In education, ignorance is not bliss

Several years ago, William Simon, then serving as US Treasury Secretary, noted that in Washington, “people use statistics like drunks use lampposts – for support rather than illumination.”  Recent efforts by officials in Georgia to pat themselves on the back for leading an “improvement” in the Peach State’s education performance prove Simon’s observation once again true.  While Georgia’s high school graduation rate may have improved slightly – to 79% — this means a disappointing 21% of our state’s high schoolers drop out before receiving their diploma.  One in five Georgia high school students fail to stick around long enough to gain the advantage of greater opportunity and increased earnings potential that comes with a high school degree.

Moreover, when Georgia’s dropout rate is compared to other states and countries, there is far less to crow about.  In Canada, for example, one of Georgia’s top trading partners, more than 90% of its student stay on to graduate.  Even within our own state, in a number of school districts, the dropout rate exceeds 50%.  Looking at all this with the blinders on that many public officials wear when evaluating their own performance, perhaps a tiny improvement in a miserable situation is worthy of beating one’s chest; but in the fast-paced and technologically-based world out there, a 21% dropout rate is hardly impressive.

At the next level – post-secondary education — the steadily increasing cost of higher education is pushing many young people who might previously have competed eagerly for college slots, to forego applying for admission.  Many students are willingly trading the long-term benefits of a college education for the short-term lure of a paying job. 

Increases in tuition are only part of the problem facing many working-class and middle-class families with college-age children.  As one small but telling example, the Board of Regents recently approved an increase in fees of $100 that is being passed on to the state’s public university students.  That’s an extra $100 out of each student’s pocket, not covered by the HOPE scholarship.  For students considering private universities, the average cost of tuition and fees is now some $34,000.  The staggering cost of attending school beyond high school is leading many students and their families to conclude that high school itself may no longer be essential because they cannot afford to take the next step of attending college.

The emerging wave of education disinterest sweeping across Georgia and much of our nation’s population, ill-equips our young people to understand, much less contribute to solving the serious political, economic, and technological problems facing us domestically and in our competition with other nations that value education far more than we appear to. 

As one of our Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, accurately observed more than two centuries ago, “[i]f a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” This vital link between freedom and education is fast fading in the public consciousness of 21st Century America. A nation uneducated is not and cannot be free, nor will its people know the happiness that comes from liberty.  As our first president, George Washington, aptly observed, “[k]nowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness.”  As knowledge fades, so does happiness; and this may explain in large measure the sour mood prevalent in our country today.

28 comments Add your comment

Eric

December 4th, 2009
6:41 am

Mr. Barr, this is a good article, and I think you’re right that the cost of higher education is sending students directly into the work force (and with reason, given that the cost of living is outpacing employee compensation at many levels). But I think what we call education today is really “training” rather than the arts of learning and happiness. We have too much technology, and I wouldn’t doubt kids are getting sick and tired of having to re-learn this stuff every so often. Maybe they’re totally bored with school if it’sl only about competition and “playing the game.”

Chris Broe

December 4th, 2009
8:57 am

Grading Barr: A confused and stuttered 25 words or less which took 500 words or more to not say it.

I dont like criticizing Barr any more than any of you. But he wants it. So he gits it.

Look at his close: “As one of our founding fathers accurately observed….As our first president….As knowledge fades…”

Redundant. He didn’t have to qualify George Washington as our first prez, nor Thomas Jefferson as one of our founding fathers. Worse, Barr introduces back2back2back prepositions to start back to back to back Tupak-inspired sentences in some sort of alliterative babble-code(sic) from which no literary Eden could ever emerge.

The close is where most writers end up looking like a drunken sailors(Hic)

C+

Charlie Harper

December 4th, 2009
9:12 am

Chris Broe: You’re in no position to criticize the writing style of others when your writing is so puerile. I should also inform you that as is not used prepositionally but rather it is used as (note that this is the preposition) a conjunction.

Joan

December 4th, 2009
9:39 am

American education has been a God send to many young Americans over the years, who have managed, through availing themselves of it, to pull themselves out of the factories and farms. It is sad that we are losing the quality of educational services that we used to have in the 40’s and 50’s, when a teacher taught you how to think, to reason, and to learn. And of course, then you had to sit and listen and learn, or your parents would kill you. Now, parents and kids seem not to care about education, their behaviour or their futures. The caliber of teachers has fallen with the politically correct dogma they are required to teach. It is a sad and sorry state indeed. And don’t grade my da.. English either you pedantic wusses.

BlitzPackage

December 4th, 2009
9:39 am

Good article Mr. Barr.

I truly believe the people of Georgia don’t care about education. We elect an education secretary and legislature with dismal results regarding education. Even if we must elect republicans, certainly those exist with some sense and ideas about education. It just shows how unimportant education is to the state of Georgia.

I also appreciate the depth of Jefferson’s statement regarding education. While I have no respect for the slave-holding, pedophile and racist that Jefferson was; I do agree that without education, there can be no true freedom.

Feds R Fools

December 4th, 2009
9:46 am

Talk about a lack of Education, these Army guys seem to think they are owed: From today’s WSJ: “A former Army major was sentenced to a 17½-year prison term on corruption charges in Wednesday in San Antonio, signaling the beginning of the end of a far-reaching Iraq War corruption probe.

As part of the probe, a growing cadre of career soldiers has confessed to siphoning millions of dollars from defense contracts in Iraq and Kuwait. The investigation into their spree already has led to the indictments of five U.S. military officers, with another dozen expected to follow.”

All 18 officers are BLACK: I quote the wsj again: “Almost every suspect comes from the same background: African-Americans who rose from childhood poverty to successful military careers.”

There is just something about money and authority these people cannot handle and should not be trusted with, imho, regardless of their education level. Note the ajc has not covered this story, and most likely will not. Cindy Lou would be too upset at the overt racism of it all.

Fred

December 4th, 2009
10:02 am

Chris Broe got owned and served and shat. Bow to your master bro.

dewstarpath

December 4th, 2009
10:12 am

- Eric –
The problem today is NOT that we have too much technology –
we can’t even maintain what we have in terms of infrastructure
or what we own in terms of patent protection and development.
The real problem with American education is that our kids are
constantly exposed to a non-academic enviroment where the
celebrity is king, and not the intellectual. Most adults of any
intellect nowadays are increasingly opting for celebrity status,
either as a media pundit or an author of a self-absorption guide.
The problem is particularly egregious in the southeast. Two
words: American Idol. Excellent topic for Mr. Barr to
bring up.

Mrs. Norris

December 4th, 2009
10:30 am

It’s all explained in the movie “Idiocracy”. Intelligent people tend to have few or no children, while the ignorant procreate like rabbits. This phenomenon has gotten worse since the introduction of modern birth control. It’s a wonder we’ve come as far as we have. It’s inevitable that we will regress. Blessed are the dull of mind, for they shall inherit the earth.

Chris Broe

December 4th, 2009
10:44 am

Is it miller time yet?

Jess

December 4th, 2009
10:47 am

The problem with schools today is a lack of dicipline. There is a number of children in our schools today who have never been diciplined and they are attending schools where teachers can no longer maintain dicipline without risking their jobs and the wrath of parents. I’ve been aroud a long time and went to school at a time when you feared and respected teachers. Today there is very little of either in our schools. Schools cannot improve in a chaotic environment.

And Feds R Fools. There is so much not reported in the AJC. I’m still waiting for their take on the climate data scandal. In fact this has yet to be covered by a single network news station. Journalism, as we once knew it is dead, and replaced by propoganda.

Jess

December 4th, 2009
10:51 am

Enter your comments here

Joan

December 4th, 2009
11:48 am

I echo Mrs. Norris’ recommendation everyone see Idiocracy. It is hilarious, but so true, and so sad.

Corey

December 4th, 2009
12:09 pm

Joan, when will it be on cable?

Gerald West

December 4th, 2009
12:18 pm

Very good article, Mr. Barr! You state the problems, but don’t propose solutions. It seems to me there are none, despite the simplistic suggestions of some of your readers.

Civilizations rise and fall, and ours is in free fall. We’ve foolishly squandered our national wealth on useless foreign wars; we’ve failed to regulate our commerce and industry to discourage monopolistic practices that stifle free enterprise; we’ve allowed speculators to wreck our economy; and we can’t even fix the most expensive, but least effective, medical care in the developed world.

Proposing solutions to any of our problems is useless: half our politicians are determined to obstruct anything suggested by the other half, and the voters focus on personalities and scandal rather than issues. Even our form of government doesn’t work: the Congress is deadlocked and dysfunctional; the administrative branch is run by incompetent political appointees instead of respected, non-partisan civil servants; and the Supreme Court is as politically divided as the Congress.

Why does a man of your abilities bother with politics?

jt

December 4th, 2009
1:02 pm

“The emerging wave of education disinterest sweeping across Georgia and much of our nation’s population, ill-equips our young people to understand, much less contribute to solving the serious political, economic, and technological problems facing us domestically and in our competition with other nations that value education far more than we appear to. “”"”"”"”"”"”

That is a run-on too. Comma splice?

sam

December 4th, 2009
2:18 pm

how do we fix it?

Jimbo

December 4th, 2009
2:47 pm

Just what your gov’ment wants – the “Dumbing down of America”.
Keep them stupid, keep them poor
and they WILL come back for more

Tall

December 4th, 2009
6:49 pm

Jimbo:

If you’re still around…your points are correct. Guess what the end products are? More Democrats!!

Tall

December 4th, 2009
7:02 pm

I don’t need to see “Idiocracy.” My son is a student in one of the Fulton County elementary schools. It’s easy to see why parents are revolting and home schooling. The amount of time wasted during the school day is inexcusable. Third graders changing classes for math and reading and computer. Add to that art, music, and gym. His homework is my homework. A solid one to two hours, four nights a week. I’m beginning to consider home schooling. I could cover the basics in four hours and then send him off to music and sports in the afternoon. Oh, and no more P/C indoctrination.

Mike Fairbanks

December 4th, 2009
7:20 pm

If we don’t want kids dropping out of high school, we should simply pass a law stating that they may not legally drop out of high school, and if they do they get instantly drafted into the military to mop floors, peel potatoes and wash jeeps with no chance for advancement until they finish their diploma, at night, on their own time.

Anyone who blows off his or her education deserves poverty. This nation has outstanding educational opportunities everywhere. Even Clayton County, which struggles frequently, has a better educational system than most of Asia, Africa, and South America.

Stay in school. Listen to your teachers. Respect authority. Do your homework. Study. Stay out of trouble.

It’s not rocket science.

deborahinAthens

December 5th, 2009
6:38 am

First of all, not all people are “created equal”. There are too many kids being pushed into classes in high school that, for them will be of little use. Why not have schools that teach trades from the tenth grade on? Rather than having masses of students stumble and bumble their way into the first year of college and leave (with no job prospects) or drop out of high school because the have no earthly idea why calculus will be of any benefit, why not have schools that focus on teaching kids how to build things, repair cars, be good craftsmen? And then, the hard part. We need to figure out how to make learning–whether it is biology, advanced calculus, or welding—a cool and respected thing. In this country, on our “news” programs, we focus 90% of air time on the trivial–party crashers, idiots that are stupid enough to have eight children, which celebrity is beating his girlfriend, which politician is cheating on his wife, which athlete got which Nike contract–why do we not hear about the real “news”? As a culture, we will value what the culture chooses to present as valuable. If you were an alien from outer space that came to earth, imagine for a moment what you would think of our culture. It is trash, pure and simple. The sooner people turn off the Today Show, Fox “News”, Entertainment Tonight, the sooner the people stop reading “People” magazine and pick up a book, a paintbrush, a hammer, a pen, the better off we will all be. But I don’t see that happening. And I agree, with those that say the lack of discipline is part of the problem. We need more discipline in the home, and more support for the teachers that have a problem student in the class. When we were in school, you sat down, you listened, you behaved, or you got paddled with a one inch board across your rear end! Pure and simple. The principal did the paddling, the teacher watched, and the parents got called about it. In my home, it was clear. If you get paddled at school, you get one when you get home. No questions asked. Guess what, very few kids actually got paddled! I graduated from Dacula High in 1968 with a great education. Today Dacula schools are the top of the list of most dangerous schools in the US. Sad.

Chris Broe

December 5th, 2009
9:15 am

You know something? DeborahinAthens is RIGHT! The high school principals aren’t going to let us have hammers or pens or paintbrushes for the same reason they wont let prisoners have them. The teachers wont let us learn, they’re too busy spanking us, (and disproving paleontology).

Our parents wont discipline us, they’re too busy justifying their debauchery via Oprah and Dr. Phil.

The only solution, as deborahinAthens correctly points out, is to buy a pair of Nikes and run away from Dracula as fast as we can.

If not, we’re finished. Great piece, DeborahinAthens.

Road Scholar

December 5th, 2009
10:36 am

I agree w/MF above. If they do not have the discipline to stay in school and graduate, or need to support their families, service in the armed forces should be mandatory. How else will these “fools” get what they need to be productive in today’s society?

“The emerging wave of education disinterest sweeping across Georgia and much of our nation’s population, ill-equips our young people to understand, much less contribute to solving the serious political, economic, and technological problems facing us domestically and in our competition with other nations that value education far more than we appear to. ” Bob, while I agree with you on you comments, the answer is under your nose. Wasn’t it the Repubs who criticised elitists (educated people) of being out of touch?

arnold

December 5th, 2009
7:54 pm

We also have a certain political party who has members going around calling the educated elite. Implying that an education is not to be desired or needed inorder to run a business or this country.

sped teacher bibb

December 6th, 2009
8:21 am

Another voice that says all students should go to college. Not all are qualified. There are many well paying jobs that are available with technical training. We need to rethink our education system and track students in directions in which they can succeed.

Disgusted

December 6th, 2009
12:53 pm

The problem with our educational system is that it has been hijacked as a jobs factory. If the subject being studied does not lead directly to a job, it is viewed as worthless. We hear cries of more science, science, science, but nobody pushes the subjects that lead to the inculcation of a broad world view, precision in communication, and logical thinking.

Exhibit A: Mr. Barr. Not only did he miss out on the basics of punctuation, but he also skipped development of a vocabulary: for instance, disinterested does not mean “a lack of interest in,” but rather it means “objective, impartial.” It is not a substitute for uninterested.

So long as Georgians continue to view higher education as merely training for a job, we will continue to see absurdities such as utter dunces getting B averages in high school merely so that they can qualify for Hope Scholarships because their parents view a college education as a job qualification. We’ve already lost the battle over education. Nothing to see here–move on.

Peter Smagorinsky

December 7th, 2009
6:21 am

Mr. Barr and others might find the following statistics interesting. They are being offered for illumination rather than support.

1940: 82.8% of adults in Georgia have not completed high school.
1946: 5% of young people in Georgia attend college.
1948: Of the state of Georgia’s 15,000 White teachers, about 6,000 have earned a bachelor’s degree and 9,000 have not.
1950: 79.2% of adults in Georgia have not completed high school.
1960: 68% of adults in Georgia have not completed high school.
1970: 59.4% of adults in Georgia have not completed high school.
1980: 43.6% of adults in Georgia have not completed high school.
1990: 29.1% of adults in Georgia have not completed high school.
2000: 21.4% of adults in Georgia have not completed high school.
2009: Barr reports that the dropout rate is 21%, the first time that dropout rates have remained stable in state history for a decade.

disclosure: these stats are taken from http://www.coe.uga.edu/lle/history/index.html, which provides a history of UGA’s Department of Language and Literacy Education, of which I am a member. I am responsible for the information provided, and took it from trusted sources.