Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Dumbing America Down

There’s more to it than education, but the future earnings of Americans depends in good part on what they know and how well they can apply their knowledge.

If so, the news is not good for America. In the latest round of standardized tests given in developed countries [not including China or India], young Americans are falling behind their counterparts. It’s lucky that they have high self-esteem because otherwise they would be alarmed. The less you know, especially in numeracy and technology the less you will earn in the future.

The New York Post commented:

As the American economy sputters along and many people live paycheck-to-paycheck, economists say a highly-skilled workforce is key to economic recovery. The median hourly wage of workers scoring on the highest level in literacy on the test is more than 60 percent higher than for workers scoring at the lowest level, and those with low literacy skills were more than twice as likely to be unemployed.

“It’s not just the kids who require more and more preparation to get access to the economy, it’s more and more the adults don’t have the skills to stay in it,” said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

Joseph Fuller of the Harvard Business School explained:

We have a substantial percentage of the work force that does not have the basic aptitude to continue to learn and to make the most out of new technologies. That manifests itself in lower rates of productivity growth, and it's productivity growth that drives real wage growth.

It wasn’t always this bad. When older Americans, the baby boomers, took the tests they outperformed most of their peers. Unfortunately, the boomer generation did not communicate its values or its wisdom to its children.

The results show a marked drop in competitiveness of U.S. workers of younger generations vis a vis their peers. U.S. workers aged 45 to 65 outperformed the international average on the literacy scale against others their age, but workers aged 16 to 34 trail the average of their global counterparts. On the numeracy exam, only the oldest cohort of baby boomers, ages 55 to 65, matched the international average, while everyone younger lagged behind their peers—in some cases by significant margins.

And also:

The results show that the U.S. has lost the edge it held over the rest of the industrial world over the course of baby boomers' work lives, said Joseph Fuller, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School who studies competitiveness. "We had a lead and we blew it," he said, adding that the generation of workers who have fallen behind their peers would have a difficult time catching up.

True, America has a larger minority population and more immigrants than some of the countries that did well on the test. Yet, countries like Spain and Italy scored below America and they do not apparently have the same diversity.

Interestingly, high school graduates in Holland and Japan easily outperformed college graduates in Spain and Italy.

On the other hand, America’s population of high-achieving Asian students must be bringing the score up.

At the risk of sounding repetitious, at the end of the 1960s America chose to run a grand social experiment. Reform of the educational system was only one part of the experiment, but it was surely an important part. By all indications, the experiment has been a failure.

If Asian-American children are largely outperforming their cohorts the reason must be that they have been largely shielded from the culture by their Tiger parents.

Unfortunately, this problem is not going to go away tomorrow. Throwing a few more dollars at it is not going to change the culture. Until parents start to care about what their children are learning and until teachers decide that they need to impose more rigorous academic standards, the situation will remain the same.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, yeah, yeah, but there's so much on TV...

Martin Seligman said the most important piece of success is self-control. Yet that's not very exciting or interesting, is it? Look to the mainstream culture... You'll find everything you need to know about what's really going on.


Dennis said...


At least those who have been dumbed down feel good about themselves and we all know how important self esteem is.