One third of all American high school students leave school without being awarded a diploma. Over 3.3 million teen-agers are not even enrolled in high schools. Nearly two-thirds of Americans, aged 18 to 24, cannot find Iraq on a map; a third failed to locate Louisiana on a map after Hurricane Katrina.
According to a number of relevant criteria, our students lag far behind those of other developed countries. In testing sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the average math score in 2006 for an American 15-year-old was in the bottom 25 percent. Fully 23 of 29 countries participating in a recent survey outperformed Americans teens in math scores, and 16 of 29 countries beat us in science.
The ability to compose a coherent essay appears to be a disappearing skill. Here, for example, is an excerpt from a randomly selected high school student’s paper, pulled off the Internet:
“The amount of grammer and usage error’s today is astounding. Not to mention spelling. If I was a teacher, I’d feel badly that less and less students seem to understand the basic principals of good writing. Neither the oldest high school students nor the youngest kindergartner know proper usage. A student often thinks they can depend on word processing programs to correct they’re errors. Know way!*”
How is the Barack Obama administration responding to this challenge? Energy Secretary Stephen Chu, for one, is traversing the country to lecture students. Unfortunately, he’s not lecturing them about mathematics, science, history or writing skills. Instead, he’s discussing the politically correct topic of “climate change.” Who cares if our teens cannot pass a math exam or write a coherent essay; they’ll have been bedazzled by a top government leader with stories of how “climate change” and “global warming” will soon destroy the planet.
Similarly, as reported recently in this column, the U.S. Census Bureau is working classrooms from cost-to-coast to educate students about the importance of the census, and to encourage them to convey that information to their parents. Heaven forbid those students would be urged to discuss with their families the importance of the Bill of Rights, or of free enterprise to the development of America’s stature in the world. Better they lecture their parents and siblings about the need to count illegal aliens to ensure their community receives its “fair share” of federal dollars.
Sending cabinet secretaries and lower-level federal officials into schools to lecture students about the most current policy fad is not simply a distraction; it reduces the ability of students to learn and comprehend fundamental skills. President Obama has sent at least 28 officials from his administration into schools to promote his policy agenda. The secretaries of agriculture, commerce, defense, homeland security, housing and urban development, and even the head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, to name a few, have been sent forth to “educate” children and young adults about his agenda.
Parent-teacher organizations are hardly setting the bar any higher — partnering with the Environmental Protection Agency in a cross-country, “green” tour of schools to teach not math or science, but energy efficiency. Discussing how to make a “green world” may soothe the conscience of a liberal, but does nothing to help equip students for “real world” jobs or prepare them for the rigors of a college career.
In his recent remarks about helping students “go green,” Secretary Chu criticized the American people generally for behaving “like teen-age kids” because we as a nation are not curbing our energy usage to a degree satisfactory to the energy czar. Given the problems with education basics in the U.S., that indeed is an unkind cut. But then again, all this has little to do with education and everything to do with a social policy agenda.