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The dumbing down of America

In his best selling book, “The World is Flat,” Tom Friedman shows us how, through technology and education, many other countries are making progress in their goal of catching up with the United States. And we seem bent on meeting them halfway by dumbing down America. Everywhere you look, you see evidence of this trend.While we are graduating just 70,000 scientists and engineers each year, China is graduating 300,000. In this country, students are shunning these fields of study, because they require “too much work,” while in India, hundreds of thousands of students are clamoring to get into the Indian Institutes of Technology, which provide what is possibly the most rigorous engineering education in the world. We are in a race with these countries to maintain our competitive position, but are becoming too fat and too lazy, both physically and mentally, to hold our own in the changing world economy.A trend of downgrading the importance of education has been growing in this country for several decades. It is exemplified by the bumper sticker which proudly states, “My kid can beat up your honor student,” and is confirmed by the dismal high school drop-out rate of 30 percent. With manufacturing jobs – which enabled those without a high school diploma to earn a middle class income – steadily shrinking, high school drop-outs will find themselves at the bottom of the job market, competing with you know whom. We also refer to anyone who has developed skills in mathematics and technology as a “geek,” a term with a negative connotation.Also disturbing is the epidemic adulation and obscene salaries of sports figures on the one hand, and the low regard and compensation for the teaching profession on the other. Our future as a country will not be determined by who can do what with a ball; it is totally dependent on how we develop our most valuable resource – the minds of our children. The rapidly escalating cost of a college education is making it unaffordable for too many of our young people. Instead of cutting funds for student loans and raising interest rates on those loans, we should be subsidizing the college education of everyone who has the intellect and the desire for higher education.This anti-intellectual attitude extends right up to the present occupant of the White House, who points to himself with pride as an example that even a C-student can get to be president. Yeah, and look at what we got. In a race between a “good ol’ boy” and a highly intelligent well-educated candidate, the American voters seem to go along with the former and be distrustful of the latter. So we end up with the quality of government we deserve.Another disturbing trend in this country is the increasing influence of fundamentalist beliefs. In a world of exploding scientific discoveries, it is appalling that close to half of Americans choose to believe 2,000-year-old myths about the origins of the universe, the geological history of the earth, and the development of the life forms which inhabit it, and reject the scientific knowledge which the world has accumulated over the past millennium. I know of no other technologically advanced country which shares in this anomaly.I close by quoting an insightful letter to the editor from (The Rev.) Jimmy Shelbourn of Beatrice, Neb., which appeared in Time magazine:”Why are Americans losing ground to countries like China, South Korea and India in science and technology? Duh! We have a scientifically illiterate President, megachurches that insist that creation is 6,000 years old and an anti-intellectual climate that casts anyone of intelligence as … suspect … Falling behind in science? We are falling behind in intelligence!”Glenwood Springs resident Hal Sundin’s column runs every other Thursday in the Post Independent.


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