Making Too Many Americans Stupid

Posted on Wed 03/16/2011 by


By Alan Caruba

We’ve all encountered them. The people manning the check out line in the supermarket, the fast-food restaurant, all the way up the line to those in management who can’t even manage themselves let alone anyone else. They are an entire class of Americans, the irretrievably stupid ones or, to be kind, the ones whose ignorance began early and never improved.

Let it be said there are a lot of very smart Americans and I am not talking about the PhDs, but the ones who chose to become engineers, architects, physicians, and other endeavors that require serious study that never really ends. There are others in the arts and literature. You know who you are.

America’s problem is America’s schools.

Naturally, we all look for someone or some system to blame for a large slice of the population that does not measure up.

As someone who passed through elementary, middle and high school in the 1940s and 50s, I continually hear from others of my generation who praise a merciful God for the education they received when they compare it with their grandchildren’s lack of the most basic skills, reading, writing and arithmetic.

I read The Wall Street Journal every day because it is quite likely the only newspaper left in America that is not written and edited by chimpanzees.

In the March 15 edition, in the Greater New York section, there was an article, “Student’s English Misses the Mark” by Barbara Martinez. “More than a third of New York City students who entered first grade in 2003 identified as English language learners couldn’t pass an English-language proficiency test last year when they were in the seventh grade, according to Department of Education data.”

Let me share a family story. My father was born in 1901 to two Italian immigrants, both of whom knew they could not speak English well enough to teach it to their son. They also knew he would learn it when he went to school. Once there, the teacher sat him beside a bilingual student and, rather swiftly, my father acquired fluency without any special tutoring or multi-million dollar program. In time, he would put himself through college, working during the day and attending NYU at night. He would become the youngest Italian-American to pass the CPA exam in New Jersey.

“Of New York City’s 1.1 million school children, 153,338 or 14% are classified as English language learners. The Department of Education spent more than $250 million on extra instruction for them in 2009. About 20% of students have come to the U.S. in the past two years, but nearly 70% who have received six years or more of services were born here.”

Are these children all stupid? Are they all retards? No! What’s stupid is the educational system that cannot do for them what my father was able to do without any help other than another student his own age!

I have been thinking about education in America while reading a book that is both entertaining because of its felicitous writing and depressing because of what the author imparts. “In the Basement of the Ivory Tower: Confessions of an Accident Academic” by Professor X ($25.95, Viking) is a look into the bowels of probably every community college in America and probably quite a few four-year universities.

“Fully 50% of community college students drop out before their second year and only 25% manage to finish the two-year program in three years.” Let that soak in. Of those that made it through four years, 66% left with considerable debt, the top 10% owing $44,500 or more; 50% owing at least $20,000.

Too often, these schools of so-called higher education are just money-mills producing debt-ridden human sausage.

What Professor X discovered upon becoming an adjunct, a position filled by people like himself with a Master’s in English Literature who needed an additional source of income to pay the mortgage and other bills, was this: “College is difficult even for highly motivated students who know how to write papers and study for exams, My students had no such abilities. They lack rudimentary study skills; in some cases they are not even functionally literate.”

How does anyone pass through twelve years of schooling and still remain illiterate, unable to read or write English so poorly that it would allow them to perform only the most unskilled job available?

By 2004, there were nearly 17.5 million students enrolled in colleges of every description. “Everybody goes to college now, though not everybody graduates”, says Professor X. “No one is thinking about the larger implications, or even the morality, of admitting so many students to classes they cannot possibly pass.”

Why were Professor X’s students filling the seats in the classroom? A lot were there because many jobs these days require an associate degree as the ticket to employment. “We have a vague feeling that the world would run more smoothly, more efficiently, more professionally if every worker had some college under his or her belt.”

The bottom line is that America’s schools have been failing one generation after another since around the 1960s when the teacher’s union got a firm grip on local schools and on the U.S. Department of Education.

Those students were not necessarily less eager or less equipped to learn, but our schools more often resemble minimum security prisons and are burdened with so much political correctness that the joy of learning has been squeezed out of them.

The schools are making too many potentially smart people stupid.

© Alan Caruba, 2011   Alan Caruba blogs daily at Warning Signs . An author, business and science writer, he is the founder of National Anxiety Center.