For one year, my father was a county Extension agent in the Mississippi Delta, so I spent my sixth-grade year in a Delta school. The teachers were horrible, and they assigned a ton of homework. Most days after school I sat at our kitchen table from 4 to 10 p.m. working on homework. When my parents finally said something to the school, they were told, “We assign so much homework because most of the students only do a fraction of it.”
From conversations with my peers, I can tell you that most of them were barely passing. They didn’t care about school or their grades. At my old school, my friends and I competed to see who could get the highest grade. There was no one at the Delta school with whom I could have such a competition.
That’s when I learned what happens when a culture does not value education at all.
I recently watched a video of 17-year-old high school students being quizzed about basic food facts. The students said that guacamole is made from apples and that cheese comes from macaroni. As the interviewer pointed out, these kids would be voting in a year and were already driving cars.
The statistics about American ignorance are staggering. According to 2011 Newsweek survey of 1,000 U.S. citizens, 29 percent of them couldn’t name the vice president. Forty-four percent couldn’t define the Bill of Rights, and 73 percent could not say why we were involved in the Cold War.
A 2018 survey by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation found that only one in three Americans could pass a multiple choice U.S. citizenship test. Seventy-two percent could not name the original 13 states, and 60 percent could not identify the countries we fought against in World War II.
Ninety-one percent of immigrants passed the citizenship test. Only 33 percent of U.S. citizens passed it. Of the citizens who took the test, those aged 65 and older performed the best, with 74 percent of them passing. Only 19 percent of test takers aged 45 and under passed.
What does that tell us? It tells us that our culture has experienced a huge change in the way it values education. Immigrants value education. Our older generation values education. Younger people, however, have not been well-educated and do not seem to care enough to correct that on their own.
Education spending in the U.S. overall has been steadily increasing, yet in 2018 we were ranked 27th internationally in overall education.
In 1990, we were ranked sixth.
If this trend doesn’t alarm you, I want to know what you’re drinking. People in the ag industry have long been worried that our kids no longer know where their food comes from. However, the problem is worse than that — they don’t seem to know where anything comes from.
If this trade war has taught us anything, it’s that we’re living in a world with a global economy. Nothing is going to change that. If our country is going to compete successfully on the world stage, our citizens must be ready to compete with well-educated and informed people around the world.
That begins with us teaching our children that school isn’t day care, a “C” isn’t good enough, and video games aren’t a useful way to spend time. These people are going to vote some day.
But the solution doesn’t end at home. We have to expect more of ourselves and our peers. We’re already voting — being uninformed shouldn’t be an option.
Picking up your local newspaper and reading it is a good step in the right direction.