A divided society is a sick society. Britain is still suffering from the remnants of her 19th Century social class structure. The scourge of South Africa’s 20th Century was state sponsored racism, apartheid. Now 21st Century America is splitting socially, based not on class or race, but on education. Instead of a “normal” demographic distribution of educational attainment, the population instead is going bimodal. We are sorting into those who are intellectually challenged in school, have at least basic literacy and numeracy skills, and can think critically. They, of course, will take the good jobs. Those who drop out, or go to intellectually starved “babysitting” schools, will inevitably end up with menial jobs, or no jobs at all. Standardized indices show a continuing downward trend in elementary education, particularly with thinking ability. Science writer Margaret Wertheim notes “We all know the dismal statistics: Our children’s test scores on international assessments of math and science literacy are plummeting; the number of PhD students in science and engineering is at a 40-year low; we are desperately short of science teachers; intelligent design is spreading like kudzu; and most of our citizens believe in ESP, angels, or alien abductions (BioScience, August 2006 / Vol. 56 No. 8).”
Critical thinking skills were taught to all in the 20th Century, allowing many poorer kids to catapult into a better life, not only for themselves but also for society as a whole. They think, evaluate evidence, reason and make good decisions. Is quality education to become the domain of an elite few?
We can’t let our society split itself apart. Our children are our future, and education, an intellectually challenging one, is our best investment. We can’t allow inertia and mediocrity to take charge in public schools. If we do, well pay for it later.