Where Will America's New Brain Elite Come From?
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Have You Seen This?

Have You Seen This?

Does it only appear that way to me, or are Americans getting dumber and dumber? Of course, I could slip into a tirade about the possible mental prowess of anyone who elected George W. Bush into office – twice – but let’s stick to the facts instead.


Jon D. Miller, a political scientist at the Center for Biomedical Communications at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago says, only 20-25% of Americans are “scientifically savvy and alert.”


According to his studies, most American adults don’t understand what molecules are… less than a third know that DNA is a key to heredity… 90% don’t know what radiation is… and nearly one in five Americans thinks the sun revolves around the earth – a belief that was abandoned in the 17th century.


In a 2006 survey by National Geographic, questioning young adults (18-24) on national and world geography, only 50% were able to locate the state of New York on a map of the United States. On a world map, 6% missed the entire country. 29% of the polled believed the U.S. has a population of between 500 and 750 million, another third guessed 1 to 2 billion.


Is it lack of IQ or a dismal level of education that’s responsible for this knowledge gap? If I take into account an experience with my 19-year-old stepson, a bright college student with a proven IQ of 148, I can only assume it’s the latter.


We spent a family evening playing Pictionary, a game that revolves around how fast you can draw a picture for your team mate to recognize. The words to be drawn range from actions to objects, persons and places. In one round, my stepson took a card – the category was “Person” – and looked at it blankly.


“I don’t know who that is,” he said to his father, shrugging, and held the card out for us to see. Our eyes widened in disbelief – the term was: “Jimmy Carter.”


That was the second of two experiences I recently had. The other happened in the supermarket, where I was doing some grocery shopping. My bill was $16.33, so I handed the kid at the register a $20 bill. After he had already typed in the number on the register – the display  dutifully telling him “Change $3.67” – I realized that my wallet was already bursting with silver (or what goes for silver these days), so I gave him an extra 33 cents to round up my charge.


He froze in his tracks, staring at the change I had given him for about a minute. I didn’t say anything because – not very nice, but in the spirit of true science – I wanted to see how long it would take him to figure it out. At first he tried to give my change back to me and I refused. Finally, after another paralyzed minute or two (during which I could almost hear the whirring of his mental gears), he gave me $3.79.


I couldn’t believe it: it was obvious that this kid was fresh out of high school, and I would have expected his math skills to be at their prime. A friend explained to me later that students these days are only taught mental math in the first few grades; then they’re equipped with calculators for the rest of their school days. And Dubya’s much-touted “No Child Left Behind” program has only served to help even the least capable students graduate without damaging their tender spirits.


So, back to my original question: Where will America’s future scientists, professors, and visionary thinkers come from? Maybe we’ll have to import them, like everything else – I hear the education in China and India is pretty good these days.

Posted 03-13-2008 2:12 PM by Shannara Johnson


NotEvenD wrote re: Where Will America's New Brain Elite Come From?
on 05-06-2008 4:30 PM

Finally, I see someone else agreeing with me on this issue, and it's happening not only in math and science, but in politics and sociology.  Looks like the beginning of the end.