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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Meta State of the Union

State of the Union 2016
Digital Colorization by Ben Park; By Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images.
From Left Business Observer's Doug Henwood:
Back in 2013, I old-fartishly complained about the declining complexity of State of the Union Addresses:
Obama is a highly literate and thoughtful guy, yet this speech adhered to the depressingly low standards of American public discourse. It was written at a 10th grade level, slightly below the 11th grade level of his 2009 speech, and even more below the 12th grade level of Clinton’s 1993 state of the union. At least it was above George W’s 9th grade level speech in 2001. (See here for the texts of all State of the Union addresses; see here for the grade level analyzer.) Remember, 87% of Americans over the age of 25 have a high school diploma or more, and over 30% have college degrees (Census source), so the president isn’t addressing a nation of dropouts.
How we’ve come down in our expectations. As recently as 1961, when only 41% of Americans had completed high school, John F. Kennedy’s address was at a reading level associated with a year of college. Back in 1934, a time when fewer than 20% had completed high school, FDR’s first state of the union was at a level associated with three years of college. In 1861, when 20% of the population was illiterate, Lincoln’s first State of the Union (which admittedly was written and not spoken) was composed at a level comparable to a college graduate’s.
And what about Obama’s last night? Down to a 9th-grade level (9.4 to be exact)—back to W territory. God bless America.
The other Chuck kibitzes:
"having" a high school diploma isn't quite the same as earning one.   Just because they own it, doesn't mean they earned it.
Smart people already know he's smart.  Why wouldn't he want to make an appeal to 100% of americans instead of 87%?  The government doesn't revoke your voter registration if you're in the 13% with no diploma.
Makes perfect sense to me.
Just for grins I pulled up the grade level analyzer and loaded it with last night's speech, and this is what it gave me:
Number of characters (without spaces) :28,210.00
Number of words :6,180.00
Number of sentences :453.00
Average number of characters per word :4.56
Average number of syllables per word :1.52
Average number of words per sentence:13.64
Indication of the number of years of formal education that a person requires in order to easily understand the text on the first reading
Gunning Fog index :9.66
Approximate representation of the U.S. grade level needed to comprehend the text:
Coleman Liau index :8.89
Flesch Kincaid Grade level :7.68
ARI (Automated Readability Index) :6.89
SMOG :10.11
Flesch Reading Ease :64.31
Grade level I can understand. Flesch Reading Ease means nothing to me.

The American Presidency Project has a few things to say about the State of the Union Address. They start off like this:
State of the Union Messages to the Congress are mandated by Article II, Section 3 of the United States Constitution: "He shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient;" 
That's just the beginning. It's an interesting read.

As for Obama's speech, I didn't listen to it, I didn't read it, and I don't think it's going to have any significant effect on anyone except perhaps newscasters and pundits.

Via Indiana Thomas


Ole Phat Stu said...

So I plugged in various essays from my blog into the evaluation tool.
The ARI varied from 9.6 to 11, averaging about 10.3

What does this tell me?

Chuck Pergiel said...

You are politically astute and should run for president, maybe?