I tried something a little different in my senior seminar class the other day. It was one of those fun exercises that everyone enjoys, although its purpose and meaning are a bit murky. I presented a list of names of famous people, both topical and historic, and asked the students to give them a grade, A to F. I gave the students no criteria for grading the people, basically leaving them to their own notions about each.
To be sure, this was no psychological or sociological instrument useful for academic study, but rather one teacher’s attempt to satisfy his curiosity about what the junior- and senior-level Nicholls students think/know/don’t know about famous people.
With some of the grades comes a short commentary from me about what I thought of the rating.
U.S. politicians, both living and dead, included Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, Dick Cheney, Bobby Jindal, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and George Washington.
Celebrities (performers mostly) included John Lennon, Madonna, Reggie Bush, Muhammad Ali, Reggie Bush, O.J. Simpson, Madonna, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Lindsey Lohan, Elvis Presley and Oprah Winfrey.
Others (people who did not fit neatly into one of the first two categories): Stephen Glass (reporter for The New Republic, who created stories that were later found to be untrue), Mark Zuckerberg (controversial founder of Facebook), Nelson Mandela, Muammar Gaddafi, Princess Diana, Winston Churchill, Karl Marx, Sarah Palin, Charles Darwin, Howard Stern, Joseph Stalin, Muhammad (the prophet), Helen Keller, Stephen Hulbert (Nicholls president), Wolfgang Puck (famous chef), Che Guevara and me.
People who graded out at A included Helen Keller (how could you not put A for her?), Che Guevara and me (Me I understand because the entire class was looking for a way to kiss up. In the real world, I grade out at about D. But an A for Che Guevara? Am I teaching a revolutionary group or what?).
Folks who scored B included Oprah Winfrey, Churchill, Lincoln and Mandela (Not an A for all four? Lincoln and Mandela did score B+, whatever that is worth), Elvis, Darwin, Roosevelt, Lennon and Princess Diana.
Those getting average grades included Muhammad Ali, Cheney and Madonna (I like the pairing), Hillary and Bill Clinton (never liked the pairing, a sentiment I suspect Hillary secretly harbors), Bush and Romney (Wake me up when we’re done), and Hulbert (which I can’t understand. I graded him at A. I just realized I’m a kiss-up like my students.)
The group that earned Ds from the students include Barack Obama, Jindal, Marx, Stern, Palin and Zuckerberg. (This group requires no attempt at humor or commentary from me.)
Now for the stinkers, those who graded out at F. This list really didn’t surprise me. These included Paris Hilton, Stephen Glass (the students don’t tend to like anyone who is journalistically unethical), O.J. Simpson, Lindsey Lohan and Muammar Gaddafi. (Personally, I think Lohan should have received a higher grade because she keeps getting mean judges who apply the law. Who knew?)
Frankly, none of this surprises me. What did are these additional facts. One student did not know who Muhammad Ali was, and another had never heard of Howard Stern (maybe that’s a good thing). Two didn’t know who Joseph Stalin was and two others came up blank on Teddy Roosevelt. Three did not know Marx. And, finally, four students did not know who the prophet Muhammad was.
Conclusion: We need more history classes in grades 1 through 12. Or a better seminar teacher.