Unbelievable... the ignorance of Britons shines on

“The best argument against democracy is a 5 minute conversation with the man on the street.”

-Winston Churchill

And here we have supporting evidence for that… at least for Britain.


Some tidbits:

And 15% of 16 to 24-year-olds thought the Orangemen were actually celebrating victory at Helms Deep, the fictional battle that marked the climax of The Two Towers, the second novel in JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

And here’s my personal favorite:

When it came to identifying who helped destroy the Spanish Armada in 1588, 13% of 16 to 24-year-olds credited Horatio Hornblower, CS Forester’s fictional Royal Navy hero from the Napoleonic wars.

And a fifth said it Christopher Columbus, the Genoa-born adventurer who discovered the New World in 1492, while 6% thought it was Gandalf, the wizard from Tolkien’s fantasy novels.

Of course… everyone knows that ships are highly flammable. All Gandalf had to do was cast the third level spell Fireball, and the entire armada would have gone up in flames.

But you would have thought that King Philip would have cast Protection From Fire to prevent that very tactic? Ah well. Just goes to show that the Spanish are really dumb.

That is sad. But then again you’re talking about 500 years ago. The average on the street person in our country don’t know anything about the Civil War, WWII, or Nam. Much less what happened 500 years ago

What school systems did they conduct the surveys in?

The most unbelievable thing is your unblinking assumption that all teenagers take these surveys seriously. Did you know that a measurable percentage of Americans think that Mickey Mouse is a real person and eligible to be president of the United States? OMG LOLZORS WHAT IDIOTS!!!

Plus the assumption that this is a new phenomenon. Sam Wineburg, an American education scholar, has dug up similar surveys and handwringing about the ignorance of youth from 1917. This is not to say that we should be happy that people don’t know stuff, but let’s keep it in perspective.


Yeah, I already thought of that. Except that I’ve been to Britain, and this isn’t far off the mark of what most people I met knew. Plus, they polled people of several age groups… this wasn’t just teenagers. But whatever… it’s much more fun to imply that I swallow everything without any critical thought, isn’t it?

Yeah, I already thought of that. Except that I’ve been to Britain, and this isn’t far off the mark of what most people I met knew. Plus, they polled people of several age groups… this wasn’t just teenagers. But whatever… it’s much more fun to imply that I swallow everything without any critical thought, isn’t it?[/quote]

I think it’s more of an outright statement than an implication. Perhaps you need to work on your wording, I read your post and had the same immediate reaction as Rywill.

Bearing in mind as well that in a survey Americans were asked to name three Japanese people. The most popular answers were Hirohito, BRUCE LEE and GODZILLA.

I have friends that were shipwrecked on Godzilla, so I don’t know what you’re trying to imply.

Fair enough, but Anaxagoras isn’t being naive here. I can tell you from experience that a good percentage of college freshmen couldn’t tell you when the Civil War was (within 10 years). Nor would they know who Churchill was, or any other very basic historical fact.

Anax- So what’s your theory that explains the Gandalf thing? People honestly believing that Gandalf the Grey defeated the Spanish Armada? People who just guessed would probably pick one of the people with a surname.

Any survey will have people who don’t take it seriously, and using fictional people as the answer to a real world question is pretty clearly an example of that.

Everyone knows Godzilla was an American, created by the might of our Trinity nuclear tests. Jesus.

What I can’t figure out is why everyone’s upset that they can’t tell you when the civil war was within 10 years. The 19th century is taught to everyone as a long featureless expanse of dreary presidents - why would they remember?

Everyone can probably tell you “1800s”, though, which is about as close as anyone without a history major would ever need to get.

The Godzilla was Horatio Hornblower’s first ship, which he unfortunately lost at the battle of Helm’s Deep off Gibraltar in 1809. Admiral Nelson, Captain Crunch and Admiral James T. Kirk were lost in this historic action.


Crap. I just thought this was a really funny article. If I had thought this would turn acrid, I would’ve posted this in P&R. Oh well.

My theory is that they had no idea who defeated the Spanish Armada, so a couple people answered “Gandalf the Grey” to be funny. And it is funny… but not for the reasons they think. I’m not sure about the “Horatio Hornblower” answer… I could imagine some people seriously answering that.

I see your point Jason, but if you stop to think about it, misplacing the Civil War by more than 10 years doesn’t leave room for the other important historical events of the 1800’s… the War of 1812 & the Trail of Tears on one end, and the… umm… crap. Alright… nothing much interesting happened on the other side. I don’t suppose William Jennings Byron and the gold standard makes for riveting reading.

You seem to be missing the Mexican and Spanish American wars in your understanding of the 1800’s.

Eh? The Mexican-American War happened before the Civil War, which places it on the same side of the War (in terms of chronology) as the Trail of Tears and the War of 1812. As for the Spanish Americani war… it wasn’t terribly important, at least not for the US. I mean, we gained the Philipines, which I suppose explains why we were down there during WW2, but it never struck me as that important in our history.

For the Spanish, on the other hand, it’s really important. They lost the last of their colonial holdings, and they finally had to own up to the fact that they were a third rate world power; their empire was completely gone, and they were truly irrelevant in the balance of world power. A lot of Spanish told me that that war was a real eye opener for their country… and they didn’t take it too well. (Hellooooo Franco!)

Hmmm? Dreary presidents? (I’m guessing beside Lincoln.) Isn’t Andrew Jackson on one of the denominations of US bills? Why is he there if he isn’t important? (I had once heard he had some sort of great influence on political campaigning…)

And didn’t Edison invent the lightbulb at the end of the 19th century? Isn’t he American?


I’m sure it was exciting when it was all happening, but the 19th century just for some reason has zero cultural mindshare today. Theoretically the phillipines insurrection, civil war, the economic changes of the period - they should all be really interesting. But they just bore the shit out of me, and I’m a dork who likes that kind of stuff.

Actually, they do (it’s what I’m reading on right now). They don’t help you pick-up chicks, tho’.