Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Making Too Many Americans Stupid

By Alan Caruba

We’ve all encountered them. The people manning the check out line in the supermarket, the fast-food restaurant, all the way up the line to those in management who can’t even manage themselves let alone anyone else. They are an entire class of Americans, the irretrievably stupid ones or, to be kind, the ones whose ignorance began early and never improved.

Let it be said there are a lot of very smart Americans and I am not talking about the PhDs, but the ones who chose to become engineers, architects, physicians, and other endeavors that require serious study that never really ends. There are others in the arts and literature. You know who you are.

America’s problem is America’s schools.

Naturally, we all look for someone or some system to blame for a large slice of the population that does not measure up.

As someone who passed through elementary, middle and high school in the 1940s and 50s, I continually hear from others of my generation who praise a merciful God for the education they received when they compare it with their grandchildren’s lack of the most basic skills, reading, writing and arithmetic.

I read The Wall Street Journal every day because it is quite likely the only newspaper left in America that is not written and edited by chimpanzees.

In the March 15 edition, in the Greater New York section, there was an article, “Student’s English Misses the Mark” by Barbara Martinez. “More than a third of New York City students who entered first grade in 2003 identified as English language learners couldn’t pass an English-language proficiency test last year when they were in the seventh grade, according to Department of Education data.”

Let me share a family story. My father was born in 1901 to two Italian immigrants, both of whom knew they could not speak English well enough to teach it to their son. They also knew he would learn it when he went to school. Once there, the teacher sat him beside a bilingual student and, rather swiftly, my father acquired fluency without any special tutoring or multi-million dollar program. In time, he would put himself through college, working during the day and attending NYU at night. He would become the youngest Italian-American to pass the CPA exam in New Jersey.

“Of New York City’s 1.1 million school children, 153,338 or 14% are classified as English language learners. The Department of Education spent more than $250 million on extra instruction for them in 2009. About 20% of students have come to the U.S. in the past two years, but nearly 70% who have received six years or more of services were born here.”

Are these children all stupid? Are they all retards? No! What’s stupid is the educational system that cannot do for them what my father was able to do without any help other than another student his own age!

I have been thinking about education in America while reading a book that is both entertaining because of its felicitous writing and depressing because of what the author imparts. “In the Basement of the Ivory Tower: Confessions of an Accident Academic” by Professor X ($25.95, Viking) is a look into the bowels of probably every community college in America and probably quite a few four-year universities.

“Fully 50% of community college students drop out before their second year and only 25% manage to finish the two-year program in three years.” Let that soak in. Of those that made it through four years, 66% left with considerable debt, the top 10% owing $44,500 or more; 50% owing at least $20,000.

Too often, these schools of so-called higher education are just money-mills producing debt-ridden human sausage.

What Professor X discovered upon becoming an adjunct, a position filled by people like himself with a Master’s in English Literature who needed an additional source of income to pay the mortgage and other bills, was this: “College is difficult even for highly motivated students who know how to write papers and study for exams, My students had no such abilities. They lack rudimentary study skills; in some cases they are not even functionally literate.”

How does anyone pass through twelve years of schooling and still remain illiterate, unable to read or write English so poorly that it would allow them to perform only the most unskilled job available?

By 2004, there were nearly 17.5 million students enrolled in colleges of every description. “Everybody goes to college now, though not everybody graduates”, says Professor X. “No one is thinking about the larger implications, or even the morality, of admitting so many students to classes they cannot possibly pass.”

Why were Professor X’s students filling the seats in the classroom? A lot were there because many jobs these days require an associate degree as the ticket to employment. “We have a vague feeling that the world would run more smoothly, more efficiently, more professionally if every worker had some college under his or her belt.”

The bottom line is that America’s schools have been failing one generation after another since around the 1960s when the teacher’s union got a firm grip on local schools and on the U.S. Department of Education.

Those students were not necessarily less eager or less equipped to learn, but our schools more often resemble minimum security prisons and are burdened with so much political correctness that the joy of learning has been squeezed out of them.

The schools are making too many potentially smart people stupid.

© Alan Caruba, 2011


TexasFred said...

Somehow, I had a mental flash of Forrest Gump...

"Mama said stupid is as stupid does..."

Alan Caruba said...

What I always find amazing is how so many "smart" people, often elected to public office, can behave in such stupid ways.

At least Forrest had an excuse and Forrest had a good heart.

Donna Harris said...

And this is why I homeschool my kids. I cannot possibly do any worse than the government schools.

Mine are 10 and 8, are conversant with the plots of Shakespeare's plays (although the language is a bit much for them), read at the 8th grade level or better, and are ahead of grade level in math.

They know who Justinian was, what a Puritan was, and the text of the Mayflower Compact.

They know how to find things on a map, and both of them can do basic cooking, laundry, and child care.

I could just stop schooling them today and they'd still be light years ahead of their publicly-schooled friends. (I really wish that wasn't true.)

Ronbo said...


The not-so-hidden purpose of modern "education" in America is the brain washing of young minds to accept socialism.

In this regards it has been extremely successful in the lower I.Q. range.

The real wonder is that so many Americans manage to get educated in the classical sense and firmly reject Leftist propaganda.

In this regards socialist education is the greatest failure in American history that has only served to create a growing movement whose goal is the destruction of Government Schools.

Rich Kozlovich said...


Excellent! As usual!


Alan Caruba said...

@Donna: In the years to come your kids will thank you and bless you for home schooling them.

Travis sez said...

Another excellent discussion on what's been affecting our country. Is it little wonder that President Zero ordered all his academic records sealed? He chooses to lecture us on the progress of women's issues with the Middle East in turmoil, Japan's emergent catastrophies, and the USA in virtual bankruptcy. God save us!

Donna Harris said...

@Alan - they already do. :) Thanks.

NickelthroweR said...


My mother, an Italian citizen educated in Italy, explained to me what it was like going to school in Italy. She told me that each year the students were required to pass a final exam. Those that passed (60% is not passing) were allowed to continue in school. Those that failed found themselves working in the field or in a leather factory.

My mother and her cousins learned more in 8 years of schools than most college educated Americans.

The problem is that we live in a country where everyone is above average and no one can ever ever ever be allowed to fail.

Unknown said...

You should read about John Taylor Gatto's thoughts - he says there never was a golden age of schooling.

Read about the Jewish Riots of 1917 in New York - they thought the authorities were dumbing down school back then.

Thankfully this is America and many people still get a second chance, and a third, etc.

Alan Caruba said...

@Anders: I have been reading Gatto's excellent books for years and recommend to others. I will no doubt be quoting him shortly as I have another education commentary cooking.

Mountain Mom said...

I think too much blame is placed on schools. I think the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of parents and the disintegrating family.

joetote said...


In another post as well, we discussed the home schooling aspect as Donna Harris is doing. As of now, it is the only way there is to not only teach the basics, but also the ideals and conventions that made this the country it used to be before the liberal hard left got their tenderhooks into it. Looking at the Unions and their complete disregard for the kids as evidenced by the head of the NEA, one shouldn't be surprised at the complete zombie like kids coming out of the schools today. Political indoctrination is all that's happening now and it's all bad.

My oldest daughter was a teacher for three years after majoring in Math. Her superiors kept calling her on the carpet because she was failing to many kids. When she explained they refused to do the work, she was told that wasn't a good reason to fail a kid. she couldn't take it any more and quit. Thus is the state of our schools.

Barbara Frank said...

What a terrific post! If only others would be as honest when it comes to describing public education in the U.S.

Like commenter Donna, my husband and I chose homeschooling. We've homeschooled three children all the way through; our fourth will "graduate" this spring. Our adult kids are bright (one son graduated from college with honors) and hard-working. They're also glad they never went to school.

I believe the public schools are ill-equipped to prepare children for the 21st century. Parents need to take back this job. I have a book coming out in April that explains how they can do that.

Thanks for your excellent post.

Barbara Frank said...

What a great post! I wish everyone would be so honest about the current state of public education in the U.S.

Like commenter Donna, my husband and I chose homeschooling. Three of our children were homeschooled through age 18; the fourth just turned 18 and is about to "graduate."

Our adult kids are bright (our son graduated from college with honors) and hardworking. They're also glad they didn't have to go to school, as they've seen the results in college and/or the workplace.

I truly believe that the public schools cannot prepare children for the changing economy of the 21st century, and that it's up to parents, whether or not they homeschool, to take on the job. I explain how to do this in my upcoming book Thriving in the 21st Century.

Thanks for an excellent post.

Alan Caruba said...

Thank you, Barbara...and all others have have commented as well.