Cause or Symptom? You Decide…
One of the issues we frequently address here is the abysmal state of public education. In his May 10th column, Dr. Thomas Sowell provides us some insight into the sad state of affairs. He starts by noting (emphases added throughout this post):
One of the sad and dangerous signs of our times is how many people are enthralled by words, without bothering to look at the realities behind those words.
One of those words that many people seldom look behind is "education." But education can cover anything from courses on nuclear physics to courses on baton twirling.
Unfortunately, an increasing proportion of American education, whether in the schools or in the colleges and universities, is closer to the baton twirling end of the spectrum than toward the nuclear physics end. Even reputable colleges are increasingly teaching things that students should have learned in high school.
He then notes that it’s not that Americans are wanting the more serious, hard science classes, etc. Rather, we are a lazy people opting for the “soft” coursework with tragic consequences for both the individual and the nation.
Too many of the people coming out of even our most prestigious academic institutions graduate with neither the skills to be economically productive nor the intellectual development to make them discerning citizens and voters.
Students can graduate from some of the most prestigious institutions in the country, without ever learning anything about science, mathematics, economics or anything else that would make them either a productive contributor to the economy or an informed voter who can see through political rhetoric.
On the contrary, people with such "education" are often more susceptible to demagoguery than the population at large. Nor is this a situation peculiar to America. In countries around the world, people with degrees in soft subjects have been sources of political unrest, instability and even mass violence.
Yes, sadly, this state of affairs is not unique to our country.
Many Third World countries have turned out so many people with diplomas, but without meaningful skills, that "the educated unemployed" became a cliche among people who study such countries. This has not only become a personal problem for those individuals who have been educated, or half-educated, without acquiring any ability to fulfill their rising expectations, it has become a major economic and political problem for these countries.
Dr. Sowell’s conclusions are as ominous as they are accurate:
Such people have proven to be ideal targets for demagogues promoting polarization and strife. We in the United States are still in the early stages of that process. But you need only visit campuses where whole departments feature soft courses preaching a sense of victimhood and resentment, and see the consequences in racial and ethnic polarization on campus.
There are too many other soft courses that allow students to spend years in college without becoming educated in any real sense.
We don’t need more government "investment" to produce more of such "education." Lofty words like "investment" should not blind us to the ugly reality of political porkbarrel spending.
Which brings me back to the question with which I titled this post: is this state of affairs a cause of so many problems, or just a symptom of underlying issues that need addressing? Or, does this fit both categories? For my part, I’ll give you a hint how I would answer these questions: Neil Postman.
Your thoughts in the comments.