Monday, February 18, 2008

Two reasons Americans are just dumb

The NYT has a review of another new book by some smart person who wrote a book about the lack of interest in knowledge of many Americans. It sounds like an interesting book, but I've read enough similar books in the past that I don't know that I'm going to read this one.

I have a couple of comments about the book in a minute, but first I'll point out that the reviewer is a pretentious twit who writes sentences such as
Then there is Lee Siegel’s Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob which inveighs against the Internet for encouraging solipsism, debased discourse and arrant commercialization.

Anybody that uses big words must be smart.

But the author of The Age of American Unreason doesn't seem to write that way, at least in the quotes in the interview she doesn't talk that way.

The book seems to lay the blame for Stupid Americans at the feet of religion and our educational systems.

I tend to agree but I think that religion isn't really a root cause. I think if we had a good educational system that the kind of ignorant religious fundementalsim that we have in America could not flourish.

Our educational system, both in K-12 and college programs, has taken the position that education equals certification and that everybody has the right to be certified. We've decided that it's morally wrong to deny someone a degree.

I think we reached that spot by putting too many mushy headed pretentious twits in charge of the system. They confused correlation with causation, probably because they were so busy learning big words that they never learned fundemental concepts. Of course, now educated people don't even have to learn big words, although it helps.

People with degrees, high school degrees, college degrees, graduate degrees, made more money than those without. So the solution our politicos and educational gurus came up with to solve our social and economic problems was to make sure everybody got a degree. But in order to accomplish that they had to structure it so that no one gets an education.

I've mentioned before that I quit school when I was 14. That was legal in 1963. It required parental permission at 14, but the school system didn't really see any reason to force a 14 year old who didn't want to go to school to go. Now we do. We have laws that require it. A 14 year old who doesn't go to school ends up in the juvenile system and parents that allow it end up charged with some kind of criminal neglect. Because every body needs a high school degree. We have to mandate it.

So our middle schools and high schools become baby sitting operations rather than educational institutions. We fill them up with kids who don't want to be there, who aren't going to learn if you hit them in the head with a 2x4.

I promise you that I wouldn't have learned a damn thing in school if I'd been required to attend instead of allowed to quit at 14. But I was not stupid, it only took me a few months inside the working world of 14 year olds to discover that school might not be such a bad idea after all - that an education might not be a bad idea after all.

One of the experiences that taught me the value of an education was a craps game I got invovled in with some cowboys at a Resort Ranch in Wimberley, Texas that I worked at. These cowboys, most of whom had a 6th grade or 8th grade education simply did not have the skills to figure out simple odds on a bet about dice. I'd always been interested in puzzles and simple mathematical games, even if I didn't pay attention in school, and it game me a huge edge in that craps game (there was no house, all bets were negotiated between the players). There's a tendency for people to want to make even money bets even when the odds are highly skewed.

So I did return to school and did finish high school and went to college and got a degree and went to graduate school and got graduate degrees. But I'm not sure any of that would have happened if they'd have tried to make me stay in school when I was 14.

Everybody suffers when you fill up the schools with people who don't want to learn.

I have more I want to say about out educational systems, about college admissions, and degree programs, and graduate programs, but this post has gotten long enough so I'll stop for now.

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