Just Facts

At age ten, American students take an international test and score well
above the international average. But by age fifteen, when students from
forty countries are tested, the Americans place twenty-fifth. The
longer kids stay in American schools, the worse they do in
international competition. They do worse than kids from countries that
spend much less money on education.

That’s John Stossel, who’s putting on a 20/20 special tonight called Stupid in America. There’s a couple of things that aggravate me when I discuss schools with other individualists, who, like me, think the government has no business in them at all. One thing is that factoid, above. There is a distinction to make between grade school and all of the rest. A lot of very real and very good schooling goes on at the public grade school level, and that is a fact that should not be evaded. Fully integrated education? No, but that’s obtainable almost nowhere, even in the private sector.

The second thing is that to condemn all teachers collectively, regardless of the values they produce, is wrong. It’s just as wrong as condemning an American soldier actively angaged in producing the value of freedom because he collects a government paycheck and works for a bunch of boobs.

The point has been made to me, well taken, that value is not to be measured, strictly or primarily, by the fastidiousness of the labor that went into producing it. Value is measured, subjectively, by the one for whom it is intended, i.e., the consumer. And he’s always right; never wrong. Still, there is room to admire people who work very hard at producing values that find a good and happy home. This has been my general experience, around here, with regard to grade-school public education.

By coincidence, my wife forwarded an email this morning that she had just received from one of her 5th grade students. He’s 10 years old. And, yes, he is among her best.


Mrs Nikoley-

Excuse me, but I don’t seem to find the online intervention when I went onto Netscape Firefox-based. I didn’t clear my cache, but when I refresh, it should come out. But, I only see a chapter Six. If I did end up on Chapter Six, there would be an NEXT CHAPTER button. But there isn’t. Please tell me when the thing is on, since I’m  itching to do more math. Oh, and by the way, please shade in the green, blue, and purple parts. I am now on the red part. The one under the final one is also incomplete, so you can X the box.



  1. Anji on January 14, 2006 at 05:57

    I've lived in France and England and I've heard similar ideas about French and English students. Do all countries put down their youth?

  2. Adam on January 14, 2006 at 13:32

    You can outsource the number-crunching that these foriegn tests measure. To keep the higher wages that Americans enjoy, we emphasize the creative aspects of science and the arts. That's why US kids can go to school less hours than Asian kids and still rule the economic world.

  3. Monika on January 14, 2006 at 12:56

    I don't think Stossel was condemning teachers in his piece. I think he was condemning the school system, which does not allow for competition (vouchers). He made an excellent case that when competition is introduced, everyone wins.

  4. Daedalus on January 14, 2006 at 21:27

    Oddly, people seem to discount the fact that the Belgium kids who compared to the Americans are in government schools. Odder still is the fact that Europeans in government schools alwasy test higher than stupid Americans. Hmm. Geez, I wonder why.

  5. Thomas on January 15, 2006 at 17:56

    I think the biggest problem with the American Education system at elementary and secondary level, is that schools are not conceptualized as places of learning, as rather day-care for older children.

    I attended elementary and half of my high school education in Albania, and when I came to America, I slept through the rest of the High School, while getting a 4.0. It was that much easier.

    No worries though. The American academic machine makes up for it at College level, and post-grad level. This is where all the economic supremacy comes to play. An Albanian University could never afford the infrastructure to practically teach science. There is only so much you can learn from books.

    The email from the 10 year old is gold though! Tell him to switch to Internet Explorer for testing purposes and see if the problem persists — I can't help it. I have been a tech support person all my life!

  6. jill on January 16, 2006 at 08:22

    This isnt really a new story. For years the educations of, for example, Japan have been considered better than ours. Here in Tx, I get really tired of so much emphasis being placed on the required standardized testings. Granted testing is a gauge of how much a child has learned and retained, but let's no teach to the test. Life is not a standardized test. It seems that too many school districts use the tests to make sure they get extra money for being a "top performing" school. Well, listen to children and even those who have been through the systme. Can they count back change to you? Do they say things like "he done this" or "where you At" Out of our four children, only one likes to read. I just dont think our testing system is a good indication of the level of true ability to learn anything.

  7. EKENYERENGOZI MICHAEL CHIMA on January 16, 2006 at 10:23

    I have a song I called "American Stupid". My response to Green Day's "American Idiot".

    Most American pupils and students are ignorant of the rest of the world. But pupils and students from the rest of the world are not ignorant of America. Because while American youths look down on the rest of the world, the rest of the world look up to America.

    Why is it true that most youths in other parts of the world dream of going to America?

    American youths are not stupid.
    They are only ignorant.
    And I don't blame them. Because, they are only products of the erroneous American Schools. So, don't blame American youths.
    Blame their tutors. And blame the negative consequences of the war on terror. Because, the fears of terrorist attacks have distracted most American youths from paying attention to their studies.

    They live in fear of their uncertain future.

  8. Blue Turtle on January 16, 2006 at 14:37

    What amazed me about that was how bad the research was.

    I been in many countries, and everyone complains about the state of their educational system. It was like that also in 1970 here in the US and it has not changed.

    I agree, it is a shame that the educational system here has such an invasive and UNEDUCATED government presence.

  9. Ross on January 16, 2006 at 16:55

    I agree with your post about it not being the teachers who are at fault but the "boobs" who are in charge. I am a public school teacher (5th grade), and feel that most if not all of my colleagues both in my school and my district, which employes over 3,000 teachers, do as much as they can, and work very hard. I have some issues with "competition" among public and private education. I wrote about this in my blog, here is the link to the article: How "Stupid in America" report on 20/20 was wrong (I hate to toot my own horn, but it's easier than restating all the facts in my post). I would just really like to point out that competition wouldn't solve anything, and this report only added fuel to the fire.

  10. Kyle Bennett on January 17, 2006 at 08:15


    I read your blog article, and apparently you've been educated in a non-competitive government school.

    You are technically correct that competition does not solve anything. In fact, what competition does is to allow the market to evaluate alternative solutions and to distribute resources accordingly.

    It is *only* in that context that concepts like "underpaid", "underfunded", and "accountability" mean anything. Underpaid or underfunded only means that someone gets less than the market will bear – not whether someone somewhere else makes more or less – and that is a discrepancy that markets are very adept at quickly correcting. By that standard, government schools are egegiously *over*-funded, which is why people like you are so fearful of free markets in education.

    Many or most individual teachers are indeed underpaid by market standards, but they have no hope of getting paid what they are worth without free markets. The remainder are, of course, absolutely panic-stricken at the idea of being paid what they are worth – they'd starve to death in a matter of weeks.

    What's really offensive is that your notion of accountability is that a school's performance has to meet the approval of some bureaucrat somewhere. Sorry, but the only accountability that matters at all is accountability to the individuals being educated (and to their parents by proxy).

    There is effectively zero accountability in the government schools as they stand now. I too object to the the voucher system, but only because it still implicitly retains the notion of accountability to bureaucrats who have no business approving or disapproving any educational performance, and can only damage it by trying to do so. The voucher system is a small step toward true accountability, but only a completely free and open market, in which everyone pays their own way, will bring complete accountability and appropriate funding for all of the alternative solutions.

    Which, in the case of government schools, would likely be a big fat $0.

  11. Tom O'Leary on January 17, 2006 at 08:29

    "I been in many countries, and everyone complains about the state of their educational system. It was like that also in 1970 here in the US and it has not changed."

    I suppose that's part of the problem Blue Turtle. Our system has not kept step with our evolution from manufacturing to technology. Children in the States are expected to sit in a seat all day, consume volumes of data, process it for a relatively short period of time, and regurgitate it for standardized testing that will rank them, or their schools against others. Our present school system is one that was devised to churn out robotic assembly line workers years ago.

    Education should be exciting, rich and rewarding. It should be a never-ending adventure of learning new things, leading to a real understanding of everything inside us and around us, establishing natural linkages along the way to form a practical and realistic perspective on the world and our role in it.

    True learning isn't encouraged in public schools in the US (or in many other parts of the world for that matter). Children don't explore the world around them – they remember what their teacher told them. I think that the Waldorf system is much more in tune with a child's natural development. It's about teaching children to think for themselves and find the answers that they desire. School shouldn't be about sitting down, being quiet and learning what the school needs them to know in order for the district to score well on national placement charts.

    It's a very sad story, really. But, as parents, we are the primary teachers of our children. And if parents help their children to explore, open doors and lead by example and interaction; they'll be fine in the end, even after wasting 12 years in a shabby, mind-numbing public education system.

  12. Monika on January 19, 2006 at 17:45

    Daedelus, the government schools in Belgium were in fact voucher schools. The schools competed for the students, and the badly performing schools went under.

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