In spite of a Clinton Administration trumpeting about how well U.S. public schools teach children, the record is dismal and getting worse. A year and a half ago we examined the "conspiracy of ignorance" in grades K-12, wrought by poorly trained, unqualified and politicized teachers, working in government operated school systems that tolerate student anarchy and encourage misplaced esteem instead of learning performance. This formula for failure has been very successful. American children perform in the middle and lower half in math and science on international standard tests of students. However, the most recent reported tests did not compare U.S. students with those of 11 European nations having historically high-performance participants in prior tests, but instead with students from developing nations. The Slick Willie legacy lives; distort and obfuscate facts.
A U.S. Department of Education study described in the Christian Science Monitor observed that high school counselors now recommend higher education to over two-thirds of high school graduates, double the rate of 1982, in part because of an "open admission policy" by 75% of all educational institutions. Statistics show that only 40% of these high school graduates can be deemed marginally qualified and that half of those enrolled in a four-year school (600,000) will fail to graduate each year. This is happening in an environment where 39% of all college students nationally received an "A" grade (up from 28% in 1989). What do you think is the value of a degree granted from a "prestigious" school like Northwestern University where over 50% of grades are "A" or at University of Illinois where over 40% are "A." If I was a graduate of either school, I would be outraged that all (my) awarded degrees are devalued by an obvious decline in standards.
This year nearly 50% of all (14,000) Ph.D. degrees awarded in engineering and science by U.S. colleges and universities will go to foreign nationals. U.S. undergraduate entrants into these curricula are not growing and even show decline in some sectors. According to a recent study by Booz, Allen & Hamilton, about a third of the technically oriented workforce is within five years of retirement eligibility, forcing next generations of senior managers to be drawn from a shrinking talent pool, unrestored, diminishing at an increasing rate. This latter issue is severe enough for the Department of Defense to create a task force to evaluate what must be done to replace and improve the 124,000 civilians under their "Acquisition Workforce 2005" project.
But more disheartening is the gross lack of knowledge by undergraduate students about to be awarded a university degree about the foundation of their privileged lives. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (202-467-6787 or http://www.goacta.org) commissioned a survey of 556 randomly selected students from 55 schools (26 national universities and 29 liberal arts colleges), all well-known institutions of higher learning, on their knowledge of history. The result was that 65% received "F" and an additional 16% a "D" on multiple choice questions such as who was the Father of the U.S. Constitution, when was the Civil War fought, who was the second president of the United States, or who was the president of the United States at the beginning of the Korean War.
The direct solution requires a strong core curriculum with broad-based but rigorous courses in focused disciplines. That must include study of history. Among those 55 schools surveyed only 22% require students to receive ANY history instruction and all of these allow substitution of a "euphemism" for the real thing. No institutions among these pillars of learning require knowledge of American history.
It is the power of the purse-string that counts, which is critical for American industry because, according to American Society for Training and Development, 93% of large businesses (small ones cannot afford it) must teach basic (remedial) skills to acquire and retain new employees. Industry and philanthropic individuals can direct their financial support to schools of their choice with all the definitions and instructions to "do the job right" or they do not get the money. Most contributors to their alma mater or any school are not so astute. It requires diligence on the giver's part to prevent perversion or collapse of higher learning communities that have drifted far off track. Contact ACTA to receive help and a guide to effective and responsible support for true, higher education.
Remember a warning from Thomas Jefferson; "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be." To destroy a nation, destroy its memory.