America Raises a Nation of Idiots

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Two unrelated reports came out recently. One, from the Council on Foreign Relations, said American children in grades K – 12 are not well educated enough to compete with youngsters from many other nations. The other, from Pew Internet & American Life Project, reports that the number of texts sent by those teenagers who do text rose to 60 a day. That is up from 50 a day just two years ago. The habit hardly leaves time to read a book or solve a math problem.

The Council’s conclusions are that American security will be threatened because too few children can speak a foreign language or adequately staff the military. The Council also pointed out that U.S. youngsters cannot compete with nations like China when their skills are modest by comparison. One comment from the report called “A Global Test for U.S. Schools” was that:

The kids in Iowa don’t compete with kids in Indiana; they compete with kids all over the globe. And so, looking at what it means to be well educated and to meet meaningful, rigorous standards that can be tested in the ways that test the skills that we want, is going to require a collaborative national effort.

So far, a lack of intersystem and interstate coordination and resistance by teacher unions has kept the “collaborative national effort” from coming anywhere close to a reality.

Even if a national effort is not possible, changing the habits of students is, even if the work is at a local level. The Pew study indicates that many children have left the world of direct verbal communication in favor of one in which texting is the primary means of communication. There is no solid proof of it, but children who, hour after hour, send texts with a few words would seem to have little time to pursue better math and English skills. There are only so many hours in the day.

Pew reports that 77% of teenagers have a cellphone — the primary means for texting. The data also shows that:

The median number of texts (i.e. the midpoint user in our sample) sent on a typical day by teens ages 12 – 17 rose from 50 in 2009 to 60 in 2011. Much of this increase occurred among older teens 14 – 17, who went from a median of 60 texts a day to a median of 100 two years later.

Texting did not exist a decade ago and was infrequent five years ago. Recently, it has become a regular — and time consuming — part of teenage life.

The major premise of the Council on Foreign Relations study is that lack of innovation has prevented the classroom experience from evolving to accommodate modern education needs. Another premise is that students and their families need choices if the public school systems cannot fulfill their needs. Neither of these points to the damage done by the time teenagers spend on communication with one another through a medium that did not exist until recently — one that is unlikely to produce a highly educated generation of people who can speak a foreign language and compete with the Chinese on standardized tests.

Douglas A. McIntyre

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