The Question, the Answers and the Potential Solutions
Hello, I beg pardon once again for my extended hiatus. Unfortunately, when you are a teacher, this sort of thing happens from time to time.
I would be grateful, if you would grant me this particular entry to summarize what I have learned so far in our intellectual query: Why is America so stupid? I would also like to put forth some solutions, albeit some that would be rather difficult to achieve; possibilities that probably have as much a chance of reaching fruition in my lifetime as Donald Trump admitting that Barack Obama was born in the United States and then trying to blame the “birther movement” on Hillary Clinton… Oh… wait…
Well, maybe these solutions do have a chance after all.
Since beginning this blog, eight months ago, I have seriously endeavored to answer the aforementioned question as to the ongoing and steadily rising level of stupid in this great country of ours. And, for the record, I do believe that our country, when sticking to its proclaimed ideals, is already great and not a nation that needs to be returned to some mythical “greatness” of the past. That being said, a distressingly large proportion of the American population has been dumbed-down and kept to this level of ignorance by the following entities:
- The Failure of the American Educational System
- Manipulation by Mainstream Mass Media
- The Conflicted Interests of the American, Politico-Corporate System
- The Suppression of Scientific and Intellectual Inquiry by Christian Fundamentalism
In order to purpose specific responses to our over-arching question, along with proposed solutions, I will ask your indulgence and, for both the sake of clarity and hopefully a succinct and interesting read, address only one of my intellectual bugaboos at a time.
Thus we begin:
The Failure of the American Educational System
Insufficient funding and systemic complacency are the two main contributing factors in an educational system that is trending downward in a myriad of ways and thus contributing to the rise of “Stupid America”. Despite what politicians, private sector charter school salespeople and those whose unsolicited advice is preached from the ivory towers of academia say, the suffering of the American Educational System has little or nothing to do with the politically self-serving scapegoats of “test scores and teacher accountability”.
Despite the best attempts of dedicated educators throughout the United States, our educational system finds itself at the mercy of politicians singing the songs that their tax base wants to hear, and a national budget that is still under the greedy and misguided control of that duplicitous Mammon of the Cold War: the military-industrial complex.
For the most part, those who control the funding of our schools at a local level, are usually not elected because they are concerned with providing and improving the quality of education for our students. Rather they often seek office, and are elected, based on a platform of saving the local taxpayers money by wheedling down the amounts that homeowners pay for their school taxes. If honesty were a prerequisite for establishing school boards, they would instead be called “taxpayer boards”, since taxpaying households tend to be the ones served by the members of these creations.
A more important detrimental effect on the quality of our schools, especially when measuring them up against those of other wealthy nations of the world, is the lack of importance our educational system has in terms of its standing in the national budget. In a listing of educational spending as a percentage of each country’s GDP, the United States came in Fifty-Eighth. Education only made up 2% of this Federal Budget while Defense and International Security Assistance made up 20%. In 2011 the United States spent more on its military than the next 13 nations combined including both Russia and China.
To give but a single example of this prioritizing: one B-2 Stealth bomber, back in 1997, held a price tag of $737 million. For the price of this single B-2 bomber, 22,220 American students could have received a four-year university education including tuition, room and board. They could have graduated debt-free and able to fully contribute to the economic and intellectual betterment of our country. Without going into specifics, the same singular amount put toward elementary and secondary education would no doubt have had an equally qualitative effect. If we, as a nation, expect to improve the talent and quality of our population, we must reexamine our priorities and to use an updated version of the archaic aphorism “hammer our swords in to plowshares”; we must repurpose our modern war machine into an educational system that is second to none.
In addition to the re-prioritizing of the Federal Budget, the systemic complacency of our Educational infrastructure is drastically in need of the greatest overhaul in its history.
Like an old boiler heating system that is the heart of a functioning home, the American Educational System has existed in a similar state for more than 100 years. It has been patched, caulked, refitted, had pipes rethreaded, had numerous gauges, valves and radiators replaced, but its still the same old system that is getting weaker and more inefficient as time goes by. It is time to stop these patchwork fixes and, from an organic base, incrementally evolve an entirely new system of education.
Since an educated population is less apt to fall victim to the other “horsemen of the bamboozle”: corporately controlled politicians, media manipulation and the anti-intellectual browbeating of Christian Fundamentalism, America needs to work towards some serious and concrete changes in order to stop the flood of Stupid that is overwhelming our nation and allowing wholly unworthy people to vie for the highest position in the land.
- From fifty separate state-run educational systems that vary widely from state to state due to under-funding, a poverty encumbered populace, and the unconstitutional effect of religious demagoguery in areas where Fundamentalism runs rampant, the United States must create a unified national school system that gives all a chance at an equal high-quality education.
- A post Cold War United States is long overdue in reevaluating its priorities. The time has come to begin investing in our future by shifting a decent portion of our Federal Budget expenditures from the funding of an excessively powerful military to improving our prospects in the realms of science, technology and the economy by an increase in Federal support given to the American Educational System.
- Finally, in addition to the shifting of America’s disparate, state-dictated educational systems toward a national amalgamated structure and to the improvement in sorely needed funding for all levels of education in this country, there needs to be a serious reevaluation of our long-standing educational infrastructure. For more than a hundred years the pedagogy in our elementary and secondary schools has been stagnated by a system which, rather than allowing our children to learn varying disciplines at their own pace, forces them to slow-down their natural abilities to a lowest common denominator or to be dragged behind and all too often pushed ahead to the next grade without a firm grip on the knowledge necessary to proceed successfully with their education.
This new ability-oriented method of pedagogy would require a major reassessment in how we teach our children and as well as instituting the following systemic changes:
- A substantial improvement in the classroom teacher-to-student ratio.
- Promotion based on the attainment of specific academic mastery. Levels of proficiency in mathematical skills, English-language arts and other subjects should replace the successive and contrived first through twelfth grades.
- A substantial team including psychologists, social workers and other trained professionals dedicated to the social/emotional welfare of the student population.
- Elementary education should begin based on an individual child’s readiness to begin school and participate successfully in rudimentary curriculum as determined by preschool assessment
- A slow process of incorporation beginning with a nation-wide first generation kindergarten and proceeding along with them through their final mastery. (Approximately ten to thirteen-plus years.)
- No cost, government-sponsored college and skill-based education for all who qualify.
- A non-negotiable separation between public schools and religion, so that a science-based curriculum may be taught unfettered by personal religious beliefs.
- A strict policy of classroom removal, which will guarantee that all students will be able to pursue their education with no interference from another student’s habitual misbehavior. This policy will also guarantee that those unable to function in a classroom environment will get the special education and social/emotional help that will allow them to return to a smoothly functioning classroom environment as soon as possible.
Make no mistake; I am fully aware that such major changes will take many years, a lot of study, an enormous amount of capital and an equal amount of patience to attain. It is also probably the single most important, concrete step that can be taken to stem the rising tide of American “stupid”.
In my next posting, I plan on addressing: The Conflicted Interests of the American, Politico-Corporate System.