Recommendations in Newsweek's article on education in America

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    Mar 24, 2011 12:08 AM GMT
    Newsweek has an interesting article whose title suggests the usual "ignorant American" meme but actually contains interesting observations of possible reason for the reults, and recommendations about the Education systenm in America.

    I have highlighted points in bold that I thought particularly interesting.

    In March 2009, the European Journal of Communication asked citizens of Britain, Denmark, Finland, and the U.S. to answer questions on international affairs. The Europeans clobbered us. Sixty-eight percent of Danes, 75 percent of Brits, and 76 percent of Finns could, for example, identify the Taliban, but only 58 percent of Americans managed to do the same—even though we’ve led the charge in Afghanistan. It was only the latest in a series of polls that have shown us lagging behind our First World peers.

    Most experts agree that the relative complexity of the U.S. political system makes it hard for Americans to keep up. In many European countries, parliaments have proportional representation, and the majority party rules without having to “share power with a lot of subnational governments,” notes Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker, coauthor of Winner-Take-All Politics. In contrast, we’re saddled with a nonproportional Senate; a tangle of state, local, and federal bureaucracies; and near-constant elections for every imaginable office (judge, sheriff, school-board member, and so on). “Nobody is competent to understand it all, which you realize every time you vote,” says Michael Schudson, author of The Good Citizen. “You know you’re going to come up short, and that discourages you from learning more.”

    It doesn’t help that the United States has one of the highest levels of income inequality in the developed world, with the top 400 households raking in more money than the bottom 60 percent combined. As Dalton Conley, an NYU sociologist, explains, “it’s like comparing apples and oranges.

    Unlike Denmark, we have a lot of very poor people without access to good education, and a huge immigrant population that doesn’t even speak English.” When surveys focus on well-off, native-born respondents, the U.S. actually holds its own against Europe.

    Other factors exacerbate the situation. A big one, Hacker argues, is the decentralized U.S. education system, which is run mostly by individual states:

    “When you have more centrally managed curricula, you have more common knowledge and a stronger civic culture.” Another hitch is our reliance on market-driven programming rather than public broadcasting, which, according to the EJC study, “devotes more attention to public affairs and international news, and fosters greater knowledge in these areas.”

    The issue isn’t that people in the past knew a lot more and know less now,” says Hacker. “It’s that their ignorance was counterbalanced by denser political organizations.” The result is a society in which wired activists at either end of the spectrum dominate the debate—and lead politicians astray at precisely the wrong moment.

    poll after poll shows that voters have no clue what the budget actually looks like. A 2010 World Public Opinion survey found that Americans want to tackle deficits by cutting foreign aid from what they believe is the current level (27 percent of the budget) to a more prudent 13 percent. The real number is under 1 percent. A Jan. 25 CNN poll, meanwhile, discovered that even though 71 percent of voters want smaller government, vast majorities oppose cuts to Medicare (81 percent), Social Security (78 percent), and Medicaid (70 percent). Instead, they prefer to slash waste—a category that, in their fantasy world, seems to include 50 percent of spending, according to a 2009 Gallup poll.

    Stanford communications professor James Fishkin has been conducting experiments in deliberative democracy. The premise is simple: poll citizens on a major issue, blind; then see how their opinions evolve when they’re forced to confront the facts. What Fishkin has found is that while people start out with deep value disagreements over, say, government spending, they tend to agree on rational policy responses once they learn the ins and outs of the budget. “The problem is ignorance, not stupidity,” Hacker says. “We suffer from a lack of information rather than a lack of ability.” Whether that’s a treatable affliction or a terminal illness remains to be seen. But now’s the time to start searching for a cure.
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    Mar 24, 2011 3:54 AM GMT
    I find it shocking anyone would think foreign aid is anywhere near 25%. The solution's always easy when you don't know what the real problem is.

    I agree with cutting SS, Medicaid and Defense budgets. We need to go back to families taking care of their parents/elders instead of the government. REAL family values, not the 'sanctity of marriage' type of family values.

    And I'd like to see more of a National school system instead of the state run/local taxes system we have now. There should be more equality between schools.
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    Mar 24, 2011 4:04 AM GMT
    How did Canada stack up since we also have a similar decentralized system where education is left to the individual provinces.
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    Mar 25, 2011 3:17 PM GMT
    beneful1 saidHow did Canada stack up since we also have a similar decentralized system where education is left to the individual provinces.

    I wondered that too for the same reason.

    I haven't the links but I seem to recall our students usually rank around 4-6th on the list internationally

    With so much of our news being from (public funded rather than market driven sources that aspect becomes a critical factor in defining the difference between how informed our respective publics are concerned.

    I do not think Canadians would ever assume we spend as much as 25% of our GDP on foreign Aid because our airways are filled with news and background and analysis, not shouting partisan distortions.

    "Advocacy journalism" is not prevalent up here. (in fact it contravenes the boardcast standrds to offer opinion as news.

    (FOX is forbidden to broadcast directly into Canada reportedly because they flatly refused to coply with our Fair Reporting laws.

    Canadians cansubscribe to it through their cable carrier (if it bothers to offer it) but FOX News is not mentioned by our media, who indeed do not even seem to regard FOX people as peers at all.

    If it ever is rementioned it is always along the lines of "you won't believe what they are telling people now!" there is always an tone of contempt.

    then they wipe otheir Canadian brows in relief that they are not corrupting our airwaves.

    We still have this quaint notion that "news" should be factual and opinions are for panel discussions, not a frothing lunatic begind a microphone making up conspiracy theories for afew more headlines about the latest outrageous thing said.

    We have no active war on education going in Canada.

    We consider edication elite and GOOD , not "elitist" as someting to scorn.

    Canadians deplore and publicly deride ignorance and unsound thinking.

    I suspect most Canadians assume themselves better informed than their American cousins because we take a self-comforting sense of superiority from that . To dislay poor reasoning is dconsidered shameful and is NEARLY unforgiveable.

    A Christine O'Donnell could not have won an election here. The first time she saidsomething absurdly incorrect her candicacy would have been finished
    (as it has done to so many hapless candidates who never got elected.

    One candidate said publicly "oh yes I believe in Creation" and his campaignwas over. Just like that. He dropped out of the race. He Eyebrows went up and his own Party turned its back on him.

    You can believe in fairy tales if you want but Canadians won;t elect someone who admits to believing Creatio over Evolution.

    (we do not see the expression Intelligent Design much here at all.

    Evolution theory is pretty much universally accepted by Canadians. (we are also among the most secular nations.)

    Our politicans nay be a lot of things but none of them can be described as ignorant or stupid.

    We find it hilarious that O'Donnell (Congreswoman and champion of home schooling is so gaffe-prone, and think "boy youd have to be even STUPIDER to want to vote for someone who parades her ignorance so proudly.

    (Give a shout out to the people of Lexington & Concord (locating them in the wrong state - TWICE in one day.

    So not only did SHE not catch it when she said it (or read it), She or someone close to her wrote it , let her say it, get laughed at, then say it AGAIN.

    From our perspective the American right-wing has been waging a direct war on having an informed public since Rove came on the scene.

    That comes from the truism that an educated public is the biggest danger to the conservative establishment.

    Knowledge is power, so the more ignorant and nore misinformed the public is, the easier it is for the establishment to cling to power.