We hear a lot of talk during these debates about restoring America’s rightful place in the world. We hear about job creation, tax reform and deficit reduction as a means toward getting us back to the pinnacle that we so rightly deserve. It’s as if by means of “American Exceptionalism” or by something inherent in our DNA that we are destined to greatness. George W. Bush referred to it as our “divine right”.
This self serving sense of entitlement misses the salient point that this country did not become what it is today by means of some inherent molecule or divine intervention. We are who we are because we worked hard and fought for it every step of the way. We are in decline right now because we stopped doing the things that made us great. And if we want to reverse our present course the key is education.
We Americans are woefully lacking in our knowledge of the world in which we live. And that lack of knowledge and interest has played a major role in our decline. Our ignorance has fostered this naïve belief that we have all the answers. We believe that every country in the world is somehow inferior; and that all of them strive to be just like us. This way of thinking is wrong headed and it has led us to where we are today.
We still look upon ourselves as the new frontier when in fact we are an old country. Many of the countries that we compete with today were formed after WWII. Most Americans are oblivious to the intricacies of the world and how it affects their daily lives. It is not until a plane crashes into a building that we look up from our smart phone and wonder what went wrong. Even the tragedy of 911 failed to shake most of us out of our insular views.
If America wants to be great again then we have to start with education. We have to do a better job of introducing our children to the world. It is no longer sufficient to focus their attention on US history. We must open their eyes to world events and their minds to the possibilities that all those events bring to the table.
The United States spends more per capita on education than any other country in the world and gets less in return for our investment. According to the 2011 rankings published by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development; on a scale of 1-1,000 US children received scores of 487 in math, 500 in reading and 502 in science. That places US children 14th out of 34 countries in reading skills, 17th in science and a below average 25th in math. These are embarrassing numbers for a country that claims to be a world leader. Yet many of elected our leaders want to cut our education budget as a deficit reduction measure. We are raising kids that are unprepared to meet the challenges of today’s world. We need to do more not less. And we need to do it more effectively.
We can talk about “American Exceptionalism” and “divine right” all we want. But any effort to return this country to greatness must begin with the education of our children. They will be the leaders of tomorrow. They will cast the votes that determine the course the country will take.
We need to do a better job of preparing them. And we need to do it now.
Perhaps we are a bit harsh in our analysis. But as we listen to the superficial discussions about our politics and we watch as people formulate their opinions based solely on sound bites and nonsensical attack ads; we are horrified by the direction in which we are headed. The lack of any thoughtful analysis by the public has led us into two unnecessary wars and an economic climate that threatens our very livelihood. But even with the disastrous financial burden that the country is experiencing there seems to be a lack interest as to how we got there or how we claw our way out. People are angry. And anyone who can tap into that anger, no matter how flawed or shortsighted their solutions may be, has a pretty good chance of gaining power and influence.
This is not a course that we can continue to follow if we want avoid our previous mistakes and restore our way of life. But the only way to alter that course is through education.