Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Formation of Elite Public Schools

Recent polls show that one in four Americans can name all five animated Simpson family members and more than half of all Americans can name at least two Simpsons, while fewer than one in 1,000 can name all five Freedoms enumerated in the First Amendment. Only one in four Americans can name more than one of the five Freedoms (usually Freedom of Speech). One in five Americans thought that the right to own a pet was protected, and 38% thought that the right against self-incrimination (commonly known as “Taking the Fifth”) was part of the First Amendment (That’s like answering “What color was General Washington’s white horse?” incorrectly!) Only 20% of Americans know how many Senators there are, only 25% know how long the term of a Senator is, and only 40% can name the three branches of government. Fewer than half of all Americans know who dropped the first nuclear weapon in war. Only 35% know that Congress can override a Presidential veto. Half of the people believe the President can suspend the Constitution, and 60% believe he can appoint judges to the federal courts without Senate approval.

In a recent simple test of general knowledge, only 5% of Americans could answer three-fourths of the questions on economics, 11% on the questions of domestic issues, 14% on foreign affairs, and only 10% on questions of geography.

In addition, one in five Americans believe that the Sun revolves around the Earth, one in four believe in astrology, 27% believe in reincarnation and are convinced they were once another person, 28% believe in witches, 40% believe in ghosts, one-third believe in UFOs, 2% of women and 6% of men believe in vampires (that’s about 12 million people!)

The county is in a major discriminatory mode against high quality education. Karl Rove, the voice of the Republican party, criticizes Barack Obama as an elitist, presumably becuase Obama is a Harvard law grad. This negative thinking has percolated through the entire country over the recent past. My favorite statistic, which depresses the hell out of me, is that 46% of our citizens do not understand the concept of evolution sufficiently to properly evalute its role in our very being. Without trying to appear uppity, lack of an understanding of evolution means, quite simply, that such a person can never attain any type of scientific expertise sufficient to function in modern society. The fallout from this ignorance is horrific. The United States faces a crisis in public education at the present. Recent information suggests that public education has stagnated for the last thirty years and is failing to develop sufficient quantities of highly, or perhaps better put, sufficiently educated youngsters to allow the United States to compete in the international scene against other countries that have promoted education and learning as major goals. Perhaps the best example is the influx of foreign doctors into our society. The opportunity for bright American kids to become doctors has been so severely limited that we import sufficient talent to maintaining a somewhat questionable level of medical care. The same mechanism is applicable throughout the American economy although less visible than with medicine. Note that my issue here is not education for all, but education for those within the system that demonstrate particular enthusiasm and talent and brains for advanced work. There is merit in developing an educational system that allows those at the bottom of the educable ladder to obtain a good education, but it is important to state that there is nothing more damaging that providing mediocre, standardized learning opportunities to truly gifted kids who fall by the wayside as a result of the sheer boredom of their schooling experience.

There is a high school in the inner city of Detroit which has churned out leading artists, entertainers and young scientists for decades with nary a thought that government is being discriminatory against individuals or groups of individuals by providing a few select students a high class, quality education. That school is Cass Technical High School. Cass Tech serves as an excellent example of how and why this should be done. Kids that have the aptitude should be pushed to their limits in terms of education. They should not be kept in regular classrooms where the lowest common denominator-type thinking applies. It does a bright kid absolutely no good to sit through an educational experience where the only measure of success is whether or not 70% of the class can pass a remedial math quiz or read at an eighth grade level. Education in America has become only average. The major league baseball team that performs at the average level of the league finishes the season, by definition, in the middle of the pack. We need to establish specific schools, not just individual classes, which attract and support high performing kids to regain our status as the world's leader in innovation. We are on our way to becoming a second class society if we fail to do so.

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