When America sent people to the moon we were considered pretty smart as a nation. This was considered a “Giant Leap for Mankind”. At that time we were mainly driven by competition from the Soviet Union, which had an excellent education system. The American education system had grown dramatically after WWII because of the GI bill which allowed returning service men to go to college. Russia sent Sputnik up, then was successful circling the planet with animals, and Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space on April 12, 1961. This demonstrated a technological superiority that took many Americans by surprise and freaked out a lot of our politicians.
In response to Sputnik, President Kennedy enacted “the Higher Education Act of 1963, authorizing several times more college aid in a five year period than had been appropriated under the Land Grant College Act in a century, and providing classrooms for several hundred thousand students, 25 to 30 new community colleges a year, 10 to 20 new graduate centers, several new technical institutes and better college libraries.” http://www.ontheissues.org/Celeb/John_F__Kennedy_Education.htm
The nation itself valued education and education was seen as the way to move forward in Civil rights and the way to achieve “the American Dream”. In the 70’s and 80’s families would mortgage their homes to send their kids to college. Since then America’s education system has gone downhill. When I went to college in California the first two years of community college were free and the State College system had tuition under $100 per semester. Then Reagan happened and a rash of anti-tax initiatives were passed and since then education became more expensive as public funding was slashed. It is tempting to blame the higher cost of education to the conservative austerity trend, but in fact state funding for higher education has skyrocketed.
Part of the problem is that everyone wanted to go to college and the enrolment increased 50% since the 90’s. “As the baby boomers reached college age, state appropriations to higher education skyrocketed, increasing more than fourfold in today’s dollars, from $11.1 billion in 1960 to $48.2 billion in 1975. By 1980, state funding for higher education had increased a mind-boggling 390 percent in real terms over the previous 20 years.”
“Interestingly, increased spending has not been going into the pockets of the typical professor. Salaries of full-time faculty members are, on average, barely higher than they were in 1970. Moreover, while 45 years ago 78 percent of college and university professors were full time, today half of postsecondary faculty members are lower-paid part-time employees, meaning that the average salaries of the people who do the teaching in American higher education are actually quite a bit lower than they were in 1970.” https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/05/opinion/sunday/the-real-reason-college-tuition-costs-so-much.html
The cost of education is not the only factor that is discouraging education. A new poll by the Pew Research Center indicates that conservatives think college does more harm than good. “According to the report, some 58 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents now say that colleges and universities have a negative impact on the nation. Only 36 percent think higher education’s effect is positive. The older and more conservative the Republican polled, the less he or she approves of colleges…..By comparison, 72 percent of Democrats (twice as many as Republicans) approve of the influence of colleges and universities; 19 percent disapprove.” http://www.kentucky.com/living/religion/paul-prather/article162858363.html
Why has education become politicized? Why do Republicans doubt climate science while Democrats do not? Why do Republicans believe “alternative facts” much more than Democrats? Why is it that Republican lawmakers do not rely on the “best available science” to make their decisions and decry “experts in the field” preferring political appointees with little or no experience? https://rantt.com/why-do-republicans-hate-science-712f81ba930c
Part of the reason is that Republican ideology is tied to fossil fuels, and the industry and conservatives have invested millions of dollars to spread doubt about climate science because they know that saving the environment will cost them money. They have set up conservative “Think Tanks’ to spread their ideology and have purchased almost all talk radio and of course Fox News but also much of the “Liberal Media” to spread doubt about things that counter their ideology. Conservatives say that liberals are just as bad as conservatives at picking and choosing what they believe. This is called conformational bias. http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/09/left-science-gmo-vaccines/
The other reason is that the conservative coalition has teamed up with religious conservatives who take the Bible literally. That means that they cannot believe in scientific facts like evolution and carbon dating. They already deny evolutionary science so it is only another small step to question climate science. From this it is another small step to question all institutions and experts. This has resulted in Trump, who is busy destroying faith in all of our institutions, especially the news, which used to be known as the “Fourth Estate” because the news media kept the politicians honest.
One other factor that is dumbing down everyone is social media. By tweeting 140 characters the proper use of English has given way to misspelling and abbreviations. We have become impatient with reading full books and instead read summations on the internet. The internet is a wonderful resource to investigate anything you wonder about, however it is also full of information that is not true. Our personal beliefs and interests determine which internet accounts we tend to read and believe. This is conformational bias. We tend to believe what we already believe and to disbelieve things that challenge our beliefs. That has lead to a world where conservatives only believe Fox and where liberals disbelieve anything from Fox. It is difficult to find what the REAL truth is. 5 Crazy Ways Social Media Is Changing Your Brain Right Now 3:15 min. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HffWFd_6bJ0
Autocratic dictatorships are afraid of the internet and censor or ban the internet in many countries, however social media has the power to raise people up and to organize and change the world. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uppg_2nGo54
So the question for Solutions is how do we reverse this trend that is intentionally dumbing down America, and restore faith in education, in science, in the economic and sociological “experts”? How do we make America Smart again?
Here are some videos that will explore solutions.
Neil Degras Tyson has some ideas. Make America Smart Again 8:33 min. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5by8y3yHZg
New Rule: Make America Learn Again | Real Time with Bill Maher 4:56 min. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNqXaeHXIQE
5 Reasons Why Finland Is A Global Education Leader 5 min. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UfmFIEh2QjU
Should The World Adopt Finland’s Education System? 5 min. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_W2oS6HvTo
How America’s public schools keep kids in poverty | Kandice Sumner 13:50 min. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7O7BMa9XGXE