That is the title of a major piece in the 23jul14 NYT by “education journalist” Elizabeth Green of chalkbeat.org that one of my east coast correspondents pointed out. In it she highlights the record of American students and adults on international placement tests and our own regular surveys of adult literacy and numeracy. Longtime RR readers are familiar with my interest in and alarm at how our schools are failing to educate our youth, especially in the critical STEM subjects required for getting jobs and reasoning about the direction of our democratic republic. The justification for such alarm is evident in our anemic economic recovery and in the quality of people we send to our state houses and Washington.
Ms Green and her colleagues at chalkbeat appear to have solid liberal credentials. This goes a long way to explain her omitting the role of teachers' unions in contributing to the stink in America’s math education. Although she does acknowledge the cognitive deficits in our teacher corps, she does it so very gently, and places most of the blame for our poor teaching methods and results on school administrations not preparing its teachers to teach to the various math standards (the latest being Common Core) that have sailed through government schools in America during the last 40+ years.
In one way I am heartened that such an article with its provocative title appeared in the Gray Lady, even though all of the (at least to me) obvious dots were neither presented nor connected. For example, there was no mention of the impact of cultural differences between America and Japan, whose math education she compares and contrasts with ours. Only in America is it socially acceptable to shamelessly admit in public that ‘I don’t do math’ or ‘I’m really not a numbers person’. (Functionally that is equivalent to saying that ‘I can’t evaluate alternative public policies’ and ‘I can’t really reason about anything’.) But then what would we expect in a nation whose adult population is 40% functionally illiterate, and has become 95% innumerate according to our National Center for Educational Statistics.
Most people who keep up know that among developed nations America ranks in the world’s educational dregs, while our competitors in Asia and northern Europe scramble for the top rankings. Do I think that there is any light at the end of this tunnel of national dumbth? Not a smidgeon (love that word) that I can see. We are beyond the tipping point and guaranteed to keep sliding as long as teachers’ unions gatekeep the teaching profession and progressives dominate academia. All that organizations such as chalkbeat can do is uncomprehendingly observe the catastrophe and report at its margins.
But when viewed from the ideological perspective of our central planners, we are on their desired track of fundamentally transforming into an unexceptional, guilt-ridden, economically strapped, and internationally compliant nation that will be integrated into a new world order on terms that we will be in no position to refuse. Given what they have been taught, the legions of new voters spilling out of our governments’ educational pipeline will have it no other way – developmentally deficient democracy in action.