Wednesday, April 29, 2009

CLOSING THE EDUCATION GAP : WE NEED TO MAKE AMERICA SMART--FAST

CONSIDERED OPINION

By : Dr. T. Vernon Letterman, Professor of Market Solutions, Wharton School of Business, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Chairman, American Credit Professionals United For Growth Through Debt.

America faces economic crisis because we do not properly educate our children. Recent studies revealed that American children rank behind Albanians and Somalis in basic math and science skills. They also rank behind Togo and Trinidad in English reading ability. This represents a grave danger for the American economy. Without math, reading and science skills, American bankers cannot effectively use calculators, loan officers cannot tabulate interest rates and chemists cannot invent profitable new medications for erectile dysfunction. Our economy needs bankers, loan officers and chemists. We need loans and drugs to function as a modern society. Without such contributions to society, we can expect a bleak future. If our economy faces difficulty now, imagine how bad things will be once these poorly-educated children join the workforce. Given this alarming trend, we must take swift action. There is only one way to prevent imminent economic ruin: We must make our children smart—fast.

For decades, American children have wallowed in an overly permissive culture. They no longer want to achieve great things; they simply want to drink Kool-Aid®, eat cookies, play Super Smash Bros.® video games and go nighty-night. In decades past, American children learned the skills they needed in school and went on to successful careers. In 1960, schoolchildren wanted to be astronauts, bridge builders and pediatricians. Today, they just want to hang around and talk about High School Musical® or imitate no-good rappers. We need to bring the spirit of achievement back to America’s youth. We need to make American children want to learn, not play video games and or wander around malls with their friends. We need to tell our children that they are Americans, not Albanians or Slovaks. They are better than that. Yet the scores say that Americans can’t solve word problems as well as an ignorant Portuguese peasant. This must change.

As a Professor of Market Solutions at Wharton Business School, I believe in American enterprise. I know that private enterprise can provide a solution to the education gap. We simply must find the right teachers to help our kids. The time for soft-hearted permissiveness is over. Kids need to take school seriously and get ready for tests. Private enterprise can equip them with the tools they need to learn everything. We must no longer settle for Albanian math achievement levels; we must strive to be the world’s best. To that end, schoolchildren must start algebra in first grade and calculus in second grade. This is the only way to get our children excited and motivated about math. If our second-graders can’t compare the cosine differentials in inconsistent parabolas, we are failing as a country. Private businesses can make it fun to learn calculus. By working with companies such as Disney® and Fisher-Price®, I am confident that even the stupidest kid can work out a differential equation under time pressure by the time he reaches third grade. In America, we can achieve anything for our kids.

We want results for our children. For too long, Congress has obsessed about protecting children from internet pornography, child molesters and playground killers. Instead, Congress should have been worried about children’s deteriorating academic skills. While Congress fretted about immoral Hollywood movies, our children stopped learning how to read. While Congress enacted laws protecting children from al-Qaeda, our kids became stupider than the Sudanese. We need to prioritize. What good are safe children if they are stupid? Without proper education, we sabotage America’s chances to succeed in the 21st Century. The smart people are all dying. Now, the idiots who can barely read or balance their checkbooks are succeeding to powerful positions in government, finance and science. We face national embarrassment, bankruptcy and international ridicule. All over the world, other countries call our kids fat, lazy, Twizzler®-eating do-nothings who can’t distinguish circles from squares. They point to the geometry test scores. They note that American kids think triangles have six sides and that isosceles means “ice cream.” Is it any wonder that our economy fails? Look at our children—they are horrendously stupid.

We must get tough on our children. It is in our interest to make our kids smart again, because smart kids make money later. And when people make money, it makes everyone else happy. Additionally, smart kids might even turn out to be inventors or patentholders; and inventors give us all useful things like hand vacuum cleaners, improved anxiety pills and disposable pets. Parents may want to “go easy” on their children so they don’t “hurt their feelings.” But the time for mercy is over. We need to get strict with our kids so they don’t turn into mush-brained couch potatoes. We can no longer afford to call failed kids “individuals with delayed achievement issues.” No, we must return honesty to education. When a kid can’t add or subtract on a math quiz, we cannot write “Nice try! You will get it next time: B+.” We must write: “You dumb fuck. Get it right or ship out: F.” In American business, we do not tolerate failure. We should not encourage failure among our children, either. Our economy depends on their success. We must foster it. And we must harshly punish failure, just as private enterprise does.

We must close the achievement gap. Private enterprise can do this by setting firm goals for students all over the country. The time for “curricula” and “lesson plans” is over. We must treat schools like corporations with deadlines, achievement patterns and incentives. We must foster a new culture that demands success. To that end, we propose demanding that all first-graders read Milton and Shakespeare. We cannot wait to move into challenging texts; we must challenge our students from day one. How will our students outdo the Germans and the French if they are still reading Elmo books when they are 18? Our students must achieve everywhere, all the time. They must achieve in math, reading, science, astronomy, literature, art, physics, chemistry, history, philosophy, Spanish and writing. We will not achieve without bold, corporate-style goals. It is not enough to read large-print books with simple sentences. Our second-grade students must read Descartes, Homer, Dante and Aristotle in the original. We refuse to be a Nation of junk-food eating losers any longer. We are determined to outdo the Japanese. And that means our kids will solve calculus problems at age 7.

Detractors say that we should go easy on our kids. They say that children face developmental problems at early ages, and that academic success must take a back seat to emotional stability and “socialization.” This is precisely the attitude that landed us behind Albania on the international intelligence list. While our kids should have been reading Paradise Lost and solving calculus word problems, they were playing with building blocks and drinking apple juice with their 4-year-old classmates. Their teachers wanted them to “acclimate to life with other people” rather than study for achievement tests. What a bunch of losers! These teachers bred our children for failure and condemned our country to international embarrassment. In life, “getting along with other people” is not as important as scoring highly on tests and getting a good job. American educators failed to see this for decades. They failed to prepare our kids for everyday challenges; rather, they made our kids into lazy, ungrateful, petulant whiners who prefer to chat about Britney Spears than write geometry proofs. Now our economy is in shambles.

We face difficult years. It will not be easy to reverse the damage caused by years of wrongheaded educational theory. Nonetheless, I am confident that private enterprise will find a way to make our kids smart—fast. Private enterprise feeds our troops, builds airplanes, finances construction projects and provides entertainment to millions. It breeds a culture of success because only the strong survive. Private enterprise always finds the best way to get things done, and I know it will find the best way for our kids. Of course, it will be no cakewalk. Our kids need to adjust the way they think. They need to think about scoring highly, achieving, winning and doing their best. They need to think about physics, chemistry, calculus and Shakespeare, not about Guitar Hero® or the new Zac Efron album. In short, American kids need to start thinking like employees: They must want to win. They must have the zeal to outdo their neighbors and friends. They must constantly thirst for victory. We need ambitious kids who want to ace tests, go to great schools and land super-paying jobs. To do that, we must hit them early. We get nowhere as a Nation when our eighth-graders are still playing Tiddlywinks® in math class. When private enterprise brings achievement back to American education, eighth graders will be building rockets and refining jet fuel, not answering “true” to the question: True or false? 6 X 7 = 44. Our eighth graders will be writing sonnets and grammatically perfect essays, not plodding through Sesame Street® primers and struggling to write their names in crayon. We demand success from our kids. And they will give it to us—fast. In private enterprise, we get results. If a kid does not deliver, he’s out. There will be no more comfort in failure.

America can beat Albania in math ability. When private enterprise provides the solution, American kids will outdo everyone on earth. Soon, America will be #1 in math, science, economics and literature. Our kids will be smarter than any Norwegian. And when we have smart kids, we guarantee a bright economic future, complete with bankers who can add, subtract, multiply and divide interest rates, as well as chemists who can formulate profitable new erectile dysfunction medications. By closing the education gap, we will triumph over the financial crisis. And we will make America the smartest—and richest—country in the world. We will no longer share company with contemptible Albanians, Slovaks and Yugoslavians. Soon, our 10-year-olds will be smarter than even the most brilliant Oxford scholar. Put simply, once private enterprise provides sensible, market-driven guidance to education, we cannot fail.

Let’s start winning. Let’s get smart. Let’s close the education gap. And let’s make sure that our bankers and chemists do their jobs, so that all of us have a better life.

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