What\’s wrong with America?

Well, according to George Monbiot it\’s that they don\’t have central control of the school system.

No, really.

Our own centralised system is so much better, isn\’t it.

Well, isn\’t it?

10 thoughts on “What\’s wrong with America?”

  1. Funny, I remember an exchange on another site where it was pointed out that Britain, though the wealthiest and most powerful nation in Europe (probably the world) had the lowest level of literacy- and that Mr. Gladstone set out to remedy this via universal education (successfully remedied both problems I think). Now we have similar evidence from the USA that poor education is associated with pre-eminent wealth and power.
    Just possibly teaching everyone the same things reduces the power and wealth of a nation, and is therefor undesirable for that nation as a whole?
    Maybe it is something to do with uniform education reducing independant thinking and diversity of opinion?

  2. The worst state schools in the US are certainly worse than the worst state schools in the UK (on every level, including value-for-money). The best are on a par. I’d expect the median to be about the same too.

    If centralisation vs localisation has anything at all to do with any of this, then I’m the King of France.

  3. “Maybe it is something to do with uniform education reducing independant thinking and diversity of opinion?”

    Unfortunately in the U.S., where schools are controlled locally, ‘independent thinking’ often consists of the school board deciding that evolution is a hoax and should not be taught or at least that creationism shold be given equal time. Given the opportunity, ignorance usually begets ignorance, especially when religion is involved.

    I also find it difficult to believe that universal education could be the proximate cause of national decline in the case of either Britain or the U.S.

  4. “Unfortunately in the U.S., where schools are controlled locally, ‘independent thinking’ often consists of the school board deciding that evolution is a hoax and should not be taught or at least that creationism shold be given equal time.”

    Which just demonstrates that any system where one person or committee controls what is taught across a whole area is bad for education.

    A system of schools that are free to determine their own curricula would remove this problem. If you don’t like your local school, the next nearest would likely be run differently.

  5. Has anyone mentioned the impacts of high immigration levels in the US on some of these education statistics?

    I doubt Mr Monbiot has delved particularly deeply into the underlying data on this.

  6. @ Mr Potarto

    The next nearest school being where? The last time I drove through the rural US (which was during the last 3 months) some towns were 50 miles apart or more. Given the demographics and the stranglehold religion has on some parts of the US, in your scenario the nearest school teaching real science could be hundreds of miles away.

    I still see nothing wrong with a minimum educational standard stopping well short of Labour’s micro-management.

  7. “I still see nothing wrong with a minimum educational standard stopping well short of Labour’s micro-management.”

    Fine. Now go and implement it.

    The Tories thought that a National Curriculum would be just that: a core set of subjects and syllabi divorced from the progressive consensus. Of course it was promptly hijacked by that self-same movement and subverted into the disaster that it is today. Educational reform is probably the ne plus ultra when it comes to an example of diffuse costs vs. concentrated benefits. How long does a government minister keep the education brief? A few years, at most. How long do the panjandrums of the education industry stay in their posts? Their entire working lives. There can be no real reform of the education system while those who genuinely have control stand athwart its progress. Producer capture is a fundamental flaw of concentrating service provision.

  8. @David Gillies

    Is drawing parallels between the UK and the U.S. valid in this case?

    Just because both nations produce too many young people who are illiterate, innumerate and ignorant by the time they’ve gone through the education system, doesn’t necessarily mean the causes of the dysfunction are the same or that the solutions would be identical.

    The problems in the UK seem to be primarily political/class (as in: down with anything that might be ‘upper class’) linked – plus the recent influx of non-English speakers in urban areas. In the U.S., the roots of the problem grow from both demographics and the deep seated anti-intellectualism mentioned in the article – this last not (yet) being much of a feature in the UK.

    Hence the thought that a set of minimal Federal educational standards for the U.S. might go a long way toward taking the edge off local educational ‘eccentricities’. In the U.K. the opposite – opening the system entirely – might be more effective.

  9. Eva,

    I do believe Mr Blair was quite keen on schools that taught creationism. His support for both creationist teaching and local choice took many by surprise. But consider this: what if Blair and NuLabour had decided that this should be national policy? In 1997 they had a large enough majority to force that particular line of teaching upon the entire country if they had wanted.

    Centralisation is bad because it takes away initiative and leaves everyone at the mercy of a single central authority whom they must trust to remain sensible.

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