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Dumb, stupid or both?

Friday, April 1, 2011

I wrote a column back in January that discussed what's wrong with our schools and this week's edition of Newsweek magazine brought that point home once again in their cover story, "How Dumb Are We?" It was a sobering report to say the least.

Newsweek gave 1,000 Americans the U.S. Citizenship Test and 38 percent failed. They concluded that the country's future is imperiled by our ignorance and I have to agree. After leading the world in most educational categories for decades, we began to decline a couple of decades ago and that decline continues today. And as scary as a 38 percent failure rate is, people responding to individual questions fared much worse.

For example, one third of the people didn't know when the Declaration of Independence was adopted. 65 percent didn't know what happened at the Constitutional Convention. Eighty percent didn't know who was president during World War I. Forty percent didn't know who we fought in World War II.

Eighty-six percent didn't know how many voting members are in the U.S. House of Representatives. 73 percent didn't know what the main concern of the United States was during the Cold War. Sixty-one percent didn't know how long a U.S. Senator's term is. Eighty one percent couldn't identify one power reserved for the Federal government. Sixty three percent didn't know how many justices serve on the Supreme Court. And, 94 percent of the people didn't know how many amendments there are to the Constitution.

These are the same people who are raising hell every day about the condition of our country.

That's a pretty scary notion.

There's a difference between dumb and stupid. Dumb is a lack of knowledge. Stupid is knowing what to do but doing the opposite anyway. All of us do stupid things, even though we sometimes don't realize they're stupid until they blow up in our face. After the fact, we know we shouldn't have done or said what we did at the time because we were operating from an emotional perspective rather than an intellectual one. Our heart took over our head and that's usually not a good thing.

But being dumb is just not knowing. I hear people make outrageous statements every day that are based on fiction rather than fact and yet they say it with a fervor and a conviction that persuades other people to their point of view, even though that point of view is dead wrong. Some television and radio commentators come to mind here.

But it's one thing to realize we have a problem and quite another to fix it. All kinds of people talk freely about the problems we have in this country but few offer concrete suggestions or ideas about how to correct them.

So how do we fix ignorance? Like most other things, we start at the core and work outwardly and the core of every young person's life is their family. Parents need to become more involved with their child's education. They need to sit down with them every day after they get home from school and talk about what they did and what they learned and help them prepare for school tomorrow. Parents should reward positive performance and not accept sub-par performance.

Parents should be just as interested in their child's grades as they are their athletic accomplishments because only a handful will go on to make athletics their career.

Schools have to go back to the basics. Many teachers, even at the college level, have quit assigning written work for their students because they can't read their writing. Reading, writing, and arithmetic needs to once again be the anchor for every school system in America. And if you don't do the work, you don't pass. That was a common occurrence when I was in school, a very rare one today.

Educators need to stop falling in love with the latest fad and get back to the basics. Online education is the worst of these fads and some leader somewhere needs to step forward and say that out loud. It's possible today to receive a college education without spending a single hour in a traditional classroom with other students and a professor in front of you and I think that's not only a travesty but a tragedy as well.

Why have we gotten so far off base and sunk so low educationally? All you ever have to do is follow the money. We have an ever increasing number of distance learning and online classes because everyone else is doing it and if we don't do it, we lose students to the ones who do. God forbid that anyone stand on principle and say we're not going to do it because it's just not right and it's not in the educational best interest of the student. We follow along like sheep to the slaughter, concerned that if we don't play the game too, we'll lose students and that will mean we might ultimately lose our jobs.

Whatever happened to the idea of just doing the right thing?

If we don't start soon, some day in the not too distant future it's going to be too late.

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I fear that our society has gotten so enamored with not leaving any child behind, we forgot that stopping the education bus, allows all children to get on board, but never arrives at the school, so the normal, or brighter kids can obtain education, so they all end up ignorant.

I agree with you, Mike, teach the basics, hard nosed, and no fooling around. From that base education, the children can achieve based on their abilities, and fit into the social and technical cubicles they can train and aspire to.

I kind of disagree with your three decades, Mike, as I believe it actually began in the late fifties, early sixties.

I am surprised you didn't mention China, and India, both having more Genius level students than we have students. In those two countries, if you do not do well in school, you are gone, and will be harvesting rice for the rest of your life.

Sadly, we may not be able to recover from the pit called Ignorant, our children are now in, so as to recover some of our world leadership in being able to think, and do. I'm through.

-- Posted by Navyblue on Fri, Apr 1, 2011, at 7:34 PM

I think both of you are off base. Navyblue the 2 countries you mentioned are the 2 most populas in the world, so it would stand to reason that they have more genius leval students than the US and they both send there best and brightest to study here in the United States. This country still is the leader in education, just look at the advances in teaching every kid now can get an education provided they are motivated and determined to learn just like you and I had to be when we were younger. I assume you would call yourself educated to so quickly discredit the rest of the country. Perhaps try a little patriotism and understand this is still the best place in the world to live and study. That is what would be in question with statistics like the ones you listed Mike.

-- Posted by mccook marine on Sat, Apr 2, 2011, at 6:32 AM

I agree with Mike in the sense that parents need to spend more time and attention on their childrens academic performance.

I have seen first hand very bright children doing horribly in school, but great in softball / baseball...their parents never miss a game or tournament, but they are never there to assist with, and ensure they are keeping up with studies.

I believe the "dumbing" down of America began when lifestyle began to cost too much for a single income family to afford. sending both parent's out of the home, and relying on state/federal government to raise your children in school, and strangers in daycare centers.

I also believe another factor is the sense of entitlement most Americans have. If you know there is a fall back, why try so hard to succeed. If they will just give you a new one, why take care of the one you have.

Look at a child that has nowhere else to go but up, and you will see a child that takes pride in their school work, lifestyle, and personal belongings. If, I might add, their parents are there to help guide and encourage their progress.

I believe that the new generation of "teachers" are relying way to much on internet based teaching methods, and not enough on basic principles (as Mike eluded to earlier).

I sometimes wonder if most of the newer "internet" teaching methods are not created to add to the "dumbing" down of American children. I speculate that some of the programming ideas could be coming from overseas to begin with.

Finally, the biggest problem with today's America is obvious. There was a time when families would pray together every day, and bless all those in their lives. In today's society a person bringing up religion is shunned and ridiculed.

Personally I was laughed at recently for stating that a friend visit a pastor or priest and speak with them about a problem they were concerned with. A by stander actually questioned me, and laughed at me for even mentioning religion.

That same bystander stood by and watched as a mother of three pulled into a parking stall smoking a cigarette, speaking on her cellular phone, with a child in the vehicle, all windows rolled up. She then proceeded to dump an entire ashtray of ciggie butts onto the ground, and walk into the convenience store. The bystander said nothing to that woman. There is the problem. Sorry, I'm off topic now.

-- Posted by cplcac on Sun, Apr 3, 2011, at 1:35 AM

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Mike Hendricks
Mike at Night