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Publication Date: 07/1/2011
Archive >  July 2011 Issue >  Tech-Op-Ed > 

U.S. Schools Continue to Baffle
Walter Salm, Editor
We keep hearing dire tales about how terrible our public schools are, how ill-prepared our young people are to meet life head-on when they graduate from high school. We didn't hear such stories when I was in public school. For some reason, I remember only too well the time I annoyed a teacher and I was made to stand in a corner with my back to the class for what seemed like forever. That was in First Grade in Park Street School — a monstrosity of a Victorian Era wooden building with classrooms on each of three floors. The principal's office was in a glassed-in atrium-like balcony whose windows looked down menacingly on the large center stairwell.

The school building has been gone for many, many years; just a vacant lot the last time I visited my home town in Upstate New York, and just a memory as far as I'm concerned. But I got a good education there (Grades 1 through 6) and a decent preparation to go on to Junior Hi and then High School. Teachers were hopelessly underpaid, but they were good at their jobs. They were strict disciplinarians, and you never, never, never wanted to get sent to the principal's office — even on an errand — it was such a scary place. Buildings were old but reasonably well maintained, the teachers were mostly pretty darned good, school regulations were strict and adhered to.

Not too long ago, I received a link to something called "The Best of Jaywalking" (hosted by Jay Leno). In it, he asked rather simplistic questions of apparently rather simple people. Not a correct answer in the bunch. Questions like: In what country is the Panama Canal? Ans. "Haven't a clue." Who fiddled while Rome burned? Ans. "Fiddled? Fiddled with what?" What French general had a pastry named after him? Ans. "Creme brulee." How many stars in that flag (pointing to American flag fluttering in the wind). Ans. "I can't tell, it's waving too fast." How many Commandments are there? Ans. "Ten." Can you name any of them? Ans. "Freedom of speech." And on and on.

I found myself laughing the first time through at such utter stupidity. On second viewing, it wasn't so funny, because this video collection was a strong testament to the glaring failure of America's public school system. Or maybe Jay just picked on really stupid people. They do exist; they walk among us, look just like the rest of us, and they do breed.

Do I have a snobbish attitude? Maybe. But something incredibly bad has happened to America's public schools in the 60 years since I graduated from high school (with honors and scholarships waiting for me) and went on to college as a physics major (later turned writer and English major). Today's students have lost the incentive to study and excel; the learning process may work well in some special schools, certainly in private schools, but our public schools have become woefully inadequate, too often dumping grounds for children who are either unmotivated or speak no English. And our various levels of government have eschewed much of their responsibility by slashing funding for education.

Yet our colleges and universities flourish, attracting students from all over the world. The student bodies of most U.S. institutions of higher learning are skewed by large numbers of students from China, India, and Latin America. In fact, these minorities often combine to form a majority of the students, frequently outnumbering students born and raised in the U.S. It is no mystery why so many of our country?s best scientists have strange, unpronounceable names and come from China, India, Southeast Asia, and many parts of Europe and the former Soviet bloc.

Getting back to Jay Leno, all of the people he interviewed apparently were native-born Americans. There wasn't a foreign accent in the bunch. They were all apparently proud products of America's education system, but no college graduates or even college students appeared in these interviews. If you want to see this infamous video, simply Google on "The Best of Jaywalking video". You will laugh a lot on the first viewing. Second and third viewings will make you want to cry.  

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