Education in America

“You are educated. Your certification is in your degree. You may think of it as the ticket to the good life. Let me ask you to think of an alternative. Think of it as your ticket to change the world.”

― Tom Brokaw

This quote has nothing to do with what follows, except that I think it’s great advice to anyone who has an education – it’s more important to use what you’ve learned to better the human condition than it is to merely better ones own life (and pocketbook).

Interesting statistics I picked up the other day as we were watching a rerun of an old Dinah Shore episode on one of the Jewish satellite stations. (We watched it because she was featuring the Kingston Trio, an old favorite of mine, and if you don’t know who Dinah Shore or the Kingston Trio was, you’re either very young or not as knowledgeable as you think you are). Anyway…

As a percent of their religious affiliation, Americans holding postgraduate degrees:

Hindus – 48%

Jews – 35%

Buddists – 26%

Catholics – 10%

Protestants – 9%

(Not mentioned were those without a confessed religion. I wonder what percentage they are?)

If you wonder (as I did at first) why Christians are so far behind other religious, I think the answer is cultural.

Buddists and Hindus both share a similiar belief that the soul’s future condition is dependent on the knowledge acquired by the mind in this lifetime, that knowledge becomes understanding of life, and that is the ultimate goal of life. (It would seem that, contrary to Christian teachings that all understanding will be granted to the soul upon death,  Buddists and Hindus believe understaning is not a gift in the next life, rather something to be strove for in this life.)

The Jews for most of their history – at least in Europe – were not allowed to own land (which was the riches of the day) and they had to be ready to leave on a moment’s notice to escape local progoms against them.  Hence an education was portable and enabled them to find work without being tied to one place. 

Christians (especially the Protestants) have always placed a premium on a work ethic that was more important than education – if you worked hard enough you could become a rich, influential person. For centuries the only ones who needed to be educated to succeed were the clergy.

The above figures are for cultural groups within the U.S. But what of our country’s over-all standing in the world?

The United States has fallen to “average” in international education rankings released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, according to the AFP (a global news agency).

America has received scores around 500 on a scale that goes up to 1,000: 487 in math, 500 in reading and 502 in science.

The AFP reports,

“The three-yearly OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, which compares the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds in 70 countries around the world, ranked the United States 14th out of 34 OECD countries for reading skills, 17th for science and a below-average 25th for mathematics.”

If our politicians (and one vocal presidential candidate) really want to make America “great” again, they need to refocus on the state of our educational system.

– Bill


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