Intelligence is something that you are born with. That said, I've met some pretty dumb intelligent people. I've also met some very smart uneducated people. It is not how high a person's intelligence quotient is, but rather it is how well they are able to use the knowledge they have. This week I was shocked by a statement by Professor Judith Adler that her very intelligent "Generation Now" students were in fact poorly educated on basic geography.
"Some students would circle Africa and indicate that it's Europe, and if asked to locate England and Ireland, they would put them in Africa. I have had students that aren't able to correctly label the Atlantic Ocean, even though we are on it."
I can understand not knowing where the Susquehanna River is, but how could students miss the Atlantic Ocean? So much of our education is based on the Atlantic. Children are incorrectly taught that in 1492 Christopher Columbus crossed the Atlantic to "discover America". We have known for many decades that America was actually discovered at least four hundred years earlier by the Vikings. They sailed from northern Europe in small open boats, crossing the Atlantic to find lumber, fish in the Grand Banks and hunt in virgin forests. History records that there were numerous Viking landings in North America between 1001 A.D. and 1009 A.D. They even had several settlements, although none survived in the long term.
Charles Lindbergh was the first to make a solo flight across the Atlantic. I thought everyone was taught that in school, or saw the movie The Spirit of St.Louis on TV. Many young people flock to the Jersey Shore every year to swim the Atlantic Ocean or frolic on the beach with their first love. They also watch the TV show, The Jersey Shore. I wonder if they think that the Jersey Shore is on the Jersey Ocean?
When I went to the store yesterday, I noticed that the cashier could not do simple addition and subtraction. She could barely make change. Fortunately, the cash register told her how much to give me back. Ten years ago, when I paid cash, I seldom counted my change. Now I do it all the time. The only cashiers who are able to give correct change without assistance are the Amish children at the Farmers Market. They use pencil and paper to write down the amounts, and then they add up the figures to give me a total. These 10 and 12 year old Amish children certainly are "smarter" than most university students when it comes to simple arithmetic.
My next concern is that graduates have very little knowledge of our nation and civics. While some do not know who the President of the United States is, others cannot answer simple questions. Ask them how many members of Congress there are and they are stumped. Ask them how many senators there are, and they give you a blind stare. Ask them who their congressmen or senator is and they give you a weak "I dunno". Ask them the voting age and some can't tell you (It is 18). But they all know the drinking age! They know when they can have their Bud and their whiskey (age 21), but not when they can vote!
So what is this losing education costing us? In 2011, the discretionary education budget at the federal level was $69.9 billion. In addition there was a mandatory budget of $23.4 billion. The Pennsylvania education budget (state level) was about $12 billion. In our area, each homeowner pays a separate education tax. On a house valued at $275,000, the education tax is about $7,500. That is for one household. Clearly this money is wasted when students and graduates cannot do simple math without a calculator or answer basic questions on American history and geography.
Whether you are a parent, a teacher or a taxpayer, you know that our education system is broken. But the real impact of our poor education system is on our economy. Twenty years ago, Americans were the leaders in innovation. Now, Singapore and China have overtaken us. They have better education systems that produce engineers who can design and manufacture many of the new products we use every day.
We need to evaluate the education systems in Europe, Asia, Canada and Latin America. We need to find out what they are doing right and what we can take from them to improve our education system. Then we need to totally revamp our education system from the ground up, junior kindergarten to grade 12. All programs need to be evaluated for effectiveness and improved. Programs that fail to measure up should be revamped or canceled. School districts that are below state averages should be encouraged to improve or be merged into another district. Since there are 501 school districts in our state, there is plenty of room for consolidation. I suggest that the 501 existing school districts could be merged into 50 or 100 districts.
In the last 20 years, corporations consolidated their operations to make them lean and mean. It is time to consolidate our school districts to ensure that our students have the best education, delivered by the finest educators, in a cost effective manner. We must ensure that we are getting the best graduates. We need a continuous stream of qualified graduates who can compete in a world market. We need to task them with ensuring that America remains the best country in the world, with the best technology and manufacturing processes while ensuring high quality and cost competitiveness.
In the next ten years, I want to see American companies moving their manufacturing operations from China and India, back to America. It is time to restore American research, development and manufacturing to its former glory.
America needs to have the best workers, the best factories and schools and research centers. But most importantly we need to ensure that we have the best graduates, taught by the finest teachers in well-funded and equipped schools.
We cannot let the Chinese take away our children's futures. We must ensure our children get the finest education, from the most qualified and experienced educators. When it comes to knowledge, we must be the best in the world.
© 2013 Gordon Smith – All Rights Reserved