My father used to say that there was no defense against stupidity. He was a very smart man. When he entered kindergarten in the early 1900's, he spoke his parent's native language of Italian. The teacher seated him beside a boy who spoke both English and Italian, and he learned English. Nobody gave it any more thought than that.
Dad passed through the K-12 grades in Newark, N.J., and then worked his way through New York University to gain a degree in accounting. Then he studied some more and was among the youngest men to become a Certified Public Accountant. All that study and hard work helped him survive the Great Depression. It is a classic American story.
In his time, American education was as basic as it comes. You learned the fundamentals of reading, writing, and arithmetic.
You were taught, not just history, but something called civics, lessons about the way the nation was governed and why our republic was a leading example of "government of the people, by the people, for the people."
In a report by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, released in November of last year, more than twice as many people (56%) who took the test knew that Paula Abdul was one of the "American Idol" judges than where those famous words came from. Only 26% identified Lincoln's Gettysburg Address as the source.
Of the 2,500 Americans who took the test that included college students, elected officials and other randomly selected citizens, nearly 1,800 flunked the 33-question test on basic civics. The elected officials scored slightly lower than the public with an average score of 44% compared with 49%; less than half.
There are two great threats facing America today. One is the vast ignorance of our history and of the way we govern ourselves, and the other is the growing numbers of functionally illiterate Americans.
For that we must put the blame squarely at the foot of our debased educational system and for that we must understand the threat is the result of the deliberately dumbing down of the system by the teacher's unions. I do not blame teachers, some of the most under-appreciated people in our society. They are the victims of an educational system whose demise began in earnest in the 1960s.
Recently, in October, the New Jersey Education Association had an advertisement that celebrated a "character education program", taking note of a school that received "the prestigious School of Character designation from the Character Education Partnership."
"The advertisement went on to note that "those values include the affirmation of human dignity, the welfare of the individuals, and the desire to serve the common good. Character education strives to promote basic human values that transcend religious or cultural differences." In other words, a totally secular approach that, for schools in America today excludes beginning the day with a prayer, bans the singing of Christmas carols, and deemphasizes individual achievement.
"It is not intended to usurp the role of families in teaching values," the advertisement said, but that's exactly its purpose, going on to note that "Standardized tests cannot measure character, so it does not always get the attention it should." What is not getting attention is the ability to read and write English well, American history, civics, and other subjects the schools are failing to teach.
As commentator, Greg Lewis, recently noted, Arne Duncan, President Obama's choice for Secretary of Education, led the Chicago schools as Superintendent, but only 17% of Chicago's eighth grade students are reading at or above their grade level. "It is almost impossible not to teach a child how to read," said Lewis who pointed out that, at the beginning of the twentieth century, illiteracy was barely 1%. Today it is 20% or higher.
The single worst piece of legislation to come out of the last administration was "No Child Left Behind" that requires a teach-to-the-test, one-size-fits-all approach to education, coast to coast. The rise in the tutoring industry outside of our schools is testament to the failure of NCLB. Far too many high school graduates arrive in colleges today requiring "remedial" courses in the most fundamental lessons that our schools are failing to teach.
It's not as if today's parents of school-age children don't know there's a very real problem. The results of an Associated Press survey, released in June 2008, revealed that "The views of the general population echo concerns from business and college leaders, who say they have to spend a lot of time and money on remedial education for people who completed high school but don't have the skills to succeed at work or in higher education."
"Overall, the majority of those surveyed said the quality of U.S. schools has declined over the past 20 years."
"The vast majority thinks classroom work and homework-not standardized tests-are the best ways to measure how well students are doing."
Americans who have passed through our schools for nearly fifty years know what the problem is. Meanwhile, in Congress, every manner of legislation is under consideration to deepen and worsen the problem. Many attempt to reach into the pre-school years of childhood development to seize control of the very youngest children.
One called "No Child Left Inside Act" (HR 3036) would inject all manner of environmental propaganda into the curriculum, further eroding the time today's children have for the fundamentals, and scaring the hell out of them with more apocalyptic nonsense about global warming, It is the work of Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD).The Greens have invented "a nature-deficit disorder" to hide the fact that they intend to continue indoctrinating children with the dubious science they use to advance their agendas.
This debasement of education produces a population unable to understand the forces at work in order to make them compliant and complacent voters who will accept more and more laws that undermine the Constitution and enslave them with the belief that the State knows best.
This is why so many people continue to believe that the Earth is warming despite ample evidence that it is cooling. Similarly indoctrinated, these people oppose all forms of energy production except those-wind and solar-least capable of providing the billions of megawatts the nation needs.
"We have met the enemy and he is us," said the cartoon character, Pogo. The enemy is the National Education Association, a union that has complete control of the Department of Education and at the state level too. There's still time to turn this around, but we are running out of it.