If schools had water coolers (which they don't they have teeth-rotting, kid-blimping soda machines. Thank you, corporate America!), all the students would be gathered around them talking about the latest Fox hit, "Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?"
And if those kids were anything like the fifth-graders I talked to yesterday, they'd be saying, "Of course we're smarter!" And they'd be right. No one is quite as smart as a fifth-grader anymore especially not the morons Fox dug up for its show.
Fifth graders in 2007 have the advantage of having grown up with the very technology that made many of us middle-agers finally throw up our hands and say, "I am through trying to keep up. Get me a Jitterbug." A Jitterbug being the super simple cell phone for the non-fifth-graders among us. It has giant, easy-to-read numbers and asks simple yes/no questions. ("Do you want to make a call?" "Do you have any idea how to dial a phone?" "Who was the first president?") It doesn't bother trying to synch you up with e-mail or the Internet because this, it realizes, is a lost cause.
Just a generation ago, though, the household objects that were simplified were the toys: the Playskool phone with the big plastic numbers or the tiny, tinny piano. Kids were the ones who needed the dumbing down.
Now that's all reversed. I asked my third-grader if he knew how to text message, and it was like asking if he knew how to rip an MP3 file. ("Mom! Everyone does!")
This may perhaps explain why the Fox show is such a hit the third most-watched show last week: Secretly most of us adults are worried that not only are we dumber than a fifth grader, we need one around for tech support.
A show dedicated to that premise children actually trying to teach grown-ups how to, say, instant message might be fun and even surprising. The only thing surprising about "Are You Smarter," alas, is that there are still plenty of people willing to look idiotic for the chance to be on national TV and win a million dollars. (Hmm. That's not sounding quite so unreasonable as I write it.)
Last week, for instance, host Jeff Foxworthy asked a contestant named Ebony, "If you cross the northern border of the United States, what country are you in?"
Ebony squeezed her eyes shut in utter concentration. "I think I know this," she said, clasping her hands together as if in prayer. Time passed. Theme music played. More clasping. Finally, offered the chance to "peek" at a real fifth-grader's answer the fifth- graders don't actually play against the grown-ups, they're just there as assistants Ebony chose to take the extra help.
"CANADA" the fifth-grader had written.
Extended whooping from the studio audience. Ebony shrieked with joy and clasped some more.
"Why do they take so long to answer?" my actual fifth-grader asked as we watched.
I wanted to explain about trying to build up false tension and the need to fill an hour slot in order to maximize the number of commercials. (This one had about 10 ads each commercial break.)
I also wanted to mention what Professor Ted Mandell of Notre Dame calls the "reality show feel-good effect": the stupider the people on the show, the smarter the people at home feel, and the more they keep watching.
It also seemed important to note that co-producers Mark Burnett, of "Survivor" fame, and Fox's Mike Darnell ("Temptation Island") are the godfathers of reality TV, and they don't want to get to the big prize too often, too quickly, or the show will peak.
On the other hand, all that takes a lot of time to explain and, after all, he's a fifth-grader.
He's got to download my photos before he goes to bed.