairs she won't ask me any really hard questions.

Then again, if she happens to want to know about the border between Russia and Kazakhstan, I'll have that information handy — and she'll continue to be convinced that mom knows pretty much everything there is to know.

Let's face it, she's the only fifth-grader I actually need to impress.

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  • Guest

    Dear Marybeth: You're right: 5th-graders today know less about more things that you ever did at that age.  That's because of the "information explosion" computers brought us.

    As for Kazakhstan, it wasn't even a country until 1920, when Russia imposed its rule there.  It wasn't a "separate" nation until 1991.  And, anything with a "stan" in it is Muslim. 

    All of which goes to say, I'd rather have my kids (or, in this case, my granddaughter, who's now in 6th grade) be able to spell and accurately make change than know about Kazakhstan.  Not all information is "equal".