Friday, March 30, 2007

The State of Education in America - We’re Doomed

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"I think we’re being educated for failure. We learn math in case the calculator fails. We learn to read in case the TV breaks , and we learn to spell in case the spell-checker doesn’t work."

I just returned from our weekly Rotary luncheon at renowned St. Orres Restaurant. Our speaker was a charming young lady completing her Freshman year at Stanford. She is very bright and energetic, a straight-A student, and a poster girl for my statement that we are doomed. Her majors at Stanford are Creative Writing (English) and Italian. Add her to the long list of bright, energetic, well educated Americans who won’t be going into math, science, or engineering.

As she talked, I listened and smiled politely, and had a friendly chat with her and her father afterwards, while I seethed inwardly. It would do absolutely no good towards any purpose for me to abuse the cordial atmosphere of our luncheon to complain about how our best and brightest are using our citadels of higher learning to pursue their hobbies.

I have heard from so many Americans over the years that the greatest good is done by people who love what they are doing. Who am I to throw cold water on such self-congratulatory conventional wisdom?

However, I contend that that love, that personal fulfillment, is a result of exposure to a particular culture, or set of values, and in a different environment, our best and brightest would chose more challenging paths to personal fulfillment. Unfortunately, at the moment our culture is becoming softer and fuzzier, more feminine, and young men have become a minority in higher education. At the same time, areas that contain our largest concentrations of young people also provide them totally inadequate public educations, educations that qualify them for nothing except remedial education programs when and if they ever attempt higher education.

I was caught up in the joy and enthusiasm of our young Stanford Freshman, and I almost felt ashamed as curmudgeonly thoughts passed through my mind as she described her African culture themed dormitory and its activities. Apparently half the students in her dorm are African Americans or Africans, and the rest are from other cultures.

As she spoke, I imagined life in the dorm as an unending chorus of “Kumbaya.” She described the many hours spent in rehearsal of "native" songs and dances, including "hip hop," and many more hours devoted to original compositions reflecting the multicultural ethos, and I was happy for her and sad for our nation, and the developing nations of the world.

Why the double dose of sadness?

Sadness number one, we are not recruiting our best and brightest to fill our greatest needs by taking the “hard” majors. We are rapidly developing our nation into a fool’s paradise of happy hobbyists.

Sadness number two, we’re taking developing nations’ best and brightest to fill our needs. The developing nations suffer “brain drain,” and our culture devolves into dependency, where our technical and skilled work is done by educated foreigners, and our menial tasks by unskilled and uneducated foreigners.

Our colleges and universities will continue as first-rate educational institutions, more and more serving the higher education needs of foreign students who receive excellent basic educations in their own countries. They will continue to come to America to fill the spaces in math, science, and engineering that our own inadequate public education system cannot.

Our inadequate public education system will continue to build on its ineptitude, meaning in translation that it will go from bad to worse as the poor quality of its product provides the infertile soil for the next crop of teachers and administrators.


(The following letter appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle today - well, on 31 March 2007, anyway. It is from a member of a Chinese immigrant family, and eloquently illustrates the cultural differences that inspire America's best and brightest to pursue "soft" educations, and immigrant families to choose math and science. )

Living the dream
(Please scroll down to the Harry W. Tong letter, and while you're at it, you can read my letter on "Porky Pelosi's Prowess)

Editor -- I disagree with Ashley Jones (Letters, "Poverty and schools," March 24) that "hopelessness springs from abject poverty."

Our family grew up in "abject poverty" in Chicago's Chinatown ghetto without any government social programs or financial assistance, surrounded by high-crime public housing. My father was hospitalized and my mom had 25 cents in the house to feed five children.

We broke every child labor law that existed, as all five of us took any job we could find and we worked seven days a week , sometimes at two to three jobs, each into the wee hours of the night to survive.

We knew the only way out of the ghetto was to use our brains and study hard as million-dollar contracts in sports were not yet an option and, at 5-foot-5, I knew no basketball scout would beat a path to my door.

Today, our parents, in heaven, would be proud of our accomplishments for we have capitalized on the American dream as immigrants from China. Among our extended family are four Ph.D.s, five M.D.s (with two more soon to be in residency training), five Master's degree holders and one lawyer.

Only in America can immigrants escape their "abject poverty" and poor schools by applying their God-given brains in spite of all the barriers imposed by the miserable school systems.

Foster City

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