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.


First – I thought this was worth a chuckle: the anonymous sex blogger, who became famous under the pen name Belle Du Jour, recently outed herself. She’s a scientist from Bristol who started working as a high priced prostitute in order to pay for her education. From The Guardian:

[Dr. Brooke] Magnanti, a respected specialist in developmental neurotoxicology and cancer epidemiology in a hospital research group in Bristol, has spoken of the time six years ago she worked as a £300 an hour prostitute working through a London escort agency. Magnanti turned to the agency in the final stages of her PhD thesis when she ran out of money.

Yeah, so, keep that one in mind while trying to figure out how to finance the old masters, right?

Second – a discouraging piece about the sickening world of student loans. Also from The Guardian, they report that almost 2 million pounds in bonuses were given out by the Student Loans Company. Now, had it been simply a question of dubious proportionality in compensation for a job well done, that would be one thing. But it’s so much more:

Ministers ordered an inquiry after almost 150,000 students who had applications approved were left without funding at the start of the new academic term.

This year was the first time freshers applied directly to the SLC for grants and loans, and the new arrangement has been beset by problems as the agency struggled to cope with demand.

Liberal Democrat universities spokesman Stephen Williams said: “It is absolutely outrageous that the Student Loans Company, which has acted so incompetently this year, has been paying out these massive bonuses.

“While students have been left struggling to make ends meet, the company’s top executives have been enjoying five-figure bonuses.

“Some of these pay-outs are more than many people earn in a year. Rewarding failure in this way is totally unacceptable.” [emphasis mine]

Just another example of a business that should not be in private hands. A fair distribution of funds (but ideally free higher education) truly for students’ benefit and not for profit, is the only way to go. Anything else is a disgrace, and this shows why.