by Warner Todd Huston | March 22, 2011 3:55 pm
Newsweek has published another one of those aren’t-Americans-Stupid articles wherein we find that few Americans know anything about either our history or our political system. People have no idea who our current vice president is, they don’t know when the Declaration of Independence was adopted, and they haven’t a clue who takes the office of president if the prez and the VP are incapacitated. But what is more interesting in Newsweek’s article is the reason the news magazine thinks that we are so stupid. Absurdly Newsweek thinks it’s because government doesn’t spend enough money on education.
First of all, I have to agree that Americans are as ignorant as can be on our history and our system o government. You can see it just about everywhere. In fact, you can see it in voting patterns. Illinois is a perfect example. The corruption has been endemic in the Democrat Party in Illinois for decades, yet voters repeatedly pull that donkey lever. It is clear they are ignorant of why things are so bad in the Land of Lincoln and they send the same crooks back to the state house over and over again.
Certainly it is impossible to dispute Newsweek’s central claim that Americans display an appallingly high level of civic ignorance. But Newsweek doesn’t just report its findings, it goes on to opine on just why we as a nation are so ignorant of our civics and history.
Newsweek thinks it’s because we don’t spend enough money on education: (my bold)
It doesn’t help that the United States has one of the highest levels of income inequality in the developed world, with the top 400 households raking in more money than the bottom 60 percent combined. As Dalton Conley, an NYU sociologist, explains, “it’s like comparing apples and oranges. Unlike Denmark, we have a lot of very poor people without access to good education, and a huge immigrant population that doesn’t even speak English.” When surveys focus on well-off, native-born respondents, the U.S. actually holds its own against Europe.
Newsweeks’ claim here is as appallingly ignorant of the facts as someone who doesn’t know that the law of the land is the Constitution of the United States!
Even the left-wing New York Times realizes that the U.S. spends more on education that almost every other nation on earth. For instance, recently the Times had a piece that contained the following:
In an interview, Mr. Schleicher said the point was not that the United States spends too little on public education – only Luxembourg among the O.E.C.D. countries spends more per elementary student — but rather that American schools spend disproportionately on other areas, like bus transportation and sports facilities.
Spending isn’t the problem. The problem is that Democrats and left-wingers have taken over our education and devastated its effectiveness. The left has dumbed down our education from the lowest grades to the halls of our institutes of higher learning until what passes for education is merely a joke.
Worse, it isn’t just the far left-wingers — starting with the father of the destruction, the communist John Dewey — that are responsible for dumbing down our education, but the unions that have piled on another layer of chaos by eliminating the ability to fire bad teachers, by crushing merit pay for good teachers, and by quashing excellence in favor of the lowest common denominator, just as unions always do in every case in every industry.
Money simply isn’t the problem. The left and its bosses in the unions are the problem.
Newsweek went on to call for an even more dumbed down curriculum as a palliative for failure.
Other factors exacerbate the situation. A big one, Hacker argues, is the decentralized U.S. education system, which is run mostly by individual states: “When you have more centrally managed curricula, you have more common knowledge and a stronger civic culture.” Another hitch is our reliance on market-driven programming rather than public broadcasting, which, according to the EJC study, “devotes more attention to public affairs and international news, and fosters greater knowledge in these areas.”
So, taking away local control and creating a single, nationalized system controlled from Washington DC is better? This would make matters worse, of course. It would make it impossible for local jurisdictions to respond to local conditions and would force a one size fits all system on everyone, further lowering standards.
Newsweek’s pill would be bitter, indeed. Not only that but it would kill the patient.
Now, this isn’t to say that everything Newsweek inferred in its education piece was wrong. As the magazine alluded to, there is a reason why Americans are a bit more ignorant of world history, foreign politics, foreign current events and the like than the citizens of other countries. It is sort of a tradition, after all. For nearly 200 years we were safely separated from the world’s troubles by two great oceans. For most of our history, information of other countries was not so important to us as it was to those foreign countries that had to live in close proximity to each other. We had a comfortable sense that what went on in Libya in 1850 wasn’t as important as it now obviously is.
Then there is the idea of American exceptionalism. While that idea is important to make us a more dedicated and patriotic citizenry, it also tends to make us care less about what is going on abroad.
Then there is our decentralized system of government. Americans do not have a single government to follow and learn about. We have city, county, state and federal governments to keep track of instead of just one, central government like many other nations. This adds to our troubles, to be sure.
Still, while Newsweek is 100% correct that we are less informed about our own government and that of other nations, Newsweek’s fixes would and do — because the illiterati continually act on these failed notions –make matters worse.
The solution to what ails American’s bad education is to get Democrats and leftists out of its delivery.
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