French Toddlers Outscore U.S. Adults in Reading Comprehension and Critical Thinking Skills

In a setback for efforts to promote mental activity in the United States, French toddlers (ages 2 to 4) outperformed American adults in two key sections of the 2016 Trans-Atlantic Cognitive Skills Assessment.

The test results, released Friday, came as a shock to the small number of Americans who still regard the brain as a tool for thinking, something more than a gelatinous organ that routes signals of fear, pleasure, and rage. 

Hoisted by their parents into booster seats with safety-lock harnesses, the French toddlers proceeded to outscore the American grown-ups in two areas of particular concern both to employers and to advocates of civilization: reading comprehension and critical thinking skills.

The reading comprehension portion of the test measured the ability of a person to understand moderately complex sentences, such as:

Mary milked the cow with rubber gloves.

While 94 percent of young French children understood the sentence correctly, only 16 percent of American adults did so. Fully three-quarters of U.S. grown-ups interpreted the sentence to mean either that a) Mary milked a cow that was wearing rubber gloves on its four hooves, or b) Mary wore rubber gloves while breast-feeding a cow.

In the critical-thinking section of the test, the following question was posed:

If a presidential candidate speaks in a crude and stupid manner throughout his campaign, what should you conclude?

Although 98 percent of French toddlers answered that the candidate would clearly be unfit for political office, only 56 percent of American adults agreed with that position. Slightly more than 24 percent of U.S. grown-ups said it would be fun to have a guy like that in the White House, someone who reminded them of the big, loud, dumb-talking jock in middle school whose personality stopped developing in ninth grade.

An additional 18 percent of U.S. adults said they didn’t care how crude or stupid a presidential candidate was, “as long as he talks and thinks like me and reminds me of myself.”