Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Home of the Clueless?

Kids gettin' down at a school I visited in Ghana. Hey kids, be cool, stay in school!

Here's another one you might not hear much about with all the debate regarding No Child Left Behind. How about no child left at school?

"An American kid drops out of high school every 26 seconds. That’s more than a million every year, a sign of big trouble for these largely clueless youngsters in an era in which a college education is crucial to maintaining a middle-class quality of life — and for the country as a whole in a world that is becoming more hotly competitive every day.

Ignorance in the United States is not just bliss, it’s widespread. A recent survey of teenagers by the education advocacy group Common Core found that a quarter could not identify Adolf Hitler, a third did not know that the Bill of Rights guaranteed freedom of speech and religion, and fewer than half knew that the Civil War took place between 1850 and 1900.

“We have one of the highest dropout rates in the industrialized world,” said Allan Golston, the president of U.S. programs for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In a discussion over lunch recently he described the situation as “actually pretty scary, alarming.”

Roughly a third of all American high school students drop out. Another third graduate but are not prepared for the next stage of life — either productive work or some form of post-secondary education.

When two-thirds of all teenagers old enough to graduate from high school are incapable of mastering college-level work, the nation is doing something awfully wrong." (Read the whole sad tale here).

This is a good column, similar to the many others that pop up a couple of times a year that make you say "Are we really that messed up educationally and intellectually as a nation?!" Apparently we are. However as usual there is no mention of the possibility that intellectual development might be intimately related to spiritual and moral development. I'm not talking about "prayer in schools" propaganda either which is essentially a smoke screen for spreading a particular brand of Christianity (sorry, I had to say it). What I'm saying is that to do well in academics, to even stick around long enough to do well, requires at least one spiritual and moral capacity: the capacity for sacrifice. The problem is, as I've said in "Pursuit of a Pain Free America", according to the new social contract, "sacrifice" is a four-letter word and demanding the best of our children is considered a form of child abuse! I remember when I was a kid, I watched one of those news stories about how kids were educated in Japan or China I think. This news story was pure propaganda. The core point was that these kids spent all their time in school rather than doing cool things like American kids. "Look at that weird society", the story implied, "aren't you glad to be an American where you're not some kind of mass-produced intellectual slave?" Being a bit of a nerd (still am) I didn't think spending more time in school would be so bad. I couldn't put my finger on it at the time but watching this thing on these news left me with the impression that I wasn't getting the full story. Little did I know, right?

There are at least two selections from the Baha'i Writings worth pondering here:

"How long shall we drift on the wings of passion and vain desire; how long shall we spend our days like barbarians in the depths of ignorance and abomination? God has given us eyes, that we may look about us at the world, and lay hold of whatsoever will further civilization and the arts of living. He has given us ears, that we may hear and profit by the wisdom of scholars and philosophers and arise to promote and practice it. Senses and faculties have been bestowed upon us, to be devoted to the service of the general good; so that we, distinguished above all other forms of life for perceptiveness and reason, should labor at all times and along all lines, whether the occasion be great or small, ordinary or extraordinary, until all mankind are safely gathered into the impregnable stronghold of knowledge. We should continually be establishing new bases for human happiness and creating and promoting new instrumentalities toward this end. How excellent, how honorable is man if he arises to fulfil his responsibilities; how wretched and contemptible, if he shuts his eyes to the welfare of society and wastes his precious life in pursuing his own selfish interests and personal advantages. Supreme happiness is man's, and he beholds the signs of God in the world and in the human soul, if he urges on the steed of high endeavor in the arena of civilization and justice. "We will surely show them Our signs in the world and within themselves."[1] [1 Qur'án 41:53.]"
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 3)

"The primary, the most urgent requirement is the promotion of education. It is inconceivable that any nation should achieve prosperity and success unless this paramount, this fundamental concern is carried forward. The principal reason for the decline and fall of peoples is ignorance. Today the mass of the people are uninformed even as to ordinary affairs, how much less do they grasp the core of the important problems and complex needs of the time."
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 109)

Perhaps of course there is a kind of divine justice in what is happening to the intellectual (or lack thereof) foundations of American society. Perhaps the next stage in the battle for the decolonization and liberation of the masses of people around the world will be waged on the battlefield of the mind. Formerly subjugated, humiliated populations will surge forward on the wings of intellectual, spiritual and moral excellence while comfort loving and ignorant nations fall into chaos and decline. If so, then maybe this column is a sign of a redistribution of global power that is long overdue, a revolution of brains rather than bullets. Wouldn't that be nice?