By David A. Schwinghammer
Was the London Daily Mirror really right? Are American IQs heading south?
During the third year of his administration Ronal Reagan formed a blue ribbon commission to study American education. According to Reagan, businessmen were complaining that their workers not being properly prepared. The results were published under the title “A Nation at Risk,” which described our educational system as lagging behind Europe and the Far East. Despite the fact that Reagan’s study was politically motivated (Conservatives hate all unions, especially the NEA, which provides most democratic campaign workers), what was said had some merit, only not the way the old redhead intended. It’s not our elementary and secondary schools that are responsible for the dearth of intellectual acumen in this country. Nation at Risk was comparing apples to oranges. Of course, American students didn’t do as well as the Germans and the Japanese. European students take a test around ninth grade that determines whether they will go on to gymnasium (college prep) or enter trade schools. Anybody can go to high school in the United States, even those that should go to trade school. Anybody can take the ACT test or the PSAT. Some kids take them who have no intention of going to college.
After the second Bush victory, The London Daily Mirror ran the headline "How Can 59,017,382 people be so DUMB?" How could we elect the puppet governor of Texas in the first place? Why would the American working class vote against itself? Republicans are notoriously anti-labor union. They have consistently voted against the minimum wage and are doing everything in their power to eliminate employer funded health care and pension plans.
Well, I agree we’re not the brightest bulbs in the chandelier sometimes, but there are some more likely suspects than American education, which somehow manages to shake off the effects of secondary education and still provide the greatest advanced educational system in the world. Just ask all of the students who come here from other countries to study for their undergraduate and post graduate degrees. So, who then is responsible? There are more than ten culprits but let‘s settle for a nice round number:
1. Creationism and Intelligent Design. These people would like us to teach religion in our science classes alongside evolutionary theory. Scopes II declared creationism a religion. Scopes III ruled that Intelligent Design was the same as Creationism. The judge for Scopes III was appointed by Bush and recommended by Rick Santorum, formerly one of the most conservative congressman in America. Creationists believe that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. They interpret the Bible literally. Such an obvious refutation as the Grand Canyon is explained by using the Flood in the Bible. These people have also built a museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, where dinosaurs mingle with cave men. The museum claims 550,000 visitors in just over fifteen months.
2. Television. When Newton Minnow described television as a “vast wasteland” he was exaggerating just a bit. The major networks offered such quality shows as “Playhouse 90,” “Mr. Wizard,” “The Honeymooners,” just to mention a few. These days the average homeowner has access to over a hundred channels. He’s lucky if six of them offer programming that doesn’t make you want to gag. Reality television is the main culprit. Ozzie Osborne, Paris Hilton, “The Bachelor,” even “American Idol” with the unwatchable Simon Cowell serving as a judge, destroy brain cells on a regular basis. “The Bachelor” on its own has set a young woman’s perception of herself back fifty years.
3. Computers and video games. “Grand Theft Auto” is one of the most popular video games. Rather than boycott TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, how about some kind of regulatory commission when it comes to this kind of dreck. Computer sites can be blocked but too often parents are lax or kids can figure out how to get around the supposed safeguards. That stuff can rot your mind. Whose idea was it to equate pornography with first amendment rights? There’s quite a bit of difference between LADY CHATTERLY’S LOVER and “Debbie Does Dallas.”
4. Cell phones. People are walking into traffic talking on their cells. Every second driver I see on the road is talking on the phone. When I go to the supermarket, people are using their cells instead of a grocery list. They’re staring off into space as they talk. They bump into each other; they knock down the store displays. No, cell phones probably don’t cause cancer, but Stephen King wrote a book about them called THE CELL. It’s about a world wide plague that afflicts cell phone users, who are driven crazy by the dial tone. Stephen does not own a cell phone.
5. Rush Limbaugh and other conservative commentators. These guys aren’t journalists, yet twenty percent of Americans get their news from them. I like to watch the Doppler on rainy days. Unfortunately, the TV channel that shows the Doppler usually has a conservative blowhard talking in the background. I can feel myself getting dumber every time I watch.
6. Blogging and My Space. The Dredge report should be called the Drudge report. Who reads this stuff? Go get a journalism degree if you want to bore people with your opinions. At least you will have been taught about balancing your stories, avoiding bias and slanting. America needs to teach Lincoln Douglas debate in its high schools. Students must defend both sides of an issue, giving a presentation and defending their stand on rebuttal. In respect to My Space, shouldn’t you really have some accomplishment to brag about before you put yourself out there in front of the whole nation? Your choice in music or your fascination with Star Trek should not be enough of a reason. Your grandmother must be so proud.
7. Impatience. Americans want what they want now. Credit cards, fast foods, the newest computer, liposuction, face lifts. There’s a book called EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE by Daniel Goleman. In it he discusses an experiment called the marshmallow test. Four-year-olds were given a marshmallow; they were told they could have two if they waited for the experimenter to return from an errand before eating the first. Some ate the marshmallow almost immediately; others fought themselves for fifteen to twenty minutes, waiting for the experimenter to return. They were later tracked down as they were graduating from high school. Those children who were unable to put off gratification tended to be poor students, had a poor opinion of themselves, got in more fights, and were prone to jealousy and envy.
8. The Stearns County Syndrome. A study was done in Stearns County Minnesota in the late seventies concerning families who had no newspapers, magazines, or books in their homes. They were mostly Germans but that was probably just a coincidence. They did not do as well in school, they had lower I.Q.’s, and they were unconcerned about current events. Newspapers are in trouble because of the Internet and book readership is down. They say as many as 80% of those who read books are women. Women are crashing through the glass ceiling in hordes, getting elected to congress, and beating men in percentage of how many go to college. But there’s a proviso. Forty percent of Midwestern women read romance novels and that can’t be good.
9. Politics. Since when does a “C” average qualify a candidate for president? We had two of them running for office in 2004. Kerry’s grades were actually lower than Bush’s. Are the rest of us that average that we identify with these people and Joe the Plumber? McCain’s grades at Annapolis were not stellar. He finished near the bottom of his class. At least one of the two candidates in 2008 was an excellent student. They don’t make you president of the Law Review at Harvard unless you’ve got the goods. Despite the good grades, Obama is just as guilty of using misleading ads as McCain. Why can’t politicians just tell the truth and let voters make up their own minds? Because they don‘t trust you, that‘s why. Obama can’t run on a platform to improve black people‘s lives because he‘s afraid he‘ll offend whites. McCain has to pretend he supports the Christian Right to get the evangelical vote.
10. Spectator sports. How can you possibly watch five football games in a row on New Year’s Day without losing billions of brain cells? I’m a sports fan myself, but I have trouble these days making it through one game. I tend to check the scores periodically and read about it in the paper the next morning. Do a Crossword puzzle. They’re said to help open up new pathways in the brain. Besides, how can you stand to watch Terry Bradshaw and his buddies talk at each other?