The Tragedy of US Schooling

How both the left and the right unintentionally combine to cripple US primary and secondary education

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Image credit: from the movie Idiocracy, courtesy of the Washington Examiner

School shootings in the USA rightly evince horror and disgust. But in a way, school shootings are simply more sensational yet in fact far less damaging than the quotidian elements of US primary and secondary education.

A few facts: in several southern US States, children do worse than those educated in benighted places like Somalia and Sudan. Even in wealthy and supposedly successful California, 2017 statistics showed that 25% of children graduating from High School at age 18 were . Even worse, 40% were . European children at age 16 are on average of their US counterparts and in some European countries they are a full three years ahead. Yet they put in fewer hours overall than US children in terms of class time and homework time. Overall the USA consistently scores near the bottom of the PISA rankings, year in and year out.

Why is education in the USA so abysmal?

Ironically, both right-wingers progressives are responsible for the dire state of US education.

Starting with the right-wingers, it’s no secret that the Republican Party has intentionally targeted the low-IQ and the ignorant since the successful Nixon campaign of 1968, in which market segmentation techniques were used in a political campaign for the first time. It is natural therefore that Republican policy towards primary and secondary education should be regressive and aimed at ensuring the production of ignorant citizens who are easily gulled by false claims and empty promises. As the Republican Party is closely tied to the US Evangelical movement, pandering to religionism by suppressing the teaching of facts in favor of indoctrinating young minds with mythology remains a key goal for Republicans across the nation.

The influence of the Republican agenda is clearest in the States that have been dominated the by Republican Party over the last few decades: a comparatively high rate of High School dropouts, and a very low incidence of students going on to study STEM subjects in tertiary education. Those who do go on to College (the US term for university) tend to study accounting or management or theology rather than subjects for which adequate scientific knowledge is mandatory.

Meanwhile on the so-called “progressive” end of the scale, education is further hindered by Political Correctness. The desire that children should have “high self-esteem” results in redefining failure, which means failure is never rectified. So what if Johnny can’t count, add, subtract, or read? He can tie his shoelaces! Gold star for Johnny! Look what a good job he’s done with his (Velcro) shoelaces! High five for Johnny!

The clamor for “safe spaces” means that difficult topics are never introduced. History becomes an infantile procession of myths in which reality is carefully avoided because, well, reality contains stuff that might upset delicate minds. And we can’t have that, because parents would complain.

As for language skills, let’s remember that grammar and spelling are fascist impositions of the Patriarchy, and if K’tmynie wants to speak Ebonics then we’re going to be appropriate and culturally sensitive and encourage her to do so. Who cares if she’ll never be able to get a job? Our need to demonstrate our progressive credentials is far more important than her future!

Meanwhile the perpetual search for pedagogical methods that require no comprehension leads to an endless succession of intellectual stunting. New Math, anyone? Because let’s face it: the teachers don’t really understand underlying concepts anyway (if they did, do you think they’d be in a poorly paid dead-end profession like teaching when they could be out earning real money?) so why should kids need to?

And of course US parents have no idea how backward this all is, because their own schooling was equally abysmal. They think teachers are doing a great job and love raising money for their kids’ schools, love participating in the PTA, and are proud as anything when their offspring graduate. Even though their offspring are basically ignorant of almost everything they need to know in order to survive in a complex modern society. I mean, how much does a person need to know to use Instagram and watch streaming video? It’s not like anyone actually needs to !

Oh, surely I exaggerate? Surely it’s not that bad?

A few anecdotes. I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for 27 years. This is one of the wealthiest and most privileged places in the entire United States. Education is (supposedly) highly prized. I regularly used to play a game. I’d ask a person to hand-draw a map of the world. When I’d present those born elsewhere with this task I’d reliably get a reasonable rendition of the Mercator projection (although once a Dane drew a beautiful and accurate map using polar coordinates). Sometimes people would omit New Zealand or Iceland or Tasmania, but for the most part everything would be in the right shape and in the right place. I found a US citizen capable of completing the task. Not once in 27 years.

Likewise I never encountered a US citizen who could perform even rudimentary mental arithmetic.

Nor one who could name more than one leader of another nation.

(No, “the English queen” doesn’t count, though it the modal response.)

Nor one who could name a scientist other than Einstein. He is literally the only scientist 98% of US citizens know about. But they only know he was a crazy-haired scientist. They don’t know why he became so famous. Something about atom bombs, maybe. Or was it because he had lots of relatives? Who knows?! Nobody around here, that’s for sure!

As for even the most basic concepts in physics, let’s not get into deeply embarrassing tales. Suffice it to say, most US citizens still believe that if you drop two balls of unequal weight at the same time, the heavier one will hit the ground first. Even more embarrassing, if you ask the question “Which is heavier, a pound of feathers or a pound of lead” you will reliably hear that a pound of lead is heavier than a pound of feathers.

And this was in California. Don’t ask me about my time in States like Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, Texas… Things are much, much worse there. People believe that if the world stopped rotating, everyone would fly off into space (fortunately, god keeps it spinning nicely). Most believe that humans and dinosaurs co-existed. And nearly everyone thinks the Christian mythology is factually true while having zero awareness of its antecedents.

Across the nation, teachers’ unions have ensured that any attempt to change anything is fiercely resisted. Just because a teacher is useless, that’s no reason to fire them! If a teacher is a pedophile, just move them on to a different school district where no one is the wiser (this is called “passing the trash” in US educational circles). If countless studies show that every student would be better off if schools commenced later, that’s absolutely no reason to alter the start time we’ve had for the last sixty years!

All in all, the picture is deeply depressing. As most US parents are totally unaware how poorly US education compares to that available elsewhere, there’s no impetus for change. As the current system suits the incumbents, who can keep on doing what they’ve always done regardless of the fact it isn’t working very well, there’s no internal pressure for change. And the kids themselves, of course, have no idea that they’re being short-changed. As for the politicians, both sides are pandering to the loudest voices in their respective bases.

Where does all this inevitably lead?

Until recently the USA relied heavily on importing educated intelligent people to do the jobs US citizens are incapable of doing because of their poor education. Over the last twenty years, however, the Republican Party has been relentlessly closing the tap, so that US corporations have had to create more and more offshore centers where they can get access to the talent they need. This in turn means that the taxes those people pay go to other countries, and diminish the tax receipts of the USA.

Of course the mindless howling supporters of infantile morons like Trump will think this is “smart and stable” because it’s “saving American jobs” but everyone with more than zero functioning neurons in their frontal cortex knows that the reverse is true. It’s only a matter of time before the USA falls even further behind other nations, which will result in a lower standard of living for all but the ultra-rich (for whom the GoP reliably shills, decade after decade).

But who cares about all that? It’s in the future, and today all must have prizes! And many must be taught that evolution is “just a theory” whereas intelligent design is obviously true. Because god says so.

So congratulations, progressives and conservatives alike! Together you’ve successful crippled the intellects of your children and thereby ensured the continuing decline of the USA.

Everyone must be so very, very proud. Gold stars all round.

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Anyone who enjoys my articles here on Medium may be interested in my books Why Democracy Failed and The Praying Ape, both available from Amazon.

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