The Strange, Sad, Ominous Case Of College Student Julian Batts and His Wheel Of Fortune Disaster

The solution is obvious: colleges should teach "Wheel of Fortune" skills...

The solution is obvious: colleges should teach “Wheel of Fortune” skills…

The Indiana University press breathlessly proclaimed it as a cause for campus pride:

An Indiana University honors student fulfilled a lifelong dream of appearing on the iconic television game show “Wheel of Fortune.” Julian Batts, a Hudson and Holland Scholar, a Herbert Presidential Scholar and a Hutton Honors College student from Indianapolis, will appear on the show Friday, April 11, as part of its annual “College Week.” “I’ve watched it as long as I can remember,” he said of the game show, which has been on the air for more than 30 years. “I have always had that desire to be on the show and solve puzzles in front of a live audience.”

Batts traveled to Culver City, Calif., and taped the episode in February. Students from Indiana State and Purdue universities also were selected to participate in “College Week” matches. The Carmel High School graduate is majoring in business and Spanish. He is actively involved at Rose Avenue Residence Hall and as an usher at the IU Auditorium. He participated in IU’s Intensive Freshman Seminar program and the IU Beginnings program, which introduces a small group of students to recruiters from top companies that partner with the Kelley School of Business. He also is the third generation of his family to attend IU, and both of his parents earned IU degrees.

“This was an opportunity of a lifetime for Julian, and we’re happy that he has had this experience to add to the many wonderful experiences he’s enjoyed as an IU student,” said James Wimbush, IU vice president for diversity, equity and multicultural affairs and dean of the University Graduate School.

…On April 11, he looks forward to getting together with friends so they can see how well he did. “Regardless of whatever is aired on TV, I am glad I did it. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It was an experience I will never forget,” he said. A viewing party for Batts will begin at 6:45 p.m. in Room 150 of the Student Building on the IU Bloomington campus.

Do make a mental note of the last part. Even after the taping, Julian was proud of his performance, and was thrilled about a viewing party. This glowing story was written after the following fiasco occurred.

The show aired yesterday. With a chance at a million dollar prize, Julian guessed every letter of a puzzle and only had to read it to win. What he saw was this:

Wheel of Fortune Screen-Shot1

He read the name of the “mythical character” as “A-CHill-Us. Obviously, this Hudson and Holland Scholar, Herbert Presidential Scholar and  Hutton Honors College student has never encountered, in his high school, reading, discussions with his college-educated parents and fellow students, in his classes or by casually stopping at the History Channel, Homer, the Iliad, the story of the Trojan Horse, the cultural allusion of an “Achilles heel,” or many key components of what we laughingly refer to as basic cultural literacy.

Later, Julian had another chance to win if he could puzzle out this board:

Wheel of fortune Screen-Shot 2

He was told, as you can see, that the answer was a person. Julian guessed that one of the missing letters was “c.”  Cat? Cad? OK, he was flustered. Maybe he was thinking about the “car” that would have been the prize, and that thought blew the right answer, and obvious one, out one ear. Still, it was embarrassing. Or should have been.

Some questions, rhetorical among them, raised by this tragic episode:

  • Why would anyone hire someone like this, after this display of ignorance and pathetic reasoning abilities?
  • Why are college degrees considered any kind of prerequisite for a job, if someone like Julian can graduate with such inadequate knowledge and skills?
  •  What do they teach in college? What do they teach in high school? What is regarded as an “education’ these days? The character of Achilles is a basic cultural point of reference; if one has never encountered his name to the extent that it is recognizable in print, then it is likely that the other basic knowledge and information missing is massive. I read about Achilles when I was nine. There are about six movies in which he is a character, the latest with him being portrayed by Brad Pitt. If you go through life with your eyes and ears open and the intellectual curiosity of a sea sponge, you should know who Achilles is.
  • At what point do we hold parents and teachers accountable for not teaching, and allowing children to grow up more ignorant than the graduates of one-room school houses on the prairie in the 19th Century?
  • What are all those scholarships and awards for that Julian won? What do they signify? If someone can be designated a “scholar” without knowing one of the major figures in Western literature, what does being a scholar mean now?
  • Isn’t this fraud on potential employers? Julian will have all these credentials, and yet he has gaps in his knowledge base that you can run a truck through, and apparently lacks problem solving skills that we should expect, but obviously can’t, to be possessed by the average fourth grader.
  • Why wasn’t Julian embarrassed? This is the really scary part of the story. He doesn’t even recognize what was wrong with his performance! He really thinks he’s educated, and ready to make his way in the world. If he was embarrassed, he might have the intellectual curiosity and pride to detect some urgency in learning what he doesn’t know, but he’s not. I bet he still can’t tell you who “A-CHill-US” is.
  • Isn’t this an unconscionable fraud on students? Isn’t it cruel to tell young men and women that they are educated, smart and remarkable when they are in fact ignorant, deluded, and cognitively deficient?

On the Blaze, Glenn Beck’s new aggregating commentary site, the comment thread immediately degenerated into attacks on affirmative action and outright racism, for Julian is black.

First: this doesn’t speak well of Glenn Beck’s readership.

Second: it is unfair and unjust: if a critical mass of Julian’s colleagues and classmates in high school and college knew who Achilles was, so would he. This has nothing to do with race.All of our college students, of all races, are being cheated and deceived.

Third: The fact that affirmative action is the immediate reflex reaction of people like these commenters demonstrates how such a policy will always be racially divisive, and that the sooner it goes, the better.

Fourth: conservatives who smugly argue that  racism in America is a myth—you know, like Achilles—should read threads like this.

Fifth: So should progressives and Democrats, because their racially divisive rhetoric has helped exacerbate the problem.


Facts: The Blaze, Indiana University



149 thoughts on “The Strange, Sad, Ominous Case Of College Student Julian Batts and His Wheel Of Fortune Disaster

  1. While you may have made some excellent points about the American education system in general, you appear to have insufficient research in this case. Julian is a college freshman, which means he is only 18 years of age. He has not graduated with a college degree. Furthermore, if you are so intellectually superior, why waste your incredibly valuable time and cognitive ability in writing such a rude, hateful post about a person whom you have never met?

    • ooh, SNAP! His age and year in college are tangential to the post. I never said he was a college grad. There were no errors in the post. Did you read it? If so, show me what was hateful and rude that I wrote regarding Julian, or do you just pick random adjectives out of the Theseaurus? Address the issues raised with actual points, or stop cluttering up the comments.

      • “Why are college degrees considered any kind of prerequisite for a job, if someone like Julian can graduate with such inadequate knowledge and skills?”

        The phrasing there implies a degree. While it may be referring to a future in which he is awarded a degree (which I think was the intended goal) the phrasing of that sentence suggests he’s graduated and been awarded a degree.

        In addition, his age should potentially matter as he’s at the beginning of his college career and has a lot to learn about logical reasoning and (obviously) mythological figures.

        To my knowledge he also won the game, which seems to suggest that the very things you argue he should be criticized for obviously don’t matter very much. Embarrassing, sure, but clearly not a detriment within the world of wheel of fortune.

        • I may have jumped the gun by presuming someone like Julian would graduate, but given the school’s celebration of his scholarship and his demonstration of none, I doubt it. One normally doesn’t construe sentences in ways that make no sense. I said he was a student. Students haven’t graduated, nor do they typically hang around on campus afterwards and wear their school logos on TV or turn up during game show “college weeks.”

          • To my knowledge he also won the game, which seems to suggest that the very things you argue he should be criticized for obviously don’t matter very much.

            Utter consequentialism. 1) So as long as he wins, the fact that he looked like a dolt doing it to the world and on the internet forever doesn’t matter? 2) He doesn’t live in “the world of Wheel of Fortune.:

              • Did you really post the same comment after I replied to the first one? What is this, an “Airplane” imitation? OK, I’ll play: here the same response:

                Your reading skills are apparently also proof of the phenomenon I wrote about. Point to one word of the post that degrades Julian. The post is about the cruel educational system that tells students they are scholars and educated when they are ignorant and illiterate.

                I am a parent, and I home schooled my son so he wouldn’t end up like poor Julian. And he can read, spell, and pronounce “Achilles.”

                Want to try for a hat trick? (Caveat: It will get you banned.)

        • Your reading skills are apparently also proof of the phenomenon I wrote about. Point to one word of the post that degrades Julian. The post is about the cruel educational system that tells students they are scholars and educated when they are ignorant and illiterate.

          I am a parent, and I home schooled my son so he wouldn’t end up like poor Julian. And he can read, spell, and pronounce “Achilles.”

  2. ” Why wasn’t Julian embarrassed? This is the really scary part of the story. He doesn’t even recognize what was wrong with his performance! ”

    He doesn’t recognize he should be ashamed because he is unintelligent (nothing to do with education) and lacks self awareness.

    I support keeping them as dumb-as-rocks as long as they are in OUR nations. The problem is that White children get the same “education” as they do. But whites still have natural problem solving skills , naturally higher intelligence and HOPEFULLY young Whites will take it upon themselves to learn what is lacking from their spoon-fed marxist indoctrination masquerading as education dumbing down centers for social justice skrewl system.

  3. Well, the traditional liberal education (not political liberal), is deemed more and more unfairly ethno-centric and ultimately racist in its Western Tradition focus…

    So stuff gets cut in the name of ‘multiculturalism’…

    Never mind our nation and its ideals are founded in a modification of the Western Tradition…never mind we ought to raise children in that modified tradition to get them thinking like Free Men.

    • The classical liberal education is divided into two parts:
      .the trivium: grammar, logic and rhetoric … and, after that,
      the quadrivium: arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music.
      Music here is the study of harmonics rather than performance.
      All of this would lead to an MA degree.
      These would be followed by the teaching of philosophy and theology…
      O.K. critics: how many of you are versed in music theory?
      Number theory?
      How many in the grammar, logic and rhetoric of the Latin language?
      Let’s move forward in time, though, to the eighteenth through twentieth centuries.
      Normal people in, say, Boston, Massachusetts in, say, 1800, has much larger vocabularies than you do. They did not watch actresses making faces or using vocal intonation to make points in some social discourse. No. They read books. Read something by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I promise that you will either be guessing at the meaning of the words or constantly referring to a dictionary.
      A dentist I knew who was born in the early twentieth century told me that public schools in Greensburg, Pennsylvania were so organized that any student who completed the normal sequence in mathematics required for graduation would be qualified, without further training, to work as a land surveyor. When the state of Pennsylvania established standards later, they had to reduce the quality of an education there.
      Now we will have federal standards. Dumb and dumber.

        • Some of both.
          This stuff about a classical liberal education is largely obsolete. It isn’t all about grammar, logic and rhetoric (even if we “modernize” that by translating the concepts into English instead of Latin), and the advance version is not about pure numbers, numbers in time, numbers in space and our place in the universe. You can get a lot of that from just two books.
          A big part of the problem is that our society has moved on from the printed page. We get hypnotized by our television sets and believe whatever the government tells us.
          However, education has gone downhill and there doesn’t seem to be a lot we can do about it. We have been sending more and more kids to college, but when you do that, the quality of the students had to go down.
          One problem is that some women used to take jobs outside of the social security system, get married, get pregnant, go on maternity leave and then wait until the last minute to grab their retirement money and use it for a down payment on a house. This helped to bid up the prices of houses. So, now both parents need to work and nobody is helping the kids with their homework. Plus, as I pointed out, the larger pool of students necessitates that the quality will go down.

  4. Maybe an eighteen year old boy was nervous and made a mistake? I know, I know, virtually unheard of, but possible I suppose… The first time I ever appeared on national television I was as cool as a cucumber, when I was presented with a chance to make a million dollars I didn’t break a sweat.
    Did the thought ever occur to anyone that maybe, just maybe, he realizes there is no going back and decided to make the best out of a mortifying situation?

    • Maybe. Of course, school is supposed to teach you to deal with those matters too.. “I was nervous” will cut no ice when he’s working, or dealing with a real life crisis, and he needs to get used to it.

      • I finally went back and looked at the original clips (doh). My impressions were two:
        1. Oh jeez, yeah, embarrassing to miss those three things.
        2. Oh wait – he won. He beat two other college kids from other schools.

        Which suggests to me that whatever goofups he made, the others must have been dumber than him throughout the entire rest of the match. So why again are we focused on this kid’s admittedly blatant errors, when he demonstrated superiority (such as it is) over a longer period of time?

        In that context, why was affirmative action even allowed in this discussion, since the black kid clearly beat two white kids in open competition? How does that get spun into cultural failures?

        If the educational system as a whole is indicted here (which it may very deservedly be), perhaps the failure is not that an 18-year old freshman can’t pronounce Achilles (honestly I’m not sure I could have, at 18), but that two other college kids GOT BEAT BY THE KID WHO COULDN’T PRONOUNCE ‘ACHILLES’.

        Not that Wheel of Fortune is some valid IQ test, but – aren’t we drawing the wrong conclusion here? WHAT DOES THIS SAY ABOUT THE OTHER TWO COLLEGE STUDENTS HE BEAT?

        • 1. Charles, he lost a million dollars and a car. I think that qualifies as losing.
          2. It is not unusual in any game based on luck for a terrible player to beat better ones. I bet you’ve seen it in poker. It happens in baseball frequently.
          3. Julian was unequivocally the contestant who performed in a manner that most called his skills into question. The fact that he won the game is interesting, but meaningless.
          4. I mentioned affirmative action only because every thread I visited on conservative blogs went there almost immediately. That’s troubling, and needed to be noted.
          5. Your last point is completely supportive of the post.

          • He lost a CHANCE at one million. Not the cold hard million itself.

            If he did, I’d shake my head even harder. Goofy mistakes on game shows are generally funny but when I watched the video, I got so angry at him, it wasn’t funny anymore.

            I’ll stay polite toward him by not writing anymore.

  5. POLICY REMINDER: I just banned “Solas,” who submitted a second articulate, civil, erudite comment elaborating on his original racist thesis above. I have not bothered to mention this in the formal policies, because I don’t think this blog has sufficient racist readers to warrant it. Each racist gets one racist comment, provided the comment is substantive, on point, and not merely denigrating and abusive. Solas’s first comment here was a fine, if disgusting, example. However, any further commentary by such a commenter must thereafter manage to make non racist arguments (not necessarily anti-racist arguments, now–that would be expecting too much–) or be banned. You have a right to think what you want, but I don’t run a billboard for racist rhetoric. Yes, I encourage controversy and disagreement, and I write too often about the unfairness and abuse of power inherent in banning the expression of non-conforming views to declare any view off-limits. But where racism (and antisemitism) in involved, it’s one and “Bye!”

    Is this inconsistent? Unfair? Perhaps. I choose not to aid and abet the proclamation of hateful beliefs that have caused nothing but death, pain, and conflict for centuries, beyond acknowledging that such views exist. Inconsistent or not, I am currently exercising more tolerance toward homophobic comments, which at this point spring from ignorance and misconceptions that were the societal norm until very recently.

  6. I am increasingly depressed by the comments that excuse ignorance of the pronunciation of Achilles due to being young or being only a freshman in college. I attended a run-of-the-mill parochial grammar school (Catholic, for those who have never encountered the word “parochial” in the context of elementary education) and a run-of-the-mill Catholic high school, and I certainly knew the pronunciation of Achilles (and many, many other proper names of foreign or literary origin) long before I was a freshman in college — perhaps before I was a freshman in high school. The Greek and Roman mythological stories, like any good story, teach lessons that used to be valued in a broad education of the young. This, in my opinion, is the point of THIS story about Julian Batt — the American educational system is not doing a good job of EDUCATING our youth. It teaches to tests at the lowest common denominator. Frankly, many things in modern culture are directed to this low level of intellectual growth, including journalism and much in popular book publishing. We is getting dumber.

  7. In the bullet point starting with “Why wasn’t Julian embarrassed?” you basically defined The Dunning-Kruger effect. If you haven’t read about it before, you may find it very interesting.

    • Hmmm. But doesn’t the next bullet point take it out of the realm of D-K? I’m not suggesting that he’s erroneously confident with a false belief in his own prowess because he’s incompetent (the Dunning-Kruger effect), I ‘m suggesting that he’s this way because schools have falsely told him he’s competent when he’s not. There may be nothing wrong with Julian at all that a real education couldn’t fix.

  8. and being on live television and in front of an audience can cause frustration and anxiety for an 18 year old, or someone of ANY age. some people aren’t taking that into account.

  9. First time here. Found the blog by Google (Wheel Fortune + Affirmative Action). Just wanted to say that I appreciate the article and comments. I wanted to comment about this on my FB account but fear of being labeled racist won again. It is so frustrating to me how politicized every issue is these days. Issues that we all should respectfully talk about across the isle. Is Affirmative Action hurting our minorities? I honestly want to know. Bring me imperial data for or against and lets listen.

  10. I also wanted to point out that I have not seen anyone mention his comment, “Regardless of whatever is aired on TV…” I think this was insightful to his thoughts on the airing.

  11. I think maybe we can give this young man a break. Not everyone learns everything presented to them the first time around. I remember a class (I was 15) in which the teacher, a doddering old lady, was reading a poem to us, and she clearly mispronounced (I thought) the word “colonel” as “kernel,” and I felt so embarrassed for her. Later of course I learned that she had spoken correctly, and that it was I who was wrong. As young people we don’t always trust how our teachers pronounce things…they’ve been wrong before. Kudos to him for taking a stab at it!

    • I couldn’t agree more. People tend to better retain things that interest them (or come easy) and all students have strengths and weaknesses. I don’t care if Julian got one, three or five answers wrong, it doesn’t define the quality of student that he is. As for not seeming “embarrassed” – maybe he wasn’t. So what? Maybe he was having fun in the game as a whole or taking it in stride. Maybe he was so nervous or excited that he was getting good spins. This perceived lack of an emotion bears no weight. Who writes those rules on that anyway? Some people openly show their emotions while others hide them.

  12. Margo & Bea: I think everyone here has tried to the best of their ability to relate to his “moment of fame.” I truly feel bad for the guy. I would suggest you watch the video again. There was another puzzle (A Person) with the answer “World’s Fastest Man.” The only letters missing were the M and the N in MAN. He spun the wheel and asked for the letter C. For the life of me I cannot understand what he was thinking. World’s Fastest Cad? It was just a depressing performance in total. It was not until I read his scholastic accolades that I came to the horrible thought we are discussing.

  13. You’re right–the real scariness of the whole episode is that this dude thinks he did great. I mean, I think we’ve all had times where we just blank out for a second at something so obvious, like when Olivia Munn famously read M.C. Hammer as McHammer. Or that news guy who read Black Angus cows as two cows named Black and Gus. But when it was brought to their attention, they burst out laughing in embarrassment because they immediately recognized that they screwed up. But this guy–this guy is the most delusional person I’ve ever seen.

  14. I graduated college in the early 2000s when I was in my 30s. The minorities in the classroom were an embarrassment. Many of them couldn’t read one passage without extreme difficulty. It was worse than being in second grade. It has everything to do with Affirmative Action.

    Look at the ridiculous degrees that schools offer. There’s a class about Beyonce. What does a degree in African studies get you? Oh, yeah, teaching African studies. What does a degree in Women’s studies get you? Same thing.

    There is NOTHING to gain from trying to make the weak into average people when in the process you do not allow the strongest to flourish.

    We are now a nation of fools.

  15. Well, I’ve taken the time to read your post, and the comments you’ve left for others. While I couldn’t necessarily call you stupid, you seem very ignorant and hateful.

    Julian Batts landed on 1KK. He had the rarest opportunity ever known given to him without warning and made a few mistakes, and you’re using that as a basis to insult his intelligence and claim that he doesn’t deserve a job or his degree.

    Also, you’re trying to shift blame onto the affirmative action system? One of many systems meant to COMBAT the racism that this post stinks of? Lastly, just how bad is it that some people weren’t taught about a Greek hero whose one weakness has become just another saying in modern American society?

    With all the politeness that can go with such a request, I bid you to go f**k yourself. The last thing anyone needs is another one of these toxic articles.

    • Why no, River, I am not trying to shift blame onto the affirmative action system, as anyone who actually read the post and has a modicum of reading comprehension ability would know. In fact, the post specifically criticized those who did. From this I know that you did NOT carefully read the piece, and are criticizing an opinion you either didn’t bother to read or can’t understand. So I really don’t care what you think.

      But to address one of your “points,” when someone says that they have practiced the skill necessary to play that game, and are stumped by _ A _after being told that what is being sought is a person, it is not only a fair assumption but a mandatory one that they are not very quick on the uptake.

      By the way, the word f**k is FUCK. Got it right away. Julian probably would have guessed “FONK.”

      You are banned now. Don’t try to comment here again.

  16. Unless his studies involve ancient Greek literature, the college itself would be unlikely to teach such a thing as the myth of Achilles, if only because it’s generally semi-common knowledge. But everybody has certain bits of common knowledge that we’ve never encountered, and honestly I only know who Achilles is because I wanted to know what the term Achilles heel meant. Obviously I had to be curious, but I don’t think his unawareness of that particular piece of knowledge can be used to imply that he isn’t curious or has no desire to learn. It’s possible, due to varying cultural and societal influences, that he just didn’t grow up hearing that metaphor. I was never taught the story of Achilles in any formal fashion, in high school or college, I had to find out on my own, but it’s really not relevant to most fields of study anyway.

    With the world’s fastest man and dicespin mistakes, I’ll agree that a little critical thinking should have easily avoided them. But I would posit that the idea of him making these mistakes due to “choking” under pressure makes far fewer assumptions than claiming that he lacked the critical thinking capacity to avoid said mistakes. One might say the fact that he cracked under pressure is itself a detrimental flaw; since it doesn’t come up in the discussion I won’t expand on it.

    As for not being embarrassed, I’m sure he was to some extent but decided not to show it. Nobody’s perfect, but being able to take your failures in stride and continue to better yourself is an admirable quality in my opinion, based on my own views of course. And I’d say that anybody working to pursue a diploma is certainly willing to continue to better themselves.

    And just to address the people claiming you were attacking Julian directly, I’d say you weren’t… except in one instance. When you called him cognitively deficient, I certainly think you believed what you said; that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worded insultingly, even though you may not have intended it to come across that way.

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