The State of Education in America

It seems that there was more going on this past Fourth of July than one nutty American Tory wearing a London T-shirt.  I’ve read the results of a poll taken that day of celebrants of all ages, races and genders: 26% of them did not know whom we were fighting in 1776.  Some guessed Mexico.  One guessed China! In addition, nearly 50% of those polled could not name the general who led the Continental Army in the Revolution.  One strange person thought it was Winston Churchill.  (Find this poll at
Now, I don’t really put a whole lot of stock in polls.  The results can be skewed depending on the results desired.  But having had many frustrating conversations with appallingly ignorant people over the years, I’m afraid I believe this poll is near the truth.  I used to hope that the idiots interviewed for  “Jay Walk” on the Tonight Show were aberrations.  But I’m afraid they are more representative of America than one would like to believe.  Most Americans today are so poorly educated, I don’t know how we manage to function as a nation anymore.
It doesn’t seem to matter how much education a person has on paper.  My husband once had quite a time convincing a man who has a masters degree that Great Britain is part of the United Kingdom.  He had to use a map, a globe, and an on-line dictionary to get the guy to understand.  He once watched three FBI agents examine evidence taken from a suspected terrorist; they were studying a suspicious poster the girl had put in her luggage. Rich wondered what clues or codes they were looking for on it, so he stuck around to watch.  Pictured on the poster were Stalin, Lenin, Mao, and Che.  After spending a good ten minutes studying this important piece of evidence, one of the FBI agents said: “I think this one is Stalin.  I don’t know who the other guys are.”  I know a young man who is just about to graduate from college.  He not only could not name the date of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, or even the year–he was not even certain of the correct century! He has a good job all lined up for when he graduates–with the government!  I once tried, and failed, to convince another young man that the classical pianist he was listening to on his computer was not, in fact, Beethoven himself playing his own work.
Even more frightening is the attitude people take concerning their own ignorance.  They act as if it is unreasonable of anyone to expect them to know such trivia.  After all, they could always look such information up on-line if they really needed to know it.  And it’s true, they could, and they do.  And then they promptly forget the facts they gleaned as soon as they’ve made use of them.  And why not?  They could always google the information again if they needed to.  And yet, I’ll be willing to bet that these same people, who cannot list their own sitting congressmen,  could rattle off the names of “American Idol” winners without straining a bit.
They cannot seem to understand that a basic, working knowledge of history, science, math, and literature are essential to understanding our world today.  They are content to let the elite few who actually enjoy knowing things run the country and leave them free to enjoy. . . . whatever it is that they enjoy.  I can’t really guess what that might be.
But, however much this lack of factual knowledge makes one want to dig one’s hands into one’s hair and pull hard, it is not the most worrisome aspect of our dismal educational deficit in America.  Americans today do not know how to THINK.  They cannot think out a problem logically.  They cannot pursue a line of reasoning to its probable outcome.  They cannot construct a valid syllogism, or even understand what a syllogism is.  They cannot write well enough to make themselves understood. Americans today think with their emotions almost exclusively.  Read the comments on any online news item, or listen to people on talk radio or TV interview shows.  They will tell you what they feel, or they will react emotionally.  But they cannot respond with intelligent thought.  And so, here is my point: Americans are not being taught logic in schools anymore, and haven’t been for at least half a century. This has led the downward spiral in all education generally.  After all, only reasonable people can understand the importance of knowledge.
But there is hope, and I have seen it.  I have seen groups of young adults engaging in intelligent conversation, pursuing real knowledge, and enjoying such intellectual pursuits as reading, visiting museums,  going to symphonies, and browsing through book stores.  These young people can write well, crafting sentences and paragraphs with both proper grammar and proper reasoning skills.   Most of these young people were homeschooled.  Those who were not had parents who were passionately involved in their educations.  The antidote to poor education in America is parents taking responsibility for their own children’s upbringing.  It means sacrifice and lots of hard work.  It sometimes means organizing tutorials and volunteering one’s time to help one another.  It sometimes means throwing out all available curricula and writing one’s own.  But the end results are worth it: well-educated young people able to function intelligently in today’s world.


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4 responses to “The State of Education in America

  1. John Dillinger


    I believe that I am mentioned in your essay here at some point, in which case if you mean to apply all of the following statements to me as well then your essay is overgeneralized. I have no idea who is or has been on American Idol, for instance. No, I have no idea when the Declaration of Independence was signed..or who signed it, or who is on Congress…but I can do math, literature, understand science and think through things logically or I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. I mostly completely disregard history. That being said, I don’t really consider myself to be in the group you’re talking about.

    The majority of society however, does encompass most of those things. So, after removing myself from the mass of the accused, I can now agree with the writing. There are several people who cannot locate major land masses on a globe..such as the United States, Asia or South America. And that’s becoming more common. In fact, as a young person in this generation..I can share the insider knowledge of that in some instances, it’s even considered “cool” to be uneducated. If you know all the answers, you must be a nerd and thus not cool. It’s cool to be a total tard. Mainstream society is mostly that of an inflated ego with a lack of understanding..because they are all about themselves. Which I think brings us to the source of the problem:

    My generation is the first really “global” generation. The entire world is literally at our fingertips in several ways, which is a great thing by itself. However, mixed with what has come with it and the way media has directed people along with it…we simply use it to get our 5 seconds of fame in the morning when we change our Facebook or Twitter status. We meet people all around the world and lose sight of a local community and even the importance of family. I personally don’t hold much value at all for family or community(local)…but I hold to an international one and admittedly I hold mostly to myself. Luckily, I have insight enough to see that about myself and thus combat it to a certain extent. Most people live in it and end up arrogant self-entitled cattle, being herded by those who take the time to observe. I think that is the source of the whole problem…the swing of perspective with the changes of our time. I hope it will not continue into the next generation, I hope that my generation will be the only one that is this severe in this…but I do have a fear that it will most certainly not be.


    • Dear J.D.,

      Thank you for not being offended by my using you as an example. You know I love you! I just wish you’d study your history a bit more. You are too intelligent to neglect such an important aspect of your education. You make a number of good points, including a few I had intended to make myself but could not work in. So, thank you for filling in gaps for me. I would like to emphasize, however, that I was not specifically referring to people of your generation. People of my generation are just as ignorant and it was just as nerdy and uncool to be educated when I was in high school a million years ago. Two of the examples I cited were of middle-aged men or older. It’s an epidemic that cuts across all ages, genders, races and economic levels. And, yes, I agree that the media is greatly responsible for it.


  2. M, my absolute favorite quote in this post (which is hard to choose because the whole thing is full of statements that make me say “yes! yes!” out loud while I read it!) – but my favorite: “But having had many frustrating conversations with appallingly ignorant people over the years, I’m afraid I believe this poll is near the truth.” Yes, appallingly ignorant…but, at the same time, they think they are super intelligent. I find this all the time and it’s exactly what you said, its based on emotions and responding to things with feelings rather than intellect. Ahhhh, I really like your blog.


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