Saturday, September 10, 2011

U.S. is spiraling into decline

The world leadership of the United States, once so prevalent, is fading fast. Our people no longer have the qualities it takes to lead the world. We once set the standard for industrial might but our manufacturing has been sent to third world countries for the sake of greater profits. We once set the standard for the advanced state of our infrastructure but we have allowed it to crumble while Asia and Europe build better highways and high speed rail. We once set the standards for an excellent education system but we no longer want to support our teachers or rebuild crumbling schools – having led the world in high school completion rates throughout the 20th century, the United States ranked 21st out of 27 advanced economies. Now we lay off teachers due to lack of money, pile too many students into the classrooms, including those who are incapable of learning much, and then expect the teacher and students to excel. 

As for the quality of our citizens’ lives, we rank 17th in the world.

The United States is experiencing significant decline. According to the United States College Board, the U.S., once the world’s leader in the percentage of young people with college degrees, has fallen to 12th among 36 developed nations. Eleven other nations have more 20- and 30-somethings with college degrees.

According to a report from the College Board, the U.S. ranks 12th among developed nations in the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds with college degrees. The report said, “As America’s aging and highly educated work force moves into retirement, the nation will rely on young Americans to increase our standing in the world.” The problem is that today’s young Americans are not coming close to acquiring the education and training needed to carry out that mission. They’re not even in the ballpark. In that key group, the number of 25- to 34-year-olds with a college degree, the U.S. ranks behind Canada, South Korea, Russia, Japan, New Zealand, Ireland, Norway, Israel, France, Belgium and Australia.

That is beyond pathetic.

Among high schoolers, the U.S. ranks 15th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math. While the nation struggles to strengthen the economy, the educational capacity of our country continues to decline. 

Everybody is to blame – parents who do not discipline nor challenge their children; teachers who do not assign challenging homework or essays because they do not want to grade them; students who sign up for the easy courses in high school so that they are not “burdened” with homework; the educational establishment (teacher colleges and educational researchers) that keeps coming up with kooky ways to teach while ignoring Piaget’s findings on when students can learn what – forgetting the basics and introducing abstract concepts too soon; government leaders who think that all children, regardless of ability, can work on “grade level” by 2014; fundamentalists who demand that religious pseudoscience be taught in the schools instead of religious education being left to the church; the news media that compares the U.S. educational system where everyone, regardless of ability, must be taught in the same classroom to European and Asian schools that separate the gifted from the average from the below average and only test the gifted; and selfish communities who are unwilling to pay taxes to support their schools. 

The old saying “you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink” comes to mind. 

At a time when a college education is needed more than ever to establish and maintain a middle-class standard of living for the majority, America’s young people are moving in exactly the wrong direction! A well-educated population is crucially important if the U.S. is to succeed in an increasingly competitive global environment. But instead of exercising our minds, we are allowing ourselves to become a nation of the clueless, obsessed with the comings and goings of Lindsay Lohan and Snooki. U.S. citizens are increasingly oblivious to crucially important societal issues that are screaming for attention. 

Instead of watching American idol, reality shows, and FOX (faux) “news”, our citizens should be doing something about the legions of jobless Americans, the deteriorating public schools, the debilitating wars, the scandalous economic inequality, the corporate hold on our government, the commercialization of the arts, and the deficits. Why is there not serious and widespread public engagement with these issues? That kind of engagement would lead to creative new ideas and would serve to enrich the lives of individual Americans and the nation as a whole. But it would require a heavy social and intellectual lift that our citizens do not want to do because it requires too much thinking, too much reading, too much participation – too much time. A majority of American citizens prefer to check their brains at the door and allow their fundamentalist, anti-education preachers and FOX entertainment “news” to pour in the “facts”.   It is easier to do than to actually have to reason.

These are grim times in the United States. A child drops out of high school every 26 seconds. It is now expected that the educational level of the younger generation of Americans will not approach their parents’ level of education.   

We are moving backwards. 

What is the matter with us? Whatever happened to the American dream? In some states, the public schools were closed on 17 Fridays during the past school year for budget reasons. Why are we not willing to pay for good schools? We have foolishly applied the brakes to American education because we do not want to pay taxes to support it.

When this is the educational environment, you can say goodbye to the kind of cultural, scientific and economic achievements that make a nation great. The majority of our citizens read very little, cannot do math without a calculator, and write like uneducated third world hicks. We have increasingly turned our backs on the very idea of hard-won excellence and reward everyone for just showing up. 

No wonder Lady Gaga and Snooki from “Jersey Shore” are cultural heroes. 

The future of our country looks grim. A society that closes its eyes to the most important issues of the day, holds intellectual achievement in contempt, and is more interested in hip-hop and Lady Gaga than educating its young is absolutely guaranteed to spiral into a decline. The United States needs able and articulate men and women to stand up and reintroduce the American Dream, a dream that is dependent upon higher education.

Once a Leader, U.S. Lags in College Degrees 

Closing the College Attainment Gap between the U.S. and Most Educated Countries