An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic. Self-government is not possible unless the citizens are educated sufficiently to enable them to exercise oversight. It is therefore imperative that the nation see to it that a suitable education be provided for all its citizens -- Thomas Jefferson
As I have watched the recent battles over education in the United States, from the teacher's strike in Chicago, to the arguments about charter schools in the national election to the debates about busing in Boston, I have been searching for answers about what ails us here in America. I've been traveling a lot this year, from Central America to Europe to Asia reading and talking with people about how we can turn around what was once the beacon of light in the world: American education, democracy and freedom.
Finally, I woke up at 3:00 a.m. in a scratchy, odorous, governmental hotel in Yangoon, Burma and I had the answer to what ails America:
America is no longer an honest country. The left is not honest. The right is not honest. The top is not honest. The bottom is not honest. I am not honest. You are not honest.
We have been corrupted by the sins of fear, arrogance, gluttony, envy and we have been subjugated and soothed by the rich and powerful into apathy. Apathy leads to the righteousness of selfishness which then glorifies and adulates the most successful of the self-serving, our new aristocracy. We fought against this in the American Revolution, but we have become our enemy whom Jefferson warned us about.
Honesty is "we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal" and boldly signing your name to a document that will be a death warrant if revolution fails. Honesty and courage are not coursing through the veins of American government now.
I was trained in physics and I think my love of math and science comes in part because matter, gravity, time and space can not be dishonest. No matter how many men of god or legions of lawyers and politicians tell you otherwise, when that apple falls from the tree, it will hit you on the head.
If we were honest about our education problems in America we would tell our students that our schools are between 17th and 31st best in the world (from the most recent PISA international rankings). We would tell them that our politicians are liars, who are bought by the rich to further the agenda of the one percent. We would tell them that unless they go to private or other exclusive schools they are unlikely to get into Harvard and Yale and hence will not be qualified to be President of the United States (24 years and counting, with our choice this year between private school educated Obama from Harvard Law and private school educated and Harvard Business Romney, or vote Green and get Harvard Medical School Jill Stein). We will tell them that America has one of the lowest rates of social mobility of any first world nation, and has gotten significantly worse since the 1970s. We will tell them that America pays more for health care than any other industrialized country and gets worse results, basically so that some elite MBAs can get 7 cents of every dollar that student will ever earn in their lifetime to buy off politicians to lie to the public and say 'we have the best health care system in the world.' (As was said in the first presidential debate, unquestioned by either contestant or the moderator)
When did it become American to pay more and get less?
Graph from the Kaiser Family Foundation
We will tell our students that there are good and bad charter schools, good and bad public schools in almost exact ratios and that the debate between them is just a diverting smokescreen while the rich continue to send their children to great schools so that they will get into the great colleges and get the great jobs. We would also tell them that charter schools are another way the aristocracy takes tax dollars from the working classes by exploiting young ideologues. The students would also be told that unions have protected bad teachers at the expense of their education. Finally, we would tell them that the welfare state and lawyers and false idols have led to undisciplined homes and families, where the 'rights' of the few curtail the progress of the many. We will tell them that we hope they will be the generation that changes these things, does not make the mistakes we have, and will put America back on the right path and they should start by questioning everything and everybody including the person giving them this message.
In science, you can not solve a problem until you have honestly identified what it is. I believe in America and of our capacity for greatness, but we can not fix the problems until we are honest about what the issues are. I hope you will join me in examining and demanding to identify the truth and honesty about our education system, and hence our democracy. Better yet, demand answers from our schools and politicians about why we have sunk so low and become so dishonest about our strengths and weaknesses. As Jefferson expounded, it is our duty to exercise oversight over our system of government. Without that oversight we have no one but ourselves to blame for our dilemmas.