When shown pictures of presidents, my students can identify John F. Kennedy but they stumble over Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. They recognize the Eiffel Tower but don’t know the Brooklyn Bridge. They know who “The King of Pop” was but never heard of “The Great Bambino.” Tina Fey is a familiar face but Elizabeth Taylor is a total stranger.
My students look forward to my 12 trivia questions at the start of each class. They’re common knowledge questions on topics ranging from popular acronyms to foreign alphabets. Students are challenged to remember facts they learned in elementary school (“Name the three primary colors” or “How many inches in a yard?”), and many of them are first seeing what Walt Disney or Eleanor Roosevelt looked like.
The point of this classroom exercise is to emphasize the importance of general knowledge. PR professionals and communicators who create content for public consumption must include historical, cultural and current news references if they hope to reach their audiences effectively. I’m happy when my students get at least half the answers right, but it worries me when they get some of the more “obvious” ones wrong.
I believe everyone should know the White House’s address is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, or the Corleones are the central characters in “The Godfather,” or that a 20-year old should be able to name all four Beatles. It’s sad to me that my students can instantly identify Justin Beiber but have so much trouble with the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman. They know Kim and Kanye are engaged but can’t tell you what happened on July 4, 1776.
Maybe I’m wrong to assume what’s “obvious.” I understand completely that our knowledge is mostly based within the period in which we grew up and now live. But it seems most of us spend too much time in our information and entertainment comfort zone and we don’t explore. I believe this puts future PR professionals at a disadvantage. So read newspapers. Watch classic movies. Sample trendy TV shows. Visit a museum. Because intellectual curiosity matters. Your thoughts?