Sunday, June 3, 2012

Are Americans Stupid?

By Alan Caruba

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


Elizabeth said...

Mre time and more days are unnecessary. Students who WANT to learn or are compeled by their parents to do so can learn a great deal in a short period of time. John Taylor Gatto outlines the false premises of compulsory education in his book: The Underground History of American Education. Tere are answers, but the "establisment" won't let them be tried or used if they can help it. I was a public school teacher and I can say that without parental discipline and a sense of accomplisment (not self-esteem) teacher can do very little. The problem is that the teachers unions have pushed the idea that Teachers are professionals on a level with Doctors and Lawyers and therefore should be paid they cannot admit that there is little that can be done ad standardized tests don't do the trick. Ifthe LOCAL school boards would develop BASIC curriculum and stop trying to solve the world's ills by teaching 8 million things that the kids DON'T need...everyone would be reading writing and computing well.
It won't happen, because parents have been sold a bill of goods and think they are too smart to be wrong....ugh, sorry for going on & on...this subject gets me furious.

Alan Caruba said...

I have read two of Gatto's books and he is spot on regarding the mess the US has made of education. The unions have turned education into a racket and the federal government, when Democrats are in charge, benefits from union money and support Perhaps Republicans too?

LarryOldtimer said...

Back in the 1940s and 1950s, the public education was impressive. History was well taught, as well as the fundamenals of biology, chemistry and physics . . . to all students.

I have recently found that new PhDs in archeology,are "discovering" what was common knowledge, ala National Geographic Magazine, way back then.

I have regrets that today's K-8 students and even college training are but a faint shadow of what used to be.

Alan Caruba said...

Larry, it worries me because it does not bode well for the future of the nation. We may well end up importing the best brains to fill the gap left for a poorly educated youth today. Indeed, we already are in some industries.

And, yes, the education we received was superb.

Ronbo said...

One good thing about the almost inevitable economic collapse - if it happens public education goes down with the sinking ship.

Zamir said...

The truly depressing thing is that I can vouch for the statistics published here Alan. The high school my sisters go to (the wealthiest public school in the county) is little more than a jail. They are not encouraged to read nor write unless it is for a test. They both have a severe dislike of reading both because the teachers are poor at their jobs and because they were never instilled with the love of reading that should be an American right in itself. There are two police officers hired for "security" who in effect do things such as monitor hallways for errant students and investigate hall passes. One friend of one sister has been sent to the Academy (punishment) for pointing out that a teacher was mistaken in history class. The teacher created a paper trail for the poor girl on the spot and justified her "rudeness" to the principal.

This is why I hate the public school system and will home school my children when they come along in my life.

Guy in Ohio said...

It's not how much they're learning ... it's WHAT they're learning, that seems to be the problem.

When over 50 % of the country buys in to a false promise of "hope and change" and votes for someone that can only be classified as anti-Capitalist and anti-American, the system is obviously broken. Our children are being conditioned to believe that business is evil, and that success and prosperity are things to be ashamed of. I we don't do something to change that, America has some very dark days ahead of it...

Harry Dale Huffman said...

I have some thoughts on this. Too often, the best did not rise to the top, in administration positions, in the Boomer generation. So the best minds have not been in charge, across many fields, as is well exemplified by the incompetent scientific "consensus" that has enabled the great "global warming" fraud, as a worldwide political tyranny threatening our fundamental ability to sustain our way of life with ample energy. The miseducation of two whole generations of climate scientists is responsible for that, and that is just the tip of a much larger iceberg. The country has been intellectually faltering, increasingly failing, since the '60s, quite independently of financial booms and busts, and that is due above all to a failing fundamental paradigm. As I have come to see it, only a massive turn-around in thinking and in administration can reverse the general decline. In such a situation, bailouts of one's favorite failing institutions or groups is precisely the wrong thing to do. Catering to those who sell deep divisions, as of race, to the public is also a fundamental evil. Self-interest, that is selfishness, needs to be identified and frozen out of public debates.

Alan Caruba said...

Ronbo, I cannot think of a single good thing about an economic collapse.

LarryOldtimer said...

Alan, neither do I as well. But is is quite evident that Europe is falling from any economic standpoint, and the US will be next in line.

Can't borrow to save the world. Yet our fool politicians, save a few, keep right on borrowing, so this will mean the failures of economies in most of the world.

Too late to do much about it.

Romney is the best, but Obama will remain President until Jan 20, 2013, and with no mention by the clowns and monkeys in the MSM circuses, is writing executive orders which are very damaging to this nation.