Magazine article Reason

Dumbing Down the Public: Why It Matters

Magazine article Reason

Dumbing Down the Public: Why It Matters

Article excerpt

On several occasions, I have found myself in a familiar dialogue. When I complain about low expectations in the schools, my opposite number says, "So what? Our economy is doing well, we win the lion's share of Nobel Prizes, and we have enough qualified people to fill our most demanding professions." In other words, even if a third of our youngsters are not learning the most elementary skills in school, even if a third of our college freshmen must get remediation on campus, there's no cause for concern.

Behind this disagreement are two different assumptions: I assume that our education system should aim to educate everyone who comes to school; the other side says that ability is distributed along a bell-shaped curve and that we should not be overly concerned about the laggards because we will always need people to pick up the trash and sweep the streets. I confess that I get confused at this point because the current argument favoring low or no standards is coming from people who claim to be on the left.

Some evidence recently surfaced, which suggests that a democratic society pays a price for widespread ignorance. The Princeton Review, best known for its test preparation services, analyzed the vocabulary used by the presidential candidates in the campaign debates of 2000 and compared it to the vocabulary levels used in earlier campaign debates.

The Princeton Review obtained transcripts of the Gore-Bush debates, the Clinton-Bush-Perot debate of 1992, the Kennedy-Nixon debate of 1960, and the Lincoln-Douglas debate of 1858. …

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