American educational system an embarrassment

Students from the U.S. and all over the world compete for admission to our nation’s universities and colleges, and yet our secondary school system is now ranked globally anywhere from 13th to 27th depending upon the evaluation criterion and the group doing the evaluating.

One can argue that no single evaluation system is all inclusive, but one can also successfully show that in no evaluation system currently used to comparatively evaluate global secondary education considers U.S. schools to be in the top ten.

On the contrary, U.S. secondary education is underwater and sinking like a rock. Reading scores muddle along, science scores continue to plummet and math scores are so abysmal that they are a national disgrace.

Every Thursday I teach an Intelligence class to 7th and 8th graders at Jefferson Middle School. Before class begins I converse with the homeroom teacher (and other teachers both here and in my home town) about their day to day activities and realize that the problem is not the classroom teacher, but rather the system.

The story gets worse. President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act took the national focus off thinking and processing and put all of the focus on test passing (knowing answers). In short, knowing how to think was superseded by knowing encyclopedic answers.

As a result, a 2010 study ranked the U.S. as 17th in the world for education. In my opinion, much of this is due to our system of focusing an unusually high amount of educational resources on low-performers, which negatively impacts high-performing students because they have been systematically ignored or punished for their successes.

Increasingly, school systems across the nation no longer have valedictorians or allow varsity athletes to wear varsity letters. Going a bridge beyond sanity, Newton, Massachusetts has asked for a voluntary ban on all wearing of celebratory clothing to school for fear that such items will lead “to other kids feeling excluded and reminded that they were not included in the festivities.” So if a high school team wins a state championship, the athletes are not supposed to proudly wear State Champ t-shirts to school for fear that the feelings of non-athletes will be hurt. Give me a break.

What will happen when these pampered non-achieving students enter the real competitive world? Are they going to get pushed along as usual? Not likely.

Rather, they will be trampled. They will have to compete for a college, a job, a spouse, a promotion and a nitch or notch in every corner of their pathetic little worlds. But they won’t know how to compete, and they will feel unfairly treated and the result will be a generation of irresponsible citizens who feel victimized because they did not get pushed along in spite of their incompetence and inadequacies.

By throwing away the competitive edge we have thrown away our sanity. As General Patton asserted, Americans want and need a winner. We used to be a society that valued competition, and yet today we denounce it.

Yes, winning is hard work, yet U.S. policymakers create obstacles that inhibit competition, such as schools focused on the bottom rung, economic bailouts across the business sector and “too big to fail” corporations. God forbid that anybody feel bad.

Well that’s fine, but I promise you this—as we destroy winners we create a larger and larger group of losers, and the biggest loser of all will be our nation and our collective future—or more accurately, our collective lack of a future.