It’s no news that the U.S. has been falling behind many other countries in terms of academic performance. What was interesting about this article in the New York Times however was the brief, and not very fleshed out, assertion that it’s not entirely because of the school system, but our culture in general.

From the NYT:

The blame for America’s sagging academic achievement does not lie solely with public schools, Mr. Butt said, but also with dysfunctional families and a culture that undervalues education. “Schools are inheriting an overentertained, distracted student,” he said.

Senator Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who leads the Senate Committee, picked up on that comment. “Overentertained and distracted — that’s right,” Mr. Harkin said. “The problem lies with many kids before they get to school, and if we don’t crack that nut, we’re going to continue to patch and fill.”

Hmmm, really, the U.S. doesn’t value education? I couldn’t have figured that one out when we twice elected a President who people “wanted to have a beer with” but who could barely put together a grammatically correct sentence on his own. And Sarah Palin is ripe to take his place as friendly idiot in chief.

This also reminds me of a recent book by Susan Jacoby, The Age of American Unreason, examining the anti-intellectualism, and anti-intelligent streak in American culture.

Here is the interview she did with Bill Moyers.

She makes a lot of interesting points and I particularly like how she places part of the blame at the feet of the media for their false treatment of different arguments as equally valid, when sometimes they are not:

And I think– if I may inveigh against myself, ourselves, I think the American media in particular has a lot to do with it. Because one of the things that really has gotten dumber about our culture the media constantly talks about truth as if it– if it were always equidistant from two points. In other words, sometimes the truth is one-sided.

I mentioned this in THE AGE OF AMERICAN UNREASON that after the 9/11 terrorist attacks there was a huge cover story in TIME Magazine in 2002 about the rapture and end of the world scenarios. There wasn’t a singular secular person quoted in it. They discussed the rapture scenario from the book of Revelation as though it was a perfectly reasonable thing for people to believe. On the one hand, these people don’t believe it. On the other it’s exactly like saying– you know, “Two plus– two plus two, so-and-so says, ‘two plus two equals five.’ But, of course, mathematicians say that it really equals four.” The mathematicians are right. The people who say that two plus two equals five are wrong. The media blurs that constantly.

BILL MOYERS: You call that a kind of dumb objectivity.

SUSAN JACOBY: Yes. Dumb objectivity. Exactly.

We have to start raising the bar.