The estimable Iowahawk linked today on Twitter to a story in McClatchy dealing with a study that found most college students don’t learn “higher order” thinking skills. This sort of announcement is not news to anyone who has spent more than 15 minutes on the campus of your average school in the past ten years. And I would contend that this drift away from academic standards begins much earlier than college.
I have had the experience in the past few years to be in a freshman-level English course at a public university. Now, I haven’t earned myself any advanced degrees, or any degrees whatsoever, but the level of ignorance in that classroom was gob-smacking. The course in question was a compulsory, introductory level writing course, and as such I imagine it represented a fair cross-section of the university. Not an Ivy by any stretch, but certainly a rung or two above community college (in perceived importance if not in actual quality of instruction). Students could not write. They could not analyze. They could not understand even the simplest metaphor. It was the sort of experience that reduces one’s faith in humanity, if indeed one has any left.
Our intellectual currency is devalued at all levels. We’ve lost the equivalent of the gold standard – “education” now is not measured in real-world results but by whatever consensus the academic community can settle on. Increasingly, the drivers of American thought are, as Mr. Reynolds would say, “credentialed, not educated.”
What does this mean for us going forward? Who can say? What worries me is that our competitors today are not nearly so burdened by morals and hindered by ideals as we are. The Chinese are concerned with real, measurable wealth. The worldwide Jihad movement, such as it is, also measures its gains in very real currency. They may soon add several Arab governments to their trophy case.
I am not advocating that we abandon our ideals or morals. But we must start making concessions to reality if we mean to survive the next 100 years. The national deficit may be so large a number as to seem fantastic, but that bill will soon come due. When it does, I fear our contentment, bred from years of unquestioned American superiority, and the windy rhetoric of our leaders will prove a very thin refuge indeed.