Is Europe a Country?

When E M Risse frets about Americans’ geographic illiteracy, he’s worried about their inability to comprehend some fairly complex relationships at the intersection of economics, society and physical space. If Americans are stumped over brain teasers such as, “What country is Budapest the capital of” — or worse, “Is Europe a country” — it may be a while before they grasp the fundamentals of human settlement patterns.

This clip from “Are You As Smart As a Fifth Grader” is a case in point. Kelly Pickler, of American Idol fame, can belt out a country song, and she deserves credit for overcoming a difficult childhood. She’s also as cute as a button — if I were 20 years old, I’d probably have a crush on her. But she’s the living embodiment here of the blonde bimbo, and testimony to geographic illiteracy.

Pickler’s ignorance of the most elementary geography is an indictment of her schooling in New London, N.C., not far from Charlotte. How can Americans hope to compete in a global economy if they’ve never heard of Hungary, or if they guess that Budapest might be a city in France… or would that be Europe? Let us hope Virginia schools do better.

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25 responses to “Is Europe a Country?”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    “But she’s the living embodiment here of the blonde bimbo, and testimony to geographic illiteracy.”

    What about religious illiteracy on a mass scale?

    You know, the kind promoted here by E M Risse who buys into the nonsense about self-sacrifice for Mother Earth.

    Ed thinks Mother Earth is in pain because someone else’s carbon footprint is too big.

    Risse’s ideas are a far bigger problem for our future competitiveness and economic growth than being blonde about the capital of a former police state.

    E M Risse should be more worried about his own “inability to comprehend some fairly complex relationships at the intersection of economics,” religion, and freedom.

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    lol – yes, you’re absolutely right. Recognizing the future challenges of climate change is more detrimental to our national well-being than the across-the-board dumbing down of our country’s children (aka our future leaders). Your political and cultural insight is exceptional.

    p.s. did you grow up in New London by any chance…? Quick – whats the capital of Virginia!?

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    Come on, ‘fess up.

    How many of us have been stumped or tricked by a question on that program?


  4. “Let us hope Virginia schools do better.”.

    Well, if they are in Fairfax County – they sure can.

    US News & World Report just released their rating of the Top 100 public high schools in the United States of America.


    Thomas Jefferson High School – Alexandria, VA. TJ is a magnet school for gifted students from Northern Virginia.


    Langley High School – Langley is just a plain old Fairfax County High school.


    Oakton High School – Vienna, VA. Oakton High School is just a plain old Fairfax County High School.

    The entire rest of Virginia?

    Not there. No representation on the list of Top 100 public high schools.

    Is Europe a Country?

    Is the rest of Virginia even trying?

    The next time I read another of the chowder-headed blog posts about Fairfax County on Bacon’s Rebellion I am going to send this link:

    As they say in parts of Europe – Talk is cheap, results are dear. Fairfax County (and to a lesser extent, the rest of NoVA) is getting results. As far as I can tell, the rest of the commonwealth is just talking.

    Fairfax County Public High School Graduate

  5. they said the ratings took into account the test scores for the lower echelon students.

    I want to see that.

    I have no doubt that Fairfax County does an exemplary job compared to other localities.

    But I’d still like to see the scores of ALL Fairfax County schools – not just their top dog/wealthy ones.

    In fairness, Fairfax and other NoVa schools have a pretty challenging mandate because of the sheer diversity in cultures and languages and they apparently are among the better schools nationwide..

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    Here is a place to do some digging

    Besides being ultra rich Langly and Oakton are also some of the least diverse schools in Fairfax


  7. Anonymous Avatar

    To be fair on this posting, my lady is from western Europe, is very well educated and before she had came to the US she didn’t know where a number of non-major American cities (e.g Seattle, Vancouver, Minneapolis, etc.) were and couldn’t name or locate many of the smaller states.

    The “is Europe a country?” is inexcusable though.


  8. Least diverse in Fairfax County?

    As opposed to the wildly diverse SW Virginia?

    If a lack of diversity made for good schools then Wise County would be a great big Harvard:

    “The racial makeup of the county was 96.88% White, 1.78% Black or African American, 0.16% Native American, 0.30% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.26% from other races, and 0.61% from two or more races. 0.73% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.”.

    Jefferson takes the cream of the cream?

    Absolutely. And it becomes the best public high school in the United States. So … why doesn’t Richmond have a school that takes the “cream of the cream”? Or any place in Virginia outside of NoVA? Everybody on this site yips and yaps about how India became such a technology power. Guess what they did? They took their best students and sent them to the Indian Institutes of Technology. Then, used these greduates as the basis for their off-shoring / out-sourcing miracle.

    Wise County – Are you listening?
    Martinsville – Anybody home?
    RoVA – “Bang, Bang” – that’s opportunity knocking!

    Langley and Oakton are in wealthy areas?

    Definitely for Langley. Not so sure about Oakton (I just don’t know the area that well).

    There are no wealthy areas in Virginia other than the areas covered by the Langley and Oakton school districts?

    I mean a school district is a pretty small area – at least in an urban or suburban setting.

    No district in Richmond wealthy enough to support a Top 100 high school? Where did all the Richmond preppies I met at UVA get all those Beamers? Must be some money down there somewhere.

    Like to se ethe ratings for the rest of the Fairfax County public schools?

    So would I.

    I’ll bet they just kick the rest of the state’s butt. Maybe Arlington and Loudoun play along.

    Anyone care to take that bet?

    Face it – the residents of Fairfax County pay high taxes and put a lot of money into education.

    Many other parts of Virginia pay low taxes and ignore their children’s education.

    The districts that house

  9. Here’s a site:

    I looked through the top 500 high schools in this rating.

    22 Virginia high schools made the cut.

    NoVA : RoVA ratio?


    And I counted Winchester in RoVA just to be nice.

    Tell me again – what percentage of Virginia’s population lives in NoVA?

  10. An interesting perspective:

    “One definitive plus for these public schools is the low cost of in-state tuition. Although tuition everywhere has been on the rise recently, the in-state tuition for these schools is relatively inexpensive. Unfortunately, the quality of education and the reasonable tuition charged at these crown jewels of the Virginia educational establishment make for intense competition for admission. Competition is particularly fierce for students who attend high school in Northern Virginia. Based on SATs and other factors, we know that the students and public high schools in Fairfax, Prince William, Alexandria, Arlington, and Loudoun counties are arguably better on average than their public school counterparts in the rest of Virginia. Still, for political reasons, UVA and William and Mary each reserve a certain number of seats for students from central and southern Virginia. This results in a limit, or “quota,”on the number of applicants accepted from high schools in Northern Virginia. For example, only a handful of applicants from most any given Northern Virginia high school will be accepted to UVA in any given year, regardless of relative SAT scores, grades, or other badges of achievement. More good news about TJ: Virginia universities do not apply the Northern Virginia “quota” to TJ students!”.

    Not sure about the quality of the source frankly but it is definitely what is believed in NoVA.

    And … if true?

    Quite a plan – limit the most qualified students at the state’s best universities.


  11. Anonymous Avatar

    aha now this is getting really interesting 🙂

    Arguing from both sides because they both have valid points

    Situation A says I worked hard I have the money to live in an area that has an excellent school. Little Johnny works hard. He should get a spot at an elite institution

    Situation B says I worked hard too. I didn’t start out quite as well. I couldn’t afford to live in an area that has an excellent school because I got priced out of NoVa :-p. Little Billy works hard he is one of the top students at his school. He deserves a spot at an elite institution. After all everyone pays taxes to support the higher education system and the only way for me to ever break into NoVa is to get the contacts from the elite institution so I can live where Johnny lives.

    Look at all of these issues, housing costs, settlement patterns, K-12 education quality, Higher Learning quality, county spending priorities, state spending priorities, nature vs nurture, best for society vs best for individual, judgment on raw results or results combined with the situation



  12. Groveton Avatar


    Go to Google Maps. Find the intersection of Richmond Highway and Ladson Ln. Use Alexandria as the city although this is well into Fairfax County. Turn on the hybrid view. Look behind the Mt Vernon Multiplex (big building with big parking lot). See all the funny narrow “houses”? Those are trailers. Work your way north on Rt 1 until you get to Dart Drive. See all those funny narrow “houses”? Guess what? More trailers.

    How do I know all this?

    I grew up in that neck of the woods.

    When you say, “… I got priced out of NoVa” you should think about those trailer parks on Rt 1. They were there 30 years ago and they are there today.

    Maybe you should even drive through if you are ever in the neighborhood.

    Just make sure it’s daytime. 🙂

  13. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    fascinating dialogs and I have to give Groveton credit for doing his “homework”. 🙂

    I have an offering here.

    Not a school.. in the Fredericksburg Area that I can spot…

    so is this area RoVa or NoVa?

    so an observation:

    Before I-95, the entire Fredericksburg Area was less than 50K population. Now is it, if not already at 300K, darn close.

    And since we have had miserable luck at attracting major employers to our area – guess where the 200K+ folks came from?

    That’s right.. NoVa .. and here’s the irony – these folks, in their zeal to find the American Dream “affordable house” not only bought themselves a nightmarish commute but they apparently did their kids a major disservice in that when these kids apply to the major colleges in Va – they’re up against those very-well-prepared NoVa kids and I bet the win/loss rate is impressive.

    See that is a state that would/should impress the locals outside of NoVa which would be how many of their kids applied for college – which colleges and how many were turned down on their first, second, third choices – compared to kids in NoVa.

    I may be wrong.. I’m sure Groveton will skewer me and rightly so – but I have this theory that a disadvantaged kid in NoVa has a whole lot better chance at a competitive education that many RoVa disadvantaged kids do – especially those in upscale suburban areas where the schools are catering to the well-to-do folks.

  14. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    CORRECTION: “….see that is a state”

    not state – STAT

    this danged laptop combined with my brain to finger lapses … sorry

  15. Anonymous Avatar


    It might be dangerous for you domestically to call good-looking Carolina girls bimbos.

    A friend

  16. Anonymous Avatar


    Of course there will always be exceptions to the rule. Painting with a broad brush is always dangerous :-p

    Continuing with our theme though rich area = better school poor area = worse school

    Something tells me that the area you are talking about doesn’t have the same “quality” education as other schools in this area (Put in quotes on purpose I think it has alot to do with what value the parents and students place on education but whole other disucssion)

    I will say I bet those kids dont have counselers with the same type of zeal in trying to assist students getting into certain colleges. Something tells me UVA, and other ivies aren’t looking to draw upwards of 5-10 students from that particular school district.

    Sure enough that school district (West Potomac or Mount Vernon) has the test scores that are less than the Fairfax County Average

    Fairfax County Public Schools have the best scores in the State because the incomes are the highest in the state. Once you break it out by ethnicity, ESL, or reduced lunch Fairfax does significantly worse compared to the same populations in other parts of the state.


  17. Groveton Avatar

    “I may be wrong.. I’m sure Groveton will skewer me and rightly so – but I have this theory that a disadvantaged kid in NoVa has a whole lot better chance at a competitive education that many RoVa disadvantaged kids do – especially those in upscale suburban areas where the schools are catering to the well-to-do folks.”.

    Not only will I refrain from skewering you, I will completely agree with you.

    When Martinsville has a 0.7% real estate tax rate and Fairfax County has a 0.89% real estate tax rate the citizens have made a decision. The citizens of Fairfax County have decided to deny themselves some money in order to create a great public education system where both advantaged and disadvantged kids can get an education. In addition, NoVA has created Thomas Jefferson High School (best public high school in the US) to ensure that any super talented kid (regardless of economic background) can go to a fantastic school. What stops the other areas in Virginia from creating a school like Thomas Jefferson?

    I personally believe in the “Boss Hogg” theory of economic governance in much of Virginia. Under this theory a few rich people control the economic destiny of a locality (like Boss Hogg in the Dukes of Hazzard). These people were born rich and intend to stay that way. The support absurdly low tax rates because the educational system does not concern them. Their kids are going to private school so why should they worry about the public schools?

    Final point – In 1985 (well after I graduated), Groveton High School was merged with Ft. Hunt High School (both Fairfax County high schools). The resulting school, still in the buildings where I graduated, is called West Potomac. Here are the present demographics of West Potomac High School:

    In 2005-2006, West Potomac’s student body was 48% White; 25% Black; 18% Hispanic; 8% Asian; .01% Native American

    The 48% white is about the same demographic as when I graduated although there is now a higher percentage of hispanics and a lower percentage of asians.

    Does that sound like the demographic of a highly advantaged school? It isn’t. This is the school which covers the Rt 1 trailer parks as well as the public housing just south of Alexandria in Fairfax County. This is the infamous “Rt 1 corridor”. Fairfax County has never waivered in its support of this school and other in less advantaged areas of the county. The funding, focus, attention and effort from Fairfax County to schools in these areas is a matter of historical record. In Fairfax County every kid gets a chance – whether they live in the run down shambles of the Rt 1 corridor or the mansions of Great Falls. When everywhere in Virginia can say the same thing we’ll have a state where we all can be proud of the educational system.

  18. Groveton Avatar


    I graduated from Groveton High School in 1977. It was the academically inferior school of the tandem that became West Potomac (the other school was Ft. Hunt). Despite having the smallest and poorest student body in Fairfax County Groveton sent many students to fine universities. I joined 10 other members of Groveton’s Class of 1977 at the University of Virginia.

    I catually agree with your point about income and education. Generally, poor areas have worse schools. However, you are inverting my original thought. I am asking why Fairfax County has the only three Top 100 schools in the state of Virginia not why it has a dearth of bad schools. There are plenty of other wealthy areas in Virginia. Fairfax County may have the most money of any county but it does not have the all the money and the money in Fairfax is very unevenly distributed. However, I believe that Fairfax County has, by far, the strongest focus on education.

    You mention West Potomac and Mt Vernon. Here is another poll of the Top High Schools in the US:

    There are 1,300 schools on the list. As the introduction says, “All of the schools on the list have an index of at least 1.000; they are in the top 5 percent of public schools measured this way.”.

    West Potomac is rated #198

    Mt Vernon is rated #797

    So, both are easily in the top 5% nationally according to this survey. In fact, West Potomac is in the top 1/2 of one percent (if my high school math still holds).

    There are 89 Virginia high schools on this list. As far as I can tell every Fairfax County public high school is on this list of top 5% (by this method of rating).

    The RoVA apologists can say what they like. They can criticize the method of rating. They can claim it’s all about the wealth of the parents. However, until they raise their real estate rates to be in line with the percentages used in NoVA they are just making excuses. In reality, the low tax rate / poor education areas are being run by selfish people who would rather buy a newer pick up truck than educate their own children.

  19. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross


    bubba and his F-150 represents the ‘real” Virginia. Tax the heck out of those yankees with beamers…

    Groveton does have a point… about school funding….

    but I have to tell you that when NoVa “come heres” stand up at the budget hearings and beg to have their taxes raised for better schools… followed to the podium by a retired farmer on a social security pension… who claims it’s taxes or prescription drugs.. it aint so simple.

    I think in RoVa … taxing real estate .. is taxing a lot of folks who are truly land rich and money poor…. they literally have to sell their land to pay their taxes sometimes.

    In NoVa .. what you do if taxes get too high.. is you move to Stafford.

    The farmer does not have that luxury.

  20. Darrell -- Chesapeake Avatar
    Darrell — Chesapeake

    Here’s my take on this Top 100 etc. CRAP. I checked out that list and the data is based on IB and AP tests. When you have a problem school, which is failing to meet SOL and NCLB, the quickest way to improve their standing is to make the school IB/AP and have the best and brightest from throughout the school district attend that school. It’s easy to be a top school if you pull the best from other schools.

    Which means that any list primarily based on those data sets is pretty much crap in determining what the real top schools are.

  21. Darrell -- Chesapeake Avatar
    Darrell — Chesapeake

    This is a link to Virginia schools reportcard. Knock yourself out. One item of note is the various test scores. When you look at numero uno TJ, one would think that they have the solution to our nation’s education problem. But then you compare their scores to the rest of Fairfax and you realize somebody jinked the system.

    Just as not everyone can attend Harvard or Yale, TJ is the exception instead of the rule. The truth is exposed by a district’s overall score. School administrators are using creative book keeping to circumvent NCLB and Virginia’s SOL laws.

  22. Anonymous Avatar

    Well, I didn’t know the darn answer. I was thinking Turkey myself but knew it wasn’t right. I would have never guessed Hungary

    Geography has never been a bright spot for me, and I know it’s a weakness of many Americans. Blah. I guess I am a dumbo.

    Someone want to send me a world globe?

  23. Groveton Avatar

    Darrell –

    I am happy to look at any rating of public high schools from any credible source based on any reasonable criteria. I have found two – USNWR and Newsweek. I know of no others. Both support my contention that Fairfax County does a great job of public education. I am happy to read any rating that says otherwise. In the meantime, I’ll go with what exists.

    Ms. Flinchum –

    Why wouldn’t SW Virginia have advanced placement and IB classes? Placement in these classes is a function of a child’s intellect and ambition. Do the children in SW Virginia lack intellect or ambition? Of course not. What they lack is an effective government. When I was in high school my family and I lived in a one bedroom apartment. But I took AP classes. So did a lot of other kids living in modest circumstances. I thank my lucky stars that Fairfax County provided these classes in all the high schools – not just the ones in rich neighborhoods. SW Virginia should do the same.

    “As for property taxes here in Blacksburg we pay both to Montgomery County and to the town of Blacksburg. Are they as high as in Great Falls? The answer is “No” but neither are the property values.”.

    I don’t get the property value comment. In areas with high property values you should be able to sustain a good educational system with lower property tax rates – no? So, I’d expect Fairfax County to have very low property tax rates because the property is so expensive. But that’s not what is happening. The tax rates are lower in many RoVA municipalities than in Fairfax County. Of course, lower rates multiplied by lower property values means fewer tax dollars to spend on education. I am sorry to be cynical but I believe the low tax rates in some municipalities represent a decision by the voters in those areas to avoid taxes to the detriment of their own educational systems. So, I repeat my proposal that no jurisdiction in Virginia be able to get any transfer payment from the state until its property tax rates is at or above the state average for fairly assessed property. I am willing to fund the education of other Virginians’ children but not their unwillingness to pay a fair tax.

  24. Anonymous Avatar

    Schools are far mor amenable to privatization than roads, and they represent a far greater proportion of public spending.

    The savings and new opportunities would be enormous.

    Let’s get on with it.


  25. Anonymous Avatar

    Their protocol are bogus. Heavy emphasis is placed on the various state standardized tests which are being routinely criticized as undermining education regardless of the state in question.

    Also, did anyone happen to notice that Hidalgo County had several schools on the list. Hidalgo is a Texas border county that appears to be a “backwater”. I find it interesting that such a locality would have such tremendous achievement given the challenges they face (rural, illegals, etc). Texas had the curtain pulled back several years ago when a bunch of “high scoring” graduates turned out to be dumber than a box of rocks. Fudging the numbers.

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