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Monday, January 10, 2011

The Dumbing Down of America

I had to switch hotels here in beautiful Laughlin, Nevada. I got a hotel with running water and no internet. Geezus. This is the Tropicana Express. The biggest hotel in town. So I am writing from the Starbucks in the Aquarius Hotel...bunch of old farts in here on computers...

I got in a lively discussion with a college professor while playing poker the other night. At the end of the night I had a few of his chips and a moral victory.

Years ago, I met a guy I would call pure genius- in Kansas City. He was a hotel desk clerk. He was working three jobs to finish school, get a divorce, and fight for custody of his son. Genius it seems, is no better at judging character than "ungenius."  Without connectivity, I might not be able to tell you what he told me. This guy was a polymath. He could speak four languages, especially adept at French, and he had two doctorate degrees in math and education. It was what he told me...that fueled my moral victory on Saturday night.

In a nutshell, my genius friend told me that in America our education system is woefully fucked. He began his argument- that any government run monopoly is surely doomed to failure. That public education in the United States has no interest in putting out a quality product. It is far more interested in politics and teaching down to the least viable student. Intelligent kids, he said, should be allowed to progress as fast as possible. He said that our educational system as it exists actually discriminates against intelligent people. It holds them back. They become hostages to the least intelligent people. That made a lot of sense. Intelligent kids are bored stiff sitting in a class where they have grasped the concepts being taught and are ready to move on.

He home schooled his son. He said, back then, he believed his son would score 1500 on the SAT. His son was twelve.

In China, they discriminate the opposite way. Intelligent kids are screened early and moved quickly ahead. The heart stopping part of his argument came next. (This conversation occurred in 2000.) He stated that China, within 20 years, would have a complete intellectual monopoly on the world. Their system enhances genius and rewards it. China accepts the reality that some people are simply brighter and more capable of being taught than other children and they were exploiting that truth. They were churning out engineers, scientists, and doctors at an exponential rate. They were also exploiting a 2 billion person pool of potential genius. Nearly eight times our population.

Look what has happened since then.

In America, we focus on socialistic education. On being politically correct. We waste time trying to teach to kids that can't or won't learn various things. We teach worthless crap that students have no interest in. We focus on money and greed. We also focus on obtaining a degree to land a high paying job. Degrees that cost a lot of money and line everyone's pockets. Institutions benefit, professors benefit, banks and lenders benefit, and our students get hosed. So do those students' future clients and customers. He said that the "credentialing" of our population was the greatest scam that has ever occurred in this country. He said nobody really cares whether or not you retained any part of your education just as long as you could point to some degree on the wall. He also said that he expected internet garnered educations to explode. Again he said, that would be a failed system. It was ripe for cheating. People would do anything to advance themselves. To obtain some degree they could put on a resume'. The motive was simply money and status. We no longer really care whether you know the material you were taught just as long as some diploma or degree leads us to that assumption.

We currently have one half trillion dollars in student loan defaults- and it is climbing. We have a structural problem. No jobs for those degrees. You can't pay 200k in school loan debt making 15 bucks an hour.

I have never forgotten the ten days I spent at that hotel- talking to a genius. He had devised a system of education that worked. He was going to take it to France. He said in America, trying to change a politically driven government monopoly- was useless. So he learned French and he was hitting the road that fall when the custody battle would be complete. With his son.

They say stupidity is the inability to learn from your mistakes. Accepting that America's educational system is superior is one of those mistakes.

The professor won a few skirmish lines the other night. Particularly his points on exposing young people to different ideas and the concepts of a well rounded education. I accepted those losses. At the end of the night though, I think I won the war. I explained to the professor that we were both products of a government run monopoly and the reality that we don't know what a system like China's, or perhaps France's, is capable of achieving. Those countries focus on producing brilliant people, rather than wasting time on underachievers. Guys like us simply lack that perspective. We may be too dumb to realize the difference. After all, we went to school in America.


rawmuse said...

Anyone who has seen a young cashier who can't make change without the register reading it out (or count it backward to you as should be done) would agree.

Jay Leno, "Jaywalking" segments. They should be funny. They scare the hell out of me. Some people couldn't find their own ass with GPS.

Scary stuff.

Anonymous said...

Guvernment monopolies always lead to disaster and education is no different.

Great post my friend.