Another perennial story of American students falling behind came out today. “U.S. students are lagging behind their peers in other countries in science and math, test results out Tuesday show,” read the AP story. There must be a better way for America to compete, many say. Well, fortunately I’m on the scene. In today’s USA Today, I argue for a radical reorientation of our educational system. An excerpt:
…It’s easy to see why defeatism and depression reign supreme. Every day the headlines announce how far behind we’ve fallen. Preschoolers in South Korea can recite the square root of pi to the 300th place. Chinese kids know the periodic tables even before the umbilical cord is cut. A half-naked Sri Lankan child just built the first fully functioning perpetual motion machine. The fact that his school has no electricity, desks, or even a roof drives home that infrastructure investments aren’t the answer. Even if we repaired every leaky schoolhouse roof in the country — the central plank in the Democrats’ education program — it’s doubtful our first-graders would be able to discuss quantum physics the way Japanese tykes can.
But why be pessimistic when we can just pretend that America’s can-do spirit will overcome all?
This was the brilliant insight of America’s educational industrial complex, which has worked tirelessly to make our kids think the most of themselves regardless of their accomplishments.
The unsung hero of this story is Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Few of us realized that the saccharine sage of preschool TV, who died in 2003, was preparing American youth for the rough-and-tumble world of global competition. Beneath that soft red sweater beat the heart of a warrior.
“You’ve made this day a special day,” he said at the end of every show. “Just by being you. You are the only person like you in this whole world. And people can like you just because you’re you.”
I remember during my own childhood how Saturday morning cartoons were punctuated with public service announcements informing me that “the most important person in the whole wide world is you.” Looking at me today, who can deny the basic truth of these ads?
More broadly, America’s educational elite has built on this down payment of unqualified self-regard by redefining what it means to be educated. Rather than be educated about meaningless stuff — dates, names, facts, figures and other trivia — these selfless patriots have committed to drilling it into kids that no matter how “stupid” or “ignorant” they are on paper, in the real world they are brilliant and wonderful.
The payoff is all around us.