Bob Herbert: Clueless in America

Posted by Kendall Harmon

We don’t hear a great deal about education in the presidential campaign. It’s much too serious a topic to compete with such fun stuff as Hillary tossing back a shot of whiskey, or Barack rolling a gutter ball.

The nation’s future may depend on how well we educate the current and future generations, but (like the renovation of the nation’s infrastructure, or a serious search for better sources of energy) that can wait. At the moment, no one seems to have the will to engage any of the most serious challenges facing the U.S.

An American kid drops out of high school every 26 seconds. That’s more than a million every year, a sign of big trouble for these largely clueless youngsters in an era in which a college education is crucial to maintaining a middle-class quality of life — and for the country as a whole in a world that is becoming more hotly competitive every day.

Ignorance in the United States is not just bliss, it’s widespread. A recent survey of teenagers by the education advocacy group Common Core found that a quarter could not identify Adolf Hitler, a third did not know that the Bill of Rights guaranteed freedom of speech and religion, and fewer than half knew that the Civil War took place between 1850 and 1900.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchEducation* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.

14 Comments
Posted April 28, 2008 at 9:34 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. justinmartyr wrote:

“The nation’s future may depend on how well we educate the current and future generations”

What silly nonsense. The “nation’s future” depends on how well parents and local communities educate their children. Hillary. McCain and Obama, nice as they happen to be, are not going to be capable of anything but screwing up your children’s education by standing in your way financially or legislatively. Educational success depends on you and your kids, not government.

April 28, 10:09 am | [comment link]
2. justinmartyr wrote:

“A recent survey of teenagers by the education advocacy group Common Core found that a quarter could not identify Adolf Hitler, a third did not know that the Bill of Rights guaranteed freedom of speech and religion, and fewer than half knew that the Civil War took place between 1850 and 1900.”

So long as the color of Britney Spears’ lingerie mean more to an individual than the square root of 25, this is not going to change. Silly children parented by silly parents will grow up to be silly adults. Bush and Clinton are not to blame for this. The parents are.

April 28, 10:12 am | [comment link]
3. evan miller wrote:

It would also help if schools taught history and geography, not some amorphous “social studies” that is all “issues” and short on facts.

April 28, 10:35 am | [comment link]
4. CanaAnglican wrote:

Dear Martyr, Dear Evan,
Amen and Amen.

April 28, 10:51 am | [comment link]
5. DonGander wrote:

Public education has failed.

Don

April 28, 11:00 am | [comment link]
6. RickW wrote:

It’s too bad that Bob Herbert can’t identify the “reserved powers” clause in the constitution (amendment 10).  That puts education squarely on the shoulders of the states and not the federal government.

Like it or not, that is the system today and presidents that tout education are expanding the federal powers and not following the constitution.

April 28, 11:02 am | [comment link]
7. David Keller wrote:

When my children were small (they are 26 and 23 now) we used to say that the public schools had changed the three “R’s” to racism, recycling and Rosa Parks.  I think it’s worse now.  Hillary and Obama are tied to the NEA so they won’t cahnge anything even if they could.  McCain did say in a speech last week that this is the first generation of American children who are less educated than their parents.  He blamed the US Department of Education.

April 28, 11:05 am | [comment link]
8. Echolord wrote:

The responsibility of educating a child is the parent of the child.  The degree to which a parent stresses and reinforces the value of education, is one of the greatest factors in the education of a child.  The State or state must not usurp that responsibility.  Public Schools should be provided for the unfortunate, unable, or unwilling parent, and not to punish the willing and able.  The “Public School: system has failed to produce the desired for results, and should bear the responsibility it has so greedily claimed.  The direct involvement in the funding of schools by a parent is a much more promising method of reforming the productivity of the school, instead of the unaccountable actions of a PTA committee or board of education, with little or no fiscal authority, or authority strangled by close association or exploitation by the Teachers Union.

Not allowing a tax-exemption for parents who send they’re children to public schools should be unacceptable, to anyone who cares for the education of children.  By taxing money spent on education and taxing for the provision of “Public School” education, parents responsibility continues to be placed secondary to the State/state.  Why can an adult deduct expenses for higher education tuition, for themselves and their adult children, yet not for their primary and secondary, except to place the State/state in a higher state of authority?

I’ll step off of my soapbox now and pray for thoughtful responses.

April 28, 1:04 pm | [comment link]
9. Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) wrote:

OH, come on ... only 15-20% of the populace have an IQ above 110. College-level work ought to be difficult for anyone below about 105. The 30-some-percent college graduate rate is probably higher than it would be if colleges were as rigorous as they’ve been in the recent historical past.

Conversely, why is anyone surprised that 20% don’t have a clue? That’s a rough approximation of the population below 1-sigma on the downside, i.e. an IQ of 90. Five percent are going to be below 80, which is getting seriously retarded.

April 28, 2:49 pm | [comment link]
10. MargaretG wrote:

This article actually raises some vital questions for the United States community. The USA performs very badly compared to other OECD countries in two areas: (1) the level of education achieved by the schooling system, and (2) the level of health achieved by the health system. In both cases it is not the level of expenditure that is the problem (in fact in the case of health the USA spends much more than most countries). It is the outcome of all that expenditure that is poor. Obviously it is not enough to just state how things are—the politicians need to be thinking about how they will address the problem.

April 28, 11:04 pm | [comment link]
11. Larry Morse wrote:

Herbert does not remark that of the drops outs, almost 90 percent are male, more blacks than whites, to be sure, but that inequality is coming closer to parity than in the past. But why drop out? Because school provides nothing that you want, and that is so because the drop out has no vision of a vital future. This is the final, bitter reality of living in a solipsistic world.

  To be sure, the schools have failed and so have the parents, but what have they failed at, precisely? Is it a failure to pass on information, who Hitler was and the centigrade system? Is that really what the failure consists of? Or have both failed (a) to make the past a living force, integral to one’s being, and (b) to make the future a promise of something greater than money and sensual gratification?

    You and I have seen this now for years, that there is a sense that life is running out, that some high water mark is past or passing, that the receding tide leaves behind only sand and more sand. And you and I have also seen this for years, that for an American, life is too easy, too convenient. Why work, if all that gets you is more televisions and computers in every room, more sheer things.You would not be far afield to see the drop out rate as a yard sale.  Larry

April 28, 11:47 pm | [comment link]
12. rob k wrote:

Evan - You are so right in post no. 3.  Too many educators think that “fact” are deadening to children.  On the contrary, I think that lots of kids do find names, dates and places interesting, and that interest will provide them grounding to read and inquire more and more.

April 29, 5:31 am | [comment link]
13. CharlesB wrote:

The really worrisome thing is that education is inextricably linked to values and making good citizens for society.  This paints a grim picture of the future.  Glad my hope is in the Lord.

April 29, 6:14 am | [comment link]
14. justinmartyr wrote:

This article actually raises some vital questions for the United States community. The USA performs very badly compared to other OECD countries in two areas: (1) the level of education achieved by the schooling system, and (2) the level of health achieved by the health system. In both cases it is not the level of expenditure that is the problem (in fact in the case of health the USA spends much more than most countries). It is the outcome of all that expenditure that is poor. Obviously it is not enough to just state how things are—the politicians need to be thinking about how they will address the problem.

MargaretG, you raise an important issue by excluding the actual solution. Yes, the US children are falling behind the curve in education. At the same time educators and politicians are spending more and more on the selfsame. We know that sectors where there is more parental choice and involvement are thriving (home schooling, private schooling, parochial schooling).

For decades now your all-too-familiar trope has been hauled out each time education has declined. Spend more. Give the politicians more power to decide. Let the educators have more say-so over our children.

Let me ask you: when is enough enough? When can I start using my hard-earned dollars to fund the education of MY child, not the general education system. We know that the more choice *I* as a parent am given, the better my children do. And yet, complete return of my money to fund my family’s education is NEVER an option. I’d respect the “Something needs to be done” slogans, if something could be done by ME instead of Obama, McCain, Bush or Hillary.

Ever wondered why EVERY one of the current slate of pro-public-schooling presidential candidate’s children went to private schools?

April 29, 10:08 am | [comment link]
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