2012-05-10 / Sam Bari

We’re annoying the elephant in the room

BY SAM BARI

This column will probably get me crucified in some circles. The “elephant in the room” that I’m talking about represents the subject of the American educational system.

The brutal truth is, we are falling behind the rest of the world at an alarming pace, and everybody is too worried about being politically correct to discuss the realities of the problem.

According to test results from the Program for International Student Assessment, 16-year-old students in the United States are about average in reading and science, and below average in math. Out of 34 countries, the United States ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in math. That is abysmal. Our students can perform much better if our educational programs were designed to encourage, challenge and reward the more capable.

When Thomas Jefferson wrote the opening of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, he said: “We hold these truths to be selfevident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”

The phrase “all men are created equal” was a rebuttal to the Divine Right of Kings, an accepted political theory of the day. It asserted that a monarch was subject to no earthly authority, deriving his right to rule directly from the will of God.

Jefferson meant that all people are born with equal rights. By no stretch of anyone’s imagination did he mean that everyone is born with the same intelligence, capabilities and talents.

Someone in our bureaucratic, mind-bending, obsessed with political correctness, policy-making federal management machine, twisted the phrase to mean that we all deserved to be recognized as equally capable. Therefore, everybody should be able to earn the same credentials so they are eligible for equal opportunities whether or not they are qualified.

We are not all created equal. Some people are born smarter or more talented than others. And the best deserve to reap the rewards of developing their talents.

The gap between the highest performing countries and the United States is dramatic. Students in Shanghai had an average score of 556 points in reading, 56 points higher than the 500-point average reached by U.S. students. Shanghai students also posted the highest score in math, with an average of 600 points, 113 points higher than the 487 point U.S. average.

Our students were outperformed by South Korea, Finland, Hong Kong and Shanghai in China, Singapore, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and Australia. Of 34 Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development members, only eight have a lower high school graduation rate than the United States.

The PISA report noted that the gross domestic product per capita in Shanghai and South Korea, both top performers, is well below the OECD average. In simple terms, that means that low national income does not necessarily signify poor educational performance. When compared to the standard of living in the United States, the people in those countries are living at poverty level.

Those statistics defeat the theory that students from low-income households are at a distinct disadvantage when compared to students from a more affluent environment.

Using low-income backgrounds as an excuse to lower the education standards for everything from high school graduation to college entrance qualifications has done nothing but make the average U.S. college degree worthless in the eyes of the world.

Only a handful of American institutions of higher learning are producing graduates that can compete on a global level. The average state and junior colleges are insults to the idea of higher education.

Our present system is designed to assure that every student putting in the time will graduate with a diploma. That thinking has resulted in students graduating from colleges with worthless diplomas and huge debt loads from student loans.

U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan said: “We live in a globally competitive knowledge-based economy, and our children today are at a competitive disadvantage with children from other countries. That is absolutely unfair to our children and that puts our country’s long term economic prosperity absolutely at risk.”

This means that we have to elevate our standards if we want to be competitive with the rest of the world. We are coddling the less capable at the expense of the gifted. The smart kids are being neglected. They need to be challenged and recognized for their efforts when they excel.

We live in a society where everybody is rewarded, no matter how poorly they perform. That has to stop.

Raise the standard and everybody has higher goals to attain.

We are losing economically because we aren’t developing our best talent to compete in a global economy. That is inexcusable. Our educational system needs massive reform.

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