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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

 
In The Bottom Quarter

by tristero

Not in the least surprising:
U.S. students placed below average in math and science. In math, U.S. high schoolers were in the bottom quarter of the countries that participated, trailing countries including Finland, China and Estonia.

According to the report, the U.S. math scores were not measurably different in 2006 from the previous scores in 2003. But while other countries have improved, the United States has remained stagnant.

In science, the United States falls behind countries such as Canada, Japan and the Czech Republic.

Duncan told a room full of science and math experts of the National Science Board on Tuesday morning that this will hurt the United States as it competes internationally. "We are lagging the rest of the world, and we are lagging it in pretty substantial ways," he said.

"I think we have become complacent. We've sort of lost our way."
What you mean "we?" Some folks have been far from "complacent" when it comes to American education: they've been quite focused on working extremely hard to wreck it.

This is one more tragic example of what happens when our country's discourse gets hijacked by the extreme right. Instead of focusing on what is really needed to prepare kids for reality, everyone sane - be they teachers, students, parents, administrators, school boards, legislators, prominent scientists, interested laypeople - has to waste their precious time wrestling with the right's truly bonkers obsessions: fighting attempts to get lies taught in science or proving that Obama really is not trying to turn America into a socialist dystopia like his birthplace, Kenya.

It's worked beautifully. Even if plenty of us don't really believe the lies of the rightwing fanatics, more and more of us increasingly tend to entertain them as serious, thoughtful points of view worthy of discussion. And time stands still in this country while others...progress. A few years ago, it was preventive war, this week it's death books. Next week, Jonah Goldberg will write that Lenin designed the modern windmill. Then, while the experts go into painful detail once more exposing Jonah a lying ignoramus, mainstream pundits will engage in an oh-so-sober discussion about whether the purpose of alternate energy research is, in fact, to sap American capitalism of its vital essence, or simply a bad idea.

Let's not get confused. of course, there are very real and extremely important differences of opinion within, for example, evolutionary biology, climate change, and healthcare policy. But serious discussions of these differences are invariably swept aside by sheer idiocy advanced by seriously powerful people. It's hard to focus on the real tradeoffs of genuine healthcare reform when US Senators are saying Obama is trying to establish death panels to ration end-of-life treatment.

In education itself, this country's attention has been distracted from the serious job of figuring out how to improve our schools. Instead, we've been sidetracked by endless, ridiculous arguments over whether biology teachers should give "equal time" to creationists, say, or whether abstinence-only education might be a good idea. Until the extreme right has been pushed back to the margins of American discourse where it belongs, until these nutjobs can no longer count among their members the most important members of a major political party, this country will continue to fail to confront the very, very serious issues and problems it faces.

It is way past time that the most influential Democratic leaders address the dangers of rightwing extremism in the Republican party in a forthright, blunt, and courageous manner.


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