“The major cause of the Civil War is when slavery spread its ugly testicles across the West.”
From Ignorance Is Blitz
Ignorance Is Blitz: Mangled Moments of History From Actual College Students. Compiled by Anders Henriksson. Workman, 155 pp., $6.95, paperback. Originally published as Non Campus Mentis.
By Janice Harayda
Zoroastrianism was founded by Zorro. The South succeeded from the Union. Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.
What a pity that SAT scores don’t measure common sense. If they did, those of us who have taught college students might have seen far fewer lines like these on tests and term papers. And now comes Ignorance Is Blitz to show us that cultural illiteracy on campus is at once far more extensive — and more entertaining — than some of us knew from the students who solemnly told us that a fictional character founded a major religion or that the South “succeeded” from the Union.
After decades of teaching at a state college in West Virginia, Anders Henriksson has collected hundreds of his students’ gaffes and supplemented them with others from professors at universities in the U.S. and Canada. Henriksson doesn’t name most of the schools, and that’s a mercy when the blunders include lines like:
“The P.L.O. is the airline of Israel.”
“George Eliot was written by Silas Marner.”
“Greek semen ruled the Agean [sic.].”
“The Berlin Mall was removed.”
“Without the discovery of the flying buttock it would have been an impossible job to build the Gothic cathedral.”
“John Huss refused to decant his ideas about the church and was therefore burned as a steak.”
“The Civil Rights movement in the USA turned around the corner with Martin Luther Junior’s famous ‘If I Had a Hammer’ speech.”
In a postscript Henriksson blames some of the tragicomic errors on an overreliance on spell-checkers and on anxieties about test-taking. The causes of the problem go deeper than he allows and include a devaluation of history in schools and grade inflation that allows some students to do well even if they write, as one student in the book did, that “St. Teresa of Avila was a carmelized nun.”
But the skimpy analysis in no way detracts from the hilarity found on nearly every page of Ignorance Is Blitz. Well ahead of the holiday season, this small-format humor book has emerged as of the year’s best literary stocking stuffers. In the meantime some of its mangled lines could add levity to a tense election season. You’re worried about problems with those butterfly ballots? America’s students are here to remind you that it could be worse. There was a time when, as one of them put it, “Voting was done by ballad.”
Best line: “The major cause of the Civil War is when slavery spread its ugly testicles across the West.”
Worst line: “Machiavelli, who was often unemployed, wrote The Prince to get a job with Richard Nixon.” One of the few lines that make you wonder if a student was pulling the teacher’s leg.
Recommendation? A great gift for teachers, history lovers and, of course, some of those “actual college students” in the subtitle. Many high school students would also enjoy this book.
Editor: Ruth Sullivan
Published: January 2008 www.workman.com/products/9780761149491/. First published in 2001 under the title Non Campus Mentis. Portions of the material in the book appeared in The Wilson Quarterly.
© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.