Almost all 200 of the 17-year-old high school students interviewed for a recent ABC-TV documentary could identify Michael Jackson and Madonna, but fewer than half recognized the names of Daniel Ortega and the Ayatollah Khomeini.

One student thought the Ayatollah was a Russian gymnast.Two-thirds of the students didn't know about Chernobyl. One guessed that it was Cher's full name. More forgivably, perhaps, only a third knew the names of this year's vice presidential candidates.

Asked to identify the Holocaust, one student guessed it was a "Jewish holiday."

Mind you, the youngsters interviewed, while perhaps not the brightest or the best, were not inner-city dropouts, but seniors at respected, middle-class high schools.

Little wonder that ABC, in titling its documentary based on the survey, decided to call it "America's Kids: Why They Flunk."