by Angelo M. Codevilla
The 2020 elections will afford us the chance to pass judgment on the immediate threat to our democracy posed by the intelligence agencies, the Democratic party, and the media in their grab for power through a bastardized impeachment process. But no such opportunity exists for us to deal with the most serious, most fundamental threat to our way of life, namely our thoroughly rotten educational establishment.
The problem has been festering for decades, and keeps getting worse.
During Word War II, only 4 percent of some 18 million draftees were illiterate. Despite (or because?) of massive expenditures on education over the subsequent two decades, 27 percent of the Vietnam war’s draftees were judged functionally illiterate. Between 1955 and 1991, the inflation-adjusted average K-12 per-pupil expenditure in America rose 350 percent. In 1972, 2,817 students scored 750 or better on each half of the SAT. By 1994, only 1,438 made this score though the test had been made easier. Today, U.S. 15 year olds rank 24th out of 71 countries in science, and 38th in math. In 2018, college students spent less than a third of the time their grandparents did studying for their classes.
But as the bell-curve of intellectual achievement continues to shift leftward, the bell curve of school grades continues to shift rightward. Increasingly, the default grade in America is “A.” Among all classes and races, some seventy percent of U.S students report having cheated on exams or papers. No one should be surprised at the American people’s increasing incompetence and inability to follow directions—never mind arguments.
This past week, the noise from Washington drowned out three items of news that remind us of how corrupt and dumbed-down American education has become, how far into society the rot has spread and how much it would take to remedy it.
Harvard University hailed Judge Allison D. Burroughs’s decision that it had not really, really, discriminated against Asian applicants. The judge did not think it discriminatory that Harvard invited applications from Asian males only if they scored above 1380 out of 1400 on the PSAT, to Asian females only if they got over 1350, to white males only if over 1310, and admitted black students who were barely above the national average of 1000. Nearly all other American institutions of higher education do similar things. For the Supreme Court to try undoing the bitter legacy of a half century’s “affirmative action” it would have to re-establish the authority of the dictionary.
But the universities’ hypocritical racial discrimination is only one of the factors that has subtracted from what had been their great credit with the American people. The other, arguably more important, is that increasingly they impart less and less knowledge. Human beings gain knowledge only by lots of hard work. But our colleges require ever less work, which they reward with higher grades. Already in the 1990s, the average Stanford undergraduate GPA was 3.8 out of 4. What would it take for students to work harder, to learn more, to make their college years useful?
The last two weeks’ spectacle of students – even children – screaming that the Earth’s fiery end is upon us in a decade unless we banish fossil fuels results directly from educators encouraging, if not requiring, students to indulge in a political campaign that masquerades as science. Again, the students are following the establishment’s incentives. Never mind that virtually the same slogans have been chanted for several decades and that no consequences have ensued. Say in class that the sun is the paramount influence on our climate, and that its energy is variable, expect a bad grade. What would it take for the educational establishment to prioritize the facts of physics and chemistry over their own fancies?
More and more, it seems, establishment educators are going in the opposite direction. The Seattle public schools published a “K-12 Math Ethnic Studies Framework,” yet another step in a nationwide, decades-long, Progressive effort to dumb down the teaching of math. The program aims to “identify how math has been and continues to be used to oppress and marginalize people and communities of color,” “create counter narratives about the origins of mathematical knowledge,” “demonstrate mathematical literacy by applying concepts to real world problems through dialogue and story telling,” “redefine mathematical learning through cooperative learning, engagement, advocacy, and action,” “redefine mathematical learning through cooperative learning, engagement, advocacy, and action,” and “explain how math dictates economic oppression.” While students are learning such things, they cannot be learning how to do basic algebra, never mind to derive solutions to problems of integral calculus.
Because the educational establishment has prospered while ruining the country, convincing them to change their ways is impossible. The only way for Americans to avoid being pulled down in a vortex of self-indulgent ignorance is to cut loose from that establishment: to stop funding it, and to create another, honest one. This, if at all possible, will require far more of us than weathering the latest impeachment gambit.
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Angelo M. Codevilla is a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute, professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University and the author of To Make And Keep Peace (Hoover Institution Press, 2014).