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I read about a disturbing set of statistics last week.
The U.S. now ranks ninth among industrialized nations in the share of its population that has at least a high school degree. In the same age group, It ranks seventh in the share of people with a college degree who hold a college degree.
Ever since Abraham Lincoln pushed through the College Land Grant program in 1862 and up until recently, the U.S. educational system has been the envy of the world. And Americans have justifiably regarded education as investment made by the generation current in-power in the next generation that keeps America #1 in the world in science, medicine, technology – in nearly every other broad field of human endeavor.
But something has changed. It was vividly described by columnist Kathleen Parker http://tinyurl.com/3mkwhuv in yesterday’s Washington Post. Education is increasingly being regarded by the right of center as matter of elitism. The political message: "Keep your Ivy League paws out of my life. I'm quite self sufficient.".
Parker suggests that “smart money goes to the ‘stupid’ politicians, who are dumb as foxes and happy as clams when their opponents misunderestimate (sic) them.” In other words the populist politicians who play to America’s growing anti-intellectualism. They are smart enough to know how to play to the intellectual lowest common denominator in America.
So, unlike in previous generations a graduate degree from an Ivy League citadel of knowledge and learning no longer counts for much, especially in the trenches of political battles among the electorate.
There is no question that America has become intellectually a sluggard. Consider this set of stats: In the U.S. for the year 2003, 15-year-olds scored 29th in math, 12th in reading and 20th in science.
This morning I had a telephone interview with a reporter who asked the question, “What are the differences between younger and older consumers.” I answered, “What are the differences between male and female? If you have to ask the question then you won’t understand the answer. ”
She went on to ask another question, “Why is it that there are now so many older people with lots of discretionary income that marketers are ignoring?” followed by, “What can be done to correct that problem?” Innocent enough sounding questions, but questions that have been answered (either correctly or incorrectly) over the past two decades. They are questions that only a novice would ask. A modicum of research would quickly reveal that they have been knocked around since the early 1990s.
In response to the last question I told the reporter that to correct the problem you have to start with an overhaul of our education systems starting with kindergarten if not earlier. We must bring children through their learning experiences without extinguishing the natural curiosity they have that caused Carl Sagan to observe, “Every child is a scientist.”
We are no longer a nation that loves learning. We have lost sight of the connection between how we educate our young people and our standing in the world. We have relinquished our role as world leader on a growing number of fronts because we have lost our capacity for curiosity and the sense of wonder that we feel when some matter or event pulls us into its magnetic field.
Our human souls have become hostage to a tyranny imposed by undue dominance of the left brain in how we see the world, try to make sense of it and work through problems we come to face.
So, the answer to the reporter’s last question may not be satisfying because it does not lead to quick results. It requires a generation’s bundle of time with concrete results not apparent anytime soon. We must change how we see ourselves and deal with life in a far different way than we’ve become accustomed to.
All this is grist for the milling of thought that will carry us forward in this blog. By the way, I’m inviting readers to write their own posts in support of this new direction.
rmany, New Zealand and Switzerland.