THE TRUTH ABOUT USA EDUCATION AS OF NOVEMBER 2011
FROM THE BLOCKBUSTER BOOK: "AFTER AMERICA"
by Mark Steyn
THE STUDENT PRINCES
In 1940, a majority of the U.S. population had no more than
a Grade Eight education.
By 2008, 40 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds were enrolled in
college. So we're on track to a world in which the typical
American is almost twice as old by the time he completes his
education as he was in 1940, and has spent over twice as long in
the classroom-and, in theory, gotten twice as much attention from
his schoolmdam: the pupil/teacher ratio is half of what it was a
century ago. Indeed, since 1970 overall public school employment
has increased ten times faster than public school enrollment-with
no discernible benefit to student performance .32 Here's reporter
Howard Blume in the Los Angeles Times: "Despite thousands of
teacher layoffs and shrinking school budgets, Los Angeles
Unified, the state's largest school system, posted gains on
annual standardized tests. Schools statewide also posted overall
gains in results released Monday."
Today's "educators" take no chances with their young
charges, to the point of keeping as many as they can in "school"
until well into what now passes for adulthood. What dragons have
been slain by this semester-creep? In 1940, before this process
got rolling, Americans had a literacy rate of over 97 percent.
Seventy years later, at a student demo to protest budget "cuts"
at the University of Washington, the elderly demonstrators waved
printed placards bearing the slogan:
WHO'S SCHOOLS? OUR SCHOOLS!
And you're welcome to them. Or, as their placards would no
doubt put it, your welcome to'em. Were they English majors?
FASLE COLLEGE AND FALSE EDUCATION
Education is the biggest single structural defect in the
United States. No country needs to send a majority (never mind
"all," as is President Obama's ambition) of its children to
college, and no country should: not every child has the aptitude
to benefit from college, and not every child who has wants to go,
or needs to. For most who wind up there, college is a waste of
time, and money, and life. Hacks pretend to teach, slackers
pretend to learn, and employers pretend it's a qualification.
Full disclosure: I never went to college, which is why my critics
usually preface their dissections with a refer- ence to "the
uneducated" or "the unlettered Mark Steyn " Guilty as charged:
no letters on me. But I was doing ancient Greek in high school
and Latin by middle school, not because I was "gifted" but
because that's just the way it was back then. I long ago gave up
marveling at how little American education asks of its inmates.
By universalizing university, you let K-12 off the hook College
becomes the new high school-which is exactly the opposite of what
a dynamic, efficient society would be doing: middle school should
be the new high school. Early-year education is the most
critical; if you screw up the first eight grades, keeping the kid
in class till he's thirty isn't going to do much to fix things.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA
Beyond the academic arguments, no functioning state can
afford to keep its kids at school till they're twenty-two. It
leads to later workplace participation, later family formation,
and societal infantilization. Take America in its most dynamic
years-the period when it put great inventions within the reach of
every citizen (the automobile, the telephone, the washer and
dryer), and, for you culture-du-plaisir types, also developed the
modern entertainment industry (radio, talking pictures,
gramophone records, Tin Pan Alley, jazz, Broadway, Hollywood): it
did all this with a population whose median education was 8.3
years. Eighth Grade America won a world war, and emerged
afterwards as an economic superpower that dominated the postwar
era until Eighteenth Grade America sleepwalked it off the
COSTLY EDUCATION FOR WHAT?
Oh, well. What does an American get for sticking with the
system to Ninth Grade, Twelfth Grade, Sixteenth Grade, and
beyond? Is he more "educated"? Not obviously so. But he is
indisputably credentialed, and in the credential-fetishizing
America of the early twenty-first century, that's what counts. So
American families plunge themselves into debt and take huge
amounts of money out of the productive economy in order to feed
the ravenous diploma mill. It's not too demanding, and getting
less so every year: by 2010, only 23 percent of courses offered
at Harvard required a final exam. For most of its "scholars,"
college is a leisurely half-decade immersion in the manners and
mores of American conformism. Other than that, it doesn't matter
what, if anything, you learn there, just so long as you emerge
with the diploma. It used to be made of sheepskin. But these days
the students are the sheep and the ones getting fleeced are their
By the turn of the twenty-first century, America had per
capita twoand-a-half times as many college students as Britain
and Spain. Its college population was significantly larger than
its high school population, mainly due to the fact that such
fields of scholarship as "Jiggle in My Walk: The Iconic Power of
the `Big Butt' in American Pop Culture"" are so rigorous that to
complete a bachelor's degree can take twice as long as it once
would have. Say what you like about half a decade of "Peace
Studies" but, while light on the studies, it's certainly
peaceful. To acquire the ersatz sheepskin, Americans not only
forego what might have been six years of profitable and
career-advancing work, they also rack up a six-figure debt in
order to access a job that is increasingly unlikely to justify
that outlay. But then taking that first step on the debt ladder
is as important an initiation into contemporary adulthood as the
In fairness, there remain certain exceptions to these
America retains world-class academic institutions in science
But half the graduate students in these fields are
foreigners, and more and more return home at the end of their
studies. Perhaps we could retrain a few Diversity Officers to
replace retiring physicists. Beyond that, has universal
credentialism created a golden age of American scholarship? Not
so's you'd notice.
FACTS ON MICHELLE OBAMA
Michelle Obama was born in 1964, so, unlike Condi Rice, she
has no vivid childhood memories of racial segregation. She was
among the first generation to benefit from "affirmative action,"
which was supposed to ameliorate the lingering grievances of
racism but seems, in Mrs. Obamds case, merely to have transformed
them into post-modern pseudo-grievance. "All my life I have
confronted people who had a certain expectation of me," she told
an audience in Madison. "Every step of the way, there was
somebody there telling me what I couldn't do. Applied to
Princeton. 'You can't go there, your test scores aren't high
enough.' I went. I graduated with departmental honors. And then I
wanted to go to Harvard. And that was probably a little too tough
for me. I didn't even know why they said that."
But hang on. Her test scores weren't "high enough" for
Princeton? Yet, rather than telling her "You can't go there,"
they took her anyway. And all the thanks they get is that her
test scores are now a recurring point of resent ment: "The stuff
that we're seeing in these polls," she told another audience,
"has played out my whole life. You know, always being told by
somebody that I'm not ready, that I can't do something, my scores
weren't high enough 40 If she had been Elizabeth Edwards and her
scores weren't high enough, that'd be that (Teresa Heinz Kerry
could probably leverage the whole Mozambican thing). Yet Mrs.
Obama regards contemporary statemandated compensation for
institutional racism from before she was born as merely another
burden to bear. In testament to an age of boundless
selfinfatuation, she arrived as a black woman at Princeton and
wrote her undergraduate thesis on the difficulties of being a
black woman at Princeton. "Princeton-Educated Blacks and the
Black Community" is a selfmeditation by the then Miss Robinson on
the question of whether an Ivy League black student drawn into
the white world is betraying lower-class blacks. Or as she put
A separationist is more likely to have a realistic
impression of the plight of the Black lower class because of
the likelihood that a separationist is more closely
associated with the Black lower class than are
integrationist [sic]. By actually working with the Black
lower class or within their communities as a result of their
ideologies, a separationist may better understand the
desparation [sic] of their situation and feel more hopeless
about a resolution as opposed to an integrationist who is
ignorant to their plight.
ONLY IN AMERICA
Ah, the benefits of an elite education. Suppose Michelle
Obama had not suffered the crippling burden of being American but
had instead been born in France or Switzerland, India or China.
In less enlightened lands, when you're told "Your test scores
aren't high enough," that's it, you can't go. To get into other
countries' elite institutions, you have to be objectively
excellent. To get into America's best schools and join its elite,
you need mediocre grades and approved social points. Harvard's
defense of "affirmative action" rests on the benefits of
"diversity": "A farm boy from Idaho can bring something to
Harvard College that a Bostonian cannot offer. Similarly, a black
student can usually bring something that a white person cannot
THE FARM BOY
That's the argument, such as it is: "Affirmative action"
discriminates positively - in favor of certain groups that add an
unspecified richness to campus life. As we know, Michelle Obama
fell into the latter category of "black student." But what about
the "farm boy from Idaho"? In 2010, the Princeton sociologist
Thomas Espenshade and his colleague Alexandria Radford produced
an analysis of applications for eight highly competitive colleges
and universities. What was most revealing was the way
"affirmative action" has progressed from mere race bias to
ideological apartheid. Espenshade and Radford found that
participating in "red state" activities such as 4-H, ROTC, or the
Future Farmers of America substantially reduced a student's
chances of being accepted by these colleges. "Being an officer or
winning awards" with such groups had an even more severe impact,
reducing your chances of admission by 60 to 65 percent.
So, if you're a white farm boy from Idaho, you're already at
a disadvantage compared with the Michelle Obamas and Sonia
Sotormayors of your generation. And, if you participate in 4-H or
JROTC, you're only making things worse. And, if you hold a
leadership position in 4-H, you're pretty much doomed. Over time
"affirmative action" and "diversity" have so corrupted the
integrity of American education that it now affirmatively acts in
favor of ideological and cultural homogeneity. Or as the blogger
Kate McMillan likes to say: What's the opposite of "diversity"?
THE SAD CHANGE
This is why the massive expansion of American education is
evidence not of progress but of its exact opposite - its decay
into ideological factory farms. It's a progressive 4-H: Hogwash,
Hypersensitivity, Habituation, Homogeneity-for the price of which
you wind up in Hock. "Our ruling class recruits and renews itself
not through meritocracy but rather by taking into itself people
whose most prominent feature is their commitment to fit in;"
wrote Angelo Codevilla of Boston University, noting the
unprecedented uniformity of the new American elite. "Until our
own time America's upper crust was a mixture of people who had
gained prominence in a variety of ways, who drew their money and
status from different sources and were not predictably of one
mind on any given matter. The Boston Brahmins, the New York
financiers, the land barons of California, Texas, and Florida,
the industrialists of Pittsburgh, the Southern aristocracy, and
the hardscrabble politicians who made it big in Chicago or
Memphis had little contact with one another." The social
engineers changed all that, imposing a single orthodoxy on their
pupils. For the most part, "diversity" is merely a sentimental
cover for mediocrity. As Codevilla pointed out:
Since the 1970s, it has been virtually impossible to flunk
out of American colleges. And it is an open secret that "the
best" colleges require the least work and give out the
highest grade point averages.... The most successful neither
write books and papers that stand up to criticism nor
release their academic records. Thus does our ruling class
stunt itself through negative selection. But the more it has
dumbed itself down, the more it has defined itself by the
presumption of intellectual superiority.
THE LANGUAGE SILLINESS
It was interesting to listen to Candidate Obama lecture
Americans on their failure to learn another language. The son of
a Ph.D. and a Harvardeducated economist, young Barack went to a
fancy Hawaiian prep school, and then to Occidental, Columbia, and
Harvard. And he's hectoring a guy who graduated high school in
Nowheresville and shingles roofs all day about not speaking
French or German? Well, what's Barack's excuse? The Obamas are
the beneficiaries of the most expensive and luxuriant education
on the planet. Where's their French?
Well, they were too busy cranking out sludge about the
"desparation" [sic] of separationists, or whatever Michelle was
droning on about at Princeton in unreadable maunderings all too
typical of what passes for "education." Is the credentialing mill
up to the job of producing an American leadership class capable
of competing with those of China, India, and other emerging
societies? Aw, we're rich enough that we can afford to be stupid.
California's teachers are the highest paid in the United States,
and its classrooms are among the worst. But at least they're
expensive-why, the Robert F. Kennedy Community School in Los
Angeles is the first schoolhouse on the planet to cost over
half-a-billion dollars ($578 million, to be exact).
KNOWLEDGE - IS IT REALLY
The Credentialed Age symbolizes an important transition in
society. We've gone through those before, of course-from an
agrarian society to an industrial society, and thence to the
so-called "knowledge economy." But, when you think about it, is
the "knowledge economy" really that knowledgeable? It would seem
improbable that any society could undergo the massive expansion
of college education that America has seen since the Second World
War, and either effectively impart that much extra "knowledge" or
create the jobs that require it. So, instead, we have witnessed
an explosion in the ersatz-knowledge economy, where it is
possible to pass one's entire life in an entirely bogus
occupation-such as "community organizer" or "diversity
consultant," to name only the First Couple's contributions to the
scene. Addressing a group of financially strapped women in
economically debilitated central Ohio, Michelle Obama told them:
"We left corporate America, which is a lot of what we're asking
young people to do. Don't go into corporate America."
But isn't "corporate America" what pays for, among other
things, the Gulf emir-sized retinue of courtiers the average U.S.
senator now travels with? And in what sense did the Obamas
"leave" corporate America? Before ascending to her throne, the
First Lady worked for the University of Chicago Hospitals. She
wasn't a nurse or doctor, or even a janitor. She was taken on by
the hospitals in 2002 to run "programs for community relations,
neighborhood outreach, volunteer recruitment, staff diversity,
and minority contracting."' She was a diversicrat-a booming
industry in Eloi America. In 2005, by happy coincidence, just as
her husband was coming to national prominence, she received an
impressive $200,000 pay raise and was appointed Vice President
for Community and External Affairs and put in charge of managing
the hospitals' "business diversity program." Mrs. Obama famously
complained that America is "just downright mean, " and you can
see what she's getting at: she had to make do with a lousy
$316,962 plus benefits for a job so necessary to the hospitals
that when she quit to become First Lady they didn't bother
Leave "corporate America" and get a non-job as a diversity
enforcement officer: that's where the big bucks are.
LINCOLN AND OBAMA
Abraham Lincoln, a predecessor of Barack Obama in both the
White House and the Illinois state legislature, had eighteen
months of formal education and became a soldier, surveyor,
postmaster, rail-splitter, tavern keeper, and self-taught prairie
lawyer. Obama went to Occidental College, Columbia University,
and Harvard Law School, and became a "community organizer." I'm
not sure that's progress-and it's certainly not "sustainable."
If he hadn't become president, his resume wouldn't be
anybody's idea of a return on investment. His life would read
like one of those experimental novels that runs backwards. But
who cares? At every stage along the way, he got the measure of
his guilty white liberal patrons and played them for saps.
President Obama now wants the rest of America to follow in
his and Michelle's footsteps. Under his student-loan "reforms,"
if you choose to go into "public service" any college-loan debts
will be forgiven after ten years." Because "public service" is
more noble than the selfish, money-grubbing private sector.
That's another one of those things that "everybody" knows. So we
need to encourage more people to go into "public service."
In the six decades from 1950, the size of America's state
and local workforce increased three times faster than the general
population. Yet the president says its still not enough: we have
to incentivize even further the diversion of our human capital
into the government machine.
Like many career politicians, Barack Obama has never
created, manufactured, or marketed any product other than
himself. So quite reasonably he sees government dependency as the
natural order of things. And in his college-loan plan he's
explicitly telling you: If you start a business, invent
something, provide a service, you're a schmuck and a loser. In
the America he's offering, you'll be working till you drop dead
to fund an ever swollen bureaucracy that takes six weeks'
vacation a year and retires at fifty-three on a pension you could
never dream of.
MORE FOR LESS
Centralization, unionization, and credentialization have
delivered American education into the grip of a ruthless and
destructive conformity. America spends more per pupil on
education than any other major indus trial democracy, and the
more it spends, the dumber it gets. Ignorance has never been such
bliss-at least for the teachers' union. As for the students,
nearly 60 percent of U.S. high school graduates entering
community college require remedial education. In New York, it's
75 percent. Obama's proposals are bold only insofar as few men
would offer such a transparent guarantee of disaster. But, in his
lavish, leisurely, over-lettered education, he embodies the
failings of his class: credentialism isn't going to be enough in
the post-abundance economy, and 90 percent of expensively
acquired college "educations" won't see any return on investment.
Way back in 1993, in The American Educator, Lillian Katz,
professor of early childhood education at the University of
Illinois, got the lie of the land:
A project by a First Grade class in an affluent Middle
Western suburb that I recently observed showed how
self-esteem and narcissism can be confused. Working from
copied pages prepared by the teacher, each student produced
a booklet called "All About Me." The first page asked for
basic information about the child's home and family. The
second page was titled "What I like to eat," the third was
"What I like to watch on TV," the next was "What I want for
a present." ...
Each page was directed toward the child's basest inner
gratifications. Each topic put the child in the role of
consumer-of food, entertainment, gifts, and recreation. Not
once was the child asked to play the role of producer,
investigator, initiator, explorer, experimenter, or
Professor Katz recalled walking through a school vestibule
and seeing a poster that neatly summed up this approach to
education-a circle of clapping hands surrounding the slogan:
We Applaud Ourselves.
And not for the Latin scores. Our students are certainly
expert at applauding themselves, with levels of "self-esteem"
growing ever more detached from more earthbound measures of
achievement. A 2003 OECD study asked pupils of many lands whether
they got "good marks in mathematics 78 Seventy-two percent of
U.S. students said yes. Only 56 percent of Finns did, and a mere
25 percent of Hong Kong pupils. Yet, according to another OECD
study of the world's Ninth Graders, Hong Kong has the third best
math scores in the world, Finland the second, and the top spot
goes to Taiwan (which didn't participate in the earlier feelgood
study, presumably because their self-esteem levels are so low
they're undetectable) .59 Where do all those Americans so
confident of their "good marks" in math actually rank in the
global Hit Parade? Number 35, between Azerbaijan and Croatia. We
barely scrape the Top 40 in actual math, but we're Number One in
self-esteem about our math.
Lillian Katz made her observations in the early Nineties.
Fifteen years later, a generation expertly trained in tinny
self-congratulation went out and voted for a candidate who told
We are the ones we've been waiting for.
THE FEEL GOODERS
There's a lot of it about in the age of self-esteem. No satirist
could invent a better parody of solipsistic sloth dignified as
idealism than a bunch of people sitting around waiting for
themselves. Hey, man, you're already there. What are you waiting
Many electors voted for Barack Obama in order to check "vote
for a black president" off America's to-do list. Framed like
that, it sounds worthy and admirable. But one could also
formulate it less attractively: they voted for Obama in order to
feel good about themselves. Which is what "celebrating diversity"
boils down to.
As for feelings in general, Obama himself is the perfect
emblem of the Age of Empathy. Unlike the hard-faced Bush regime,
he "cared." After all, he told us so. Asked what he's looking for
in a Supreme Court justice, he gave the correct answer: "The
depth and breadth of one's empathy."......
We are the ones we've been waiting for. Oh yes, it was so hard to
have to wait for us, but we've arrived at last, and you should be
praising the Lord. We have the super education at the super cost
from the super borrowing, which gives us this super national debt
of 14 TRILLION dollars; well okay a part of that was from
frighting wars over the last 50 years; but don't forget our
wonderful, but costly education system, that tells everyone you
must go to the ivy league Colleges and Universities to get that
golden piece of paper that qualifies you for jobs that ain't
there, but you get to look down on the trades people (the
carpenters, plumbers, electricians, shoe-makers, and all the
dirty blue collar workers - who didn't go to ivy league Colleges)
and you get to "feel good" about yourself, and you can tell
everyone "We are the ones we've been waiting for."
Well the ones we've been waiting for, who went to the costly ivy
league Universities, got onto Wall Street and into the Banks and
into the political chairs of our nations, are the ones who in
2008 brought the world just about flat on its back in economic
recession if not depression, and is at the end of 2011 still
trying to climb back up the face-cliff, and create jobs in the
USA, as it pours "stimulation money" into the black hole that is
so powerful even light cannot escape from it.
So much for the modern costly education in America!
For the Christian, if you can possibly do it, HOME SCHOOL your
You can talk to Tara Chapman on that subject: