Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How Exceptional are We, Really?

How Exceptional are We, Really?
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
June 12, 2012

In a demonstration of his patriotism, Frank Burns, a somewhat obsequious character on M*A*S*H once commented, “When that flag goes up the pole every morning, I go with it.”

I, too, raise the flag each morning and as one who has taught grades six through college, I was oftentimes the only teacher with an American flag in his or her classroom. But for all the patriotism and all the greatness that is the United States of America, it pains me to report that educationally, we are not exceptional any longer.

While the truth hurts, a bright light must be shone upon it and it must no longer be buried under platitudes, false hope, the watering down of the educational process and the interference by teachers’ unions that do little to ameliorate the process. Having been in the trenches, experience and wisdom is speaking.

Make no mistake; this is still the greatest country on earth – more generous than any other, going to the aid of friend and foe alike in times of need, and the place where people still look to as a beacon to legally receive the downtrodden, abused and persecuted. But greatness and patriotism does not justify the slumping of the educational system.

The United States is in a severe academic decline – a bona fide crisis preventing this and future generations of Americans from competing globally and the convergence of three sets of data drive home how badly this nation is in need of educational reform.

Heather Hollingsworth of the Associated Press outlined rather starkly in her May 29 article “Research: Remedial classes not helping,” that more and more students are graduating high school ill-prepared for the rigors of a college classroom.

“Each year, an estimated 1.7 million U.S. college students are steered to remedial classes to prepare them for regular coursework,” wrote Hollingsworth. Students are paying for these classes and oftentimes are not earning degrees, but are left with a mountain of debt in student loans.

Whether remedial math, reading or writing, the increased need for such classes by more and more so-called college students demonstrates the lessening of standards at the elementary and high school levels. And the continuation of social promotion in hopes that students will make up their shortcomings further down the academic road is fantasy.

In reality, stricter standards need to be adopted with more rigorous academic preparation for the next level – be that college, the military or the work force. Students needing more and more remedial courses in college are simply not ready for the college classroom. More than 20 years ago, former Indiana University basketball coach Bob Knight said that college is not for everyone. He was right then and is still right today.

The shame is in the lack of preparation at the high school level – often because teachers are expected to do more with and for less. Schools are laden with layers of high priced administrations who, more often than not, have forgotten what teaching in the classroom is all about, and teachers find themselves with little support.

Teachers are expected to be nutritionists, counselors, doctors, nurses, psychologists, parents, advocates and even clergy, while occasionally finding time to teach. Teachers are often treated as servants by administrators and parents, considered less than professional by the outside world who does not realize the teacher’s day does not end at 3 p.m. or that the school year does not end in mid-June.

Teachers often work two jobs to make ends meet, typically in order to live in or near the town/city where they teach, which is often less affordable on a teacher’s salary. Teachers take additional classes, conduct research during the summer to hone their skills and stay atop the latest technology.

Yet, too much time is spent teaching to tests instead of teaching the necessary skills and material required for today’s students to be able to compete globally. Too much time is taken by teachers forced to prepare multiple lesson plans and teach to the lowest common denominator because schools are inclusionary which hurts both the top and bottom students.

Yes, there it is in print – some students are at the top of the food chain and some are at the bottom. There seemed to be some touchy-feely need to put all academic level of student in the same classroom because mommy and daddy didn’t want the self-esteem of their little angel damaged because he or she would be in a less rigorous class based upon ability.

Here’s the dirty little secret – inclusion damages the self-esteem of the weaker academic students and holds back the stronger academic students. Strong students get easily bored while more time is spent with those less academically gifted and weaker students act out due to their frustration of not being able to keep up with their academic superiors. Again, having been in the trenches, experience and wisdom is speaking.

A second piece of data in this triumvirate is statistics from the U.S. Department of Education that support the aforementioned crisis.

The global rankings in science from first to fifth include: Finland, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Canada, with the United States trailing in 17th place. This is according to the “Average score of 15-year-old students on science literacy scales, 2009.” (www.ed.gov)

In math, the top five nations are: Shanghai-China, Singapore, Hong Kong-China, South Korea and Chinese-Taipei. The United States languishes far down the trough in 31st place. This is according to “Average score of 15-year-old students on math literacy scales, 2009.” (www.ed.gov)

The reading rankings have Shanghai-China, South Korea, Finland, Hong Kong-China and Singapore in the top five, with the United States down in 15th place. This is according to “Average score of 15-year-old students on reading literacy scales, 2009.” (www.ed.gov)

These are deplorable statistics that must not be swept under the rug. It’s not funny when programs like “The Tonight Show,” depict real morons on Jay Leno’s Jaywalking segment laughing at how stupid they really are. Not being able to identify George Washington in a picture; not knowing what is in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution; not knowing the difference between there/their/they’re or your/you’re; not being able to make change in a store; not being able to calculate a 15 percent tip in a restaurant and on it goes. These are basic skills – not rocket science.

The last leg of data comes in the form of George Will’s June 11 column “Subprime college education.” While Will focused much of his excellent column on the economics of college, I culled the diversity section for these purposes.

One of the reasons the United States is in educational crisis mode is the exclusion of more American History, World History, Literature, business-style writing and real math and science classes to produce globally competitive graduates. The inclusion of touchy-feely classes should be restricted to the Oprah channel on television.

Will cites in his column that UC San Diego “lost three cancer researchers to Rice University, which offered them 40 percent pay increases.” Yet, UCSD created a vice chancellorship for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

UC Davis has a Diversity Trainers Institute as well as a “Diversity Education Series that awards Understanding Diversity Certificates in ‘Unpacking Oppression.’” And the list goes on.

Where does it end? Does it end when everyone is in touch with their feelings but can’t add two plus two or spell diversity? Back to the basics we the people must go before this nation becomes a third world calamity and a footnote to history.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN.


  1. Not interested in the Black Liberal Progressive experiment here in America. Time to run them out of office . They aren’t ready to represent all people nor are they tolerant of all cultures. They refuse to represent the values of all American people while depicting white successful people as the enemy. Turns out they are extremely angry towards America quick to blame slow to resolve and are guilty of what they despise, intolerance of others and indifferent to other cultural values not to mention their propensity for Socialism. Unfortunately the President has single handedly set race relations backwards and his so called people are paying the price right now with 14.4% unemployment with almost 50 percent unemployment to black youths most of whom lack necessary education to gain proper employment .

    1. Well stated, Michael, and thank you for reading my blog. Please consider signing on as a follower.