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The Dumbing Down of America

379693 17: Teacher Tina Cheuk of “Knowledge is Power Program” (KIPP) Academy takes questions from her class October 4, 2000 in The Bronx, New York. The Knowledge Is Power Program educates 200 middle-school students, mostly poor black and Latino neighborhood children, housed in a hallway on the fourth floor of a regular Bronx public schooI. Because of strict discipline where each student gets two hours of homework a night and a regular school day runs nine-and-a-half-hours, including Saturdays and throughout the summer, test scores are the highest in the Bronx. Governor George Bush of Texas, where another KIPP school is run, singled out KIPP for praise during his presidential debate against Vice President Al Gore. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Newsmakers)

I think we’ve all seen late night talk show hosts do the “man on the street” segments asking passersby about current events and laughing at how out of touch some people are about daily life. I’m not sure life as we know it would end if someone can’t recognize the speaker of the house of representative or any of the Supreme Court justices but it seems to me that our educational system in the US keeps lowering the bar rather than raising it.

How Dumb Are You?

In the movie, “Smokey and the Bandit” Burt Reynolds and Sally Field are discussing famous people. Neither recognizes the famous people mentioned by the other. So Burt Reynolds finally says, “When you tell somebody something it depends on which part of the United States you are standing in as to how dumb you are.”

What that means is that where you grew up your local culture has a great deal to do with how you approach education. Things that people are exposed to in urban areas are not the same things people are exposed to in rural areas.

The Education Industry

What do kids really need to know to succeed in today’s society? When I was in school all you needed for success was the ability to read, write, add, subtract, multiply, and divide. Today’s students who don’t possess even rudimentary familiarity with computers would be lost in today’s job market.

I’ve lost count of the number of movies I’ve seen about a teacher in some failing school with failing students who has accomplished miracles in the classroom. (See photo above) Yet this type of teaching never seems to find it’s way into the educational system. We fail to take the best of what works and use that knowledge to improve education.


I was lucky enough to grow up in a family that worked at home. We had a floral and landscaping business that was right across the driveway from our house. My mother used to drive me crazy all summer long asking me every day, “What’s 9×8?” or “Who was the 9th President?” “What’s the capital of Vermont?” I’m not sure I can still name all the state capitals but I sure could back then.

My parents knew something many parents today don’t know. A large part of education takes place at home. It’s the interaction of the family unit and that is sadly lacking in today’s society.

Case in point, watch the YouTube about the ixi-play Owl. This remarkable toy is a mini-robot that keeps your kid occupied so you can have some piece and quiet after a hard days work. In other words it’s a toy that allows you to shirk your responsibilities as a parent. As cool as this toy is I doubt it will replace the one-on-one most kids want with mom and dad.

Some Final Thoughts

Everyone says they want the best for their kids and many parents sacrifice a lot to give their children the best opportunities they possibly can. Others dump 100% of the learning process on the teacher and the educational system and that’s a big part of our problem.

Education isn’t about high speed computers or test scores. Education is teaching people how to learn. How to find the information they need and what to do with it once they find it. Problem solving. Knowing who’s buried in Grant’s tomb is not as important as who Grant was, what Grant did, and how that affects you today.

Abraham Lincoln taught himself trigonometry. He’s the only president that holds a patent. Over time, education has become less about education and more about numbers and money. What did you learn today?

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