Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Quick Quiz

Some years ago the Montana National Guard hosted a trainer to conduct some awareness training.  I was very impressed by the trainer and his quiet way of sharing his journey to America from Africa.  The problems he had overcome.  Mostly I was aware of the great hope and humor he projected as he taught us about his experiences with discrimination and social injustice.

He gave us all a quick test, asking us to write the first person we thought of living or dead who best fit the question.  Please consider taking this short quiz and see if your results were similar to our results.

1.     Name a famous American.
2.     Name a famous Native American.
3.     Name a famous Irish American.
4.     Name a famous Asian American.
5.      Name a famous African American.
6.     Name a famous Jewish American.
7.     Name a famous Woman.
8.     Name a famous Italian American.
9.     Name a famous German American.
10.  Name a famous man.

I was chagrined I was only able to answer about 3/4 of the questions.  I expected him to talk to us about bias and being aware of other cultures.  As I looked around I gave myself  silent brownie points.  I had answered more questions then most.

Then he looked at each of us and quietly said, “How many of these questions did you answer with the name of a woman?” 

My answer was one.  I felt humbled.  Here I was a female in a nontraditional role and I didn't think to answer the questions with women leaders. Such a powerful message and it was all the louder because he said it with such gentleness and grace.

Then he said, “We are all products of our education and experience.  Education is critical, stereotypes and discrimination come in many forms.  It is important to include all the voices as we study and teach history.” 

I was shocked by his question and comments.  Maybe more importantly it helped me to look differently at what I taught and whom I included.  Over the years I have forgotten the speakers name but not his message. 

I challenge you to look at your answers.  What does this assessment tell you?


  1. Ruth,
    Your post is very enlightening and at the same time, challenging. I shall borrow it and make an addition to give it a local flavour here in Australia,if you don't mind. You provide much food for thought with this piece. Powerful writing forces us to reflect. it gets to us and it can makes us feel a little uncomfortable at the same time. Not a bad thing as it is evoking an emotional response!


  2. Whoops, I didn't stop and take the quiz first before I read the whole post. That does make a difference, but I will use this list as a prompt when I am working with teachers in our writing project.
    I love the backstory that you share as well Ruth,

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  4. t does make you uncomfortable when you realize that you are contributing to the problem, even unintentionally. The power of the quiz is making it relevant to your audience. Go ahead and adapt it. I would be interested in your results.

  5. Ugh--I did the same thing. Only one woman and I really had trouble with some of the others. Embarrassed to say that many of my "famous" people also ended up to be actors...

    I will be using this, somehow, someway

    Thanks for making me thing today!

  6. I remember, long long ago, in an election in our state that they were trying to strike gender-related language from our state constitution. As a younger woman, I read through the entire proposition, feeling annoyed at the hideous mangling of language that would ensue in changing such words as "chairman" to "chairperson." That's silly, I thought, to make some man answer to "chairperson." And then I gasped my own little horror--that the subtle ingraining of these titles had dictated a certain gender expectation.

    It didn't have to be a man--it could be a woman. I voted in favor and have tried ever since to be open-minded about gender roles (although I ALWAYS want a woman for my mammogram--sorry!).

    Elizabeth E.

  7. Language can be very subtle in how it focuses our attention. On a different level is the issue of mascots. We are all affected by word choice.

    I think it happens so often and is so ingrained in our language that we don't even realize the proportion of the problem. It is only after we see it with new eyes that we start making small changes.

    I grew up hearing my father talk about "jewing" someone down. I was an adult before I understood the connection - it took conscious effort to take that word out of my vocabulary and language use.

    Each person who gets it and starts to change - that's when our society also begins to change.

  8. I just attended a diversity awareness conference last Saturday. This would have been a perfect moment for the audience. Thanks for bringing attention to the prejudices we all face (& learn) from just living.

  9. Very interesting twist. I couldn't think of anyone at the time besides George Washington and Sacajawea for questions 1,2, 7 and maybe that's not so good.
    But, I answered 40% of the questions using 50% of the possible answers for those questions, but with 100% accuracy, having identified 50% as being women, and the other 50% men. That is a study in statistics warping, I'm pretty sure.

  10. You made me think that I need to read more children's books that highlight women in history. Thanks for making me more aware.:) MaryHelen


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