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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The Dumbing Of America

It seems like being educated isn’t so smart anymore

You may have heard by now that a sitting member of Congress, U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee, stunned students and teachers alike at Booker T. Washington High School in Houston by telling them the moon is a “planet” that is “made up mostly of gases.”

Of course, the moon has nearly no atmosphere and is rock solid. There are only eight planets (well, at least now since they kicked Pluto out of the line-up).

So, she got it wrong. She misspoke. Who cares? We’re all human. Move along, right?

But it’s not that. It’s more than that, and it’s not the first time Jackson-Lee has demonstrated such a lack of basic understanding of common knowledge. For example, when Jackson-Lee was visiting the Mars Pathfinder Operations Center in Pasadena, California, she asked if the Pathfinder succeeded in taking pictures of the American flag planted on Mars by Neil Armstrong in 1969.

Of course, humans have never stepped foot on Mars. Our flag was planted by Neil Armstrong on the moon, not Mars (although Jackson-Lee thinks the moon is a planet, like Mars, so maybe you’ll give her partial credit here).

Yet she’s a Yale graduate. And a graduate of the University of Virginia law school. She sits on the esteemed Judiciary Committee in Congress, the Homeland Security Committee and the Budget Committee.

She influences decisions that affect millions of Americans daily, not to mention the balance of freedom on this planet. Yet, she cannot use basic contextual clues that Earth’s moon is not a planet because — wait for it — then it wouldn’t be a “moon” in the first place.

With this kind of nonsense thinking, is it any wonder why three out of four Americans believe this country is on the wrong track?

But it’s not just Jackson-Lee, though, or other elected officials. They are more of a symptom of the disease.

You see, there has been a deliberate, persistent effort in this country to minimize the importance of education or to become smarter than we are. Some argue that the media needs to focus more on entertainment than education, with news programs more concerned with sensational stories than in-depth reporting.

And it shows. For example, according to a report last year from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), math scores for eighth graders fell in nearly every state. Only 26% of eighth graders were proficient, down from 34% in 2019.

Math proficiency among fourth graders also declined in 41 states. Just 36% of fourth graders were proficient in math, and reading scores dropped in more than half of the states.

In researching how to write this article, I Googled “Is being smart important?” The search results surprised me, and maybe you, too. Here’s a sampling of the links that were served up: “Why You Don’t Want to Be Smart,” “Being Smart is Useless,” “Why Highly Intelligent People Are Miserable,” “Why Being Smart Isn’t Enough To Be Successful Anymore,” and I could go on and on listing more search results like these, but it’s almost like we’ve given up.

We’ve succumbed to the notion (or rather the lie) of why bother trying to study hard for the exam, or go back to college, or get that certification or training in whatever your profession might be because it obviously (according to Google) won’t be enough to make a difference in your success and won’t make you any happier than you are now.

Whatever the reason(s) for which becoming “smart” was abandoned in this country or is no longer in vogue, it’s unconscionable. One in four Americans thinks the sun orbits the Earth. One in five of us confuses astronomy with astrology.

Seventy percent of us do not know what the Constitution is.

Now, some folks might say, “Well, some people are just born smart. It’s not my fault I’m not good at high-level math,” or some may say, “I’m not good at this (fill in the blank with this subject) or that (fill in the blank with that subject).”

And I get it. We’re all born with certain natural proclivities.

But being “smart” (or getting smarter) isn’t about what you were born with; it’s about a choice, choosing what you do with what you have been given. It’s really about a work ethic. Do you improve your mind through studying and learning every day, keeping up with current events, or have you bought into the lie that it doesn’t make a difference anyway, so why bother trying?

Aristotle once wrote, “Educated men are as much superior to uneducated men as the living are to the dead.” And no, that doesn’t mean you need to have some fancy, framed degree on the wall. My father didn’t, and he was the smartest man I ever knew.

The question we must answer every day is, “Do we want a country with more Sheila Jackson-Lees, or do we want to be smart again?”

While that answer might be lost in space for far too many Americans, how has it become a choice at all?

Louis R. Avallone is a Shreveport businessman, attorney and author of “Bright Spots, Big Country, What Makes America Great.” He is also a former aide to U.S. Representative Jim McCrery and editor of The Caddo Republican. His columns have appeared regularly in 318 Forum since 2007. Follow him on Facebook, on Twitter @louisravallone or by e-mail at louisavallone@mac.com, and on American Ground Radio at 101.7 FM and 710 AM, weeknights from 6 - 7 p.m., and streaming live on keelnews.com.


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