Sunday, June 3, 2012
Are Americans Stupid?
The most common opinion I hear is that “Americans are stupid.”
I think it would be more accurate to say they are often ignorant of things educated people are expected to know. Most certainly much of the news media leaves them uninformed or misinformed and our educational system—K through 12—has been doing a poor job for decades.
I, however, am more encouraged about American’s IQ. The rise of the Tea Party movement suggests quite a few Americans were paying attention when they attended school. In addition, polling data supports an encouraging picture of whether Americans are aware of the issues affecting their lives these days.
As of May 26, Rasmussen Reports said that 64% of likely voters prefer “a government with fewer services and lower taxes.” Just slightly more than half, 51%, think the government will go bankrupt. Few are fooled regarding the economy; 63% say the country is going in the wrong direction. In general, the majority has a good fix on what’s wrong and what has to be done.
That’s encouraging, but I also worry that too many likely voters and others do not know or do not possess a fundamental knowledge of math, science, and history. Their basic reading and writing skills often are minimal. Is it because they are less intelligent than earlier generations or, as I believe, they are poorly served in our nation's schools.
If Congress, composed of our elected representatives, is an example, then it is clear that many Senators and Representatives are clueless when it comes to economics, science, history and other bodies of knowledge necessary to make informed decisions.
Every President wants to look like he’s solving the problem of a poorly performing educational system. President Obama has a “Race to the Top” program that is typically just another excuse to give away money. His predecessor, President Bush, introduced “No Child Left Behind” legislation that imposed a regimen of constant testing that is an abject failure, ignoring the fact that children learn at different rates, and altering the entire educational system to “teach to the test.”
The federal government’s and the teachers’ union takeover of the nation’s educational system threatens any progress, any reform, any repair. The problem has roots that reach back to the 1960s, nor should anyone be surprised that many of those youthful radicals became part of academia, shaping the nation’s educational system.
The facts about education in America are well known and well established. It is no surprise that a recent Wall Street Journal article reported that the “School-Test Backlash Grows” as “the increasing role of standardized testing in U.S. classrooms is triggering pockets of rebellion across he country from school officials, teachers and parents who say the system is stifling teaching and learning.”
William Bennett, a former Secretary of Education, led the Empower America Education Project and, in 2000 as the new century dawned, he noted the following:
# American 12th graders rank 19th out of 21 industrialized countries in mathematics achievement, 16th out of 21 nations in science.
# Since 1983 more than ten million Americans have reached the 12th grade without having learned to read at a basic level. More than 20 million had reached their senior year unable to do basic math. Almost 25% had reached 12th grade without knowing the essentials of U.S. history.
In February 2012 The National Center for Policy Analysis, a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research organization released a report, “Restructuring Public Education for the 21st Century, noting that “Students in dozens of other countries, including China, South Korea, Germany and Finland, outperformed American students in reading, math and science, according to the Program for International Student Assessment results released in December 2010.” In the course of a single decade, they slid to a ranking of 23rd in science, 17th in reading, and 31st in math.”
The average dropout rate nationwide is between 30% and 40%. Urban centers report dropout rates as high as 80%. The Center concluded that “A six-hour school day and 190 day school year will not and cannot compete with other industrialized nations where students meet higher academic standards, have better prepared teachers, spend 30% to 50% more time in class, and are supported by a parental culture that expects and requires more from their children.”
In Wisconsin, it was the teachers’ union that was the most vocal in its opposition to changes in collective bargaining rules. A recall election of Gov. Scott Walker will occur on June 5th. The Heartland Institute just released a study of Gov. Walker’s reforms known as Act 10.
“Act 10 virtually eliminated [Wisconsin’s] $3.6 billion budget deficit ... and provided school districts with measures previously unavailable to them to accomplish spending reductions,” writes report author Maureen Martin, a Wisconsin resident and general counsel and senior fellow for legal affairs at The Heartland Institute “Many districts have balanced their budgets for the first time in years” and “some even have surpluses and are hiring more teachers and reducing class size.”
Not only do the nation’s schools continue to pose an obstacle to the education of young Americans and by extension to the nation’s ability to compete in a world where other nations are emerging to challenge us, the nation’s school system has been turned into a threat to freedoms we take for granted.
Schools have become places where what children eat is of greater concern than what they learn. Students are tracked like criminals with educational data collection. A government mental health curricula through the third grade has been imposed. The widespread use of behavioral drugs for children who are bored by the daily straight jacket imposed is commonplace. Many middle and high schools are analogous to minimum security prisons.
As voters go to the polls in November, studies indicate that the majority will not know the names of their congressman or opposing candidates. Fully 45% do not know that each State elects two senators, 40% do not know the name of the vice president, and 63% cannot name the chief justice of the U.S.
This is ignorance, but it contributes to the impression of a nation of stupid people making critical decisions about who will lead it.
© Alan Caruba, 2012