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Dumbing Down America August 25, 2010

At a time when the US Economy, employment, the housing market and health care are on the ropes and fading fast, there is one area where the good old US of A is excelling beyond all expectations – dumbed-down education!

Once the world leader in the percentage of young people with college degrees, the USA has fallen to 12th among 36 developed nations. In the key group of 25- to 34-year-olds with a college degree, the US ranks behind Canada, South Korea, Russia, Japan, New Zealand, Ireland, Norway, Israel, France, Belgium and Australia. And as America’s aging and highly educated work force moves into retirement, the nation will rely on young Americans to maintain and increase our standing in the world.

One generation ago, the US was No. 1 in the world in college graduations. Now we’re 12th at a time when a good education is critically important to getting a decent job. We read less and less and write like barbarians. These days, a child drops out of high school every 26 seconds and it is expected that the educational level of the younger generation of Americans will not approach their parents’ level of education.

In the 1950s, prior to the onset of one education “reform” initiative after another, America’s literacy rate was at an all-time high, and it’s interesting to note that, with rare exception, we early baby-boomers were not taught to read until first grade. Typically, our mothers made no effort whatsoever to teach us any literacy skills during our preschool years. Yet today’s parents are convinced, in the face of a growing amount of evidence to the contrary, that where reading and computers are concerned, earlier is better.

Unequivocal research indicates that television watching during the preschool years greatly increases the likelihood of attention problems, yet it is a rare preschool program that doesn’t have children watching the tube for 30 minutes or more a day. There is also a strong link between preschool computer time and later learning difficulties. Studies have found that screen time of any sort during preschool years actually changes the way the brain develops. And the research is clear that teaching reading before the age of 6 greatly increases the possibility of later learning problems and underachievement. (In my next blog, I’ll deal with this item – Author)

So, if we set out with education reform to dumb down America, we may have succeeded beyond our wildest expectations! But wait! Perhaps the nadir is still to come – the Institute for Justice, an organization that champions school choice, recently posted a revealing news report where a father commented that his daughter learned the alphabet, and only the alphabet, during her entire first-grade year in a local public school. To make matters worse, the teacher did not get all the way through the alphabet. The school year ended before they got beyond “W”! (No Shrub Jokes Please!)