Saturday, May 14, 2011

We're No Longer Number One

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On “Real Time with Bill Maher,” New York Times columnist and author Adam Ross Sorkin relayed a conversation he had with an American CEO who had just hired 5,000 people, 4,000 of whom were outside of the United States. When Sorkin asked why more of the new hires weren’t Americans, assuming they were call center jobs, the CEO answered, “No, it’s because the others were smarter.”

Yesterday I wrote about the “dumbing down” of this country and blamed our lethargic populace and the media. I pointed out that those invested in the status quo are the ones who benefit from our intellectual laziness. I should have included our competitors in the global marketplace on the list of beneficiaries.

The chest-beating platitudes of drunken sports fans aside, the U.S. is no longer Number One in a number of ways. Only 36 percent of Americans think we’re a world economic leader; in a recent standardized test of math proficiency, we’re way behind Taiwan (No. 1), Hong Kong (No. 2) and Korea (No. 3), and we can’t even compete with the likes of Slovenia and the Slovak Republic. (The “Real Time” panelists blame Big Oil and its powerful lobbyists for our minuscule investment in green energy compared to other nations.)

“American children have school for only 180 days year, compared to the 195 days in Germany and 200 in East Asia. Furthermore, they only have about two to three hours of homework per night and are not pressured by society to take extra classes after school; a fact that appalls nations such as Japan and India, whose children take after-school classes regularly to help them with their studies.”

The preceding well-written paragraph came from the pretty smart journalism students at Saratoga High School in Saratoga, California.

Anita adds that teaching critical thinking skills – observation, interpretation, analysis, inference, evaluation and explanation – is much more important than demanding rote memorization of dates and formulas.

I don’t like blaming all of our academic failings on educators. I’ve had some excellent teachers and so have my kids, and the right-wing attacks on this profession are irksome and pandering. I think the aforementioned media have some responsibility, and certainly lazy, unplugged parents, and students themselves, who know why they’re in school and shouldn’t need to be coddled and cajoled to the extent that some do. Apathetic voters are part of the problem, too, as are politicians who fund unnecessary wars while schools close and crumble.

I’m thankful that I was born here and recognize the benefits of being American – but the older I get and the more I learn, the less inclined I am to beat my chest and wave the flag.

Sources: “Real Time with Bill Maher,” Saratoga Falcon, The Hill

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