OPINION: The Dumbing Down of America- Anti-Intellectualism and Common Core – By: Dhanpaul Narine

– By: Dhanpaul Narine       

  The revolution is in our living rooms and it is digitized! We are surfers and face-bookers that sit for hours becoming dumb on smart gadgets. We live in a culture of low expectations. We laugh at ourselves when we fail to grasp the most basic of concepts and what is worse is that we shrug it off and simply refuse to revisit the problem and correct our mistakes. Who is using education for a voyage of self-discovery or to seize the technological moment?

    President Donald Trump accuses the media of fake news. But he produces a fake claim by saying that his administration received the most votes in the 2020 election. Trump has told the world for years that Obama’s birth certificate was a fake. He was forced to recant it publicly.     

    When Congressman Darrell Issa mixed up Guinea with Guyana in referring to the Ebola outbreak, many questioned his knowledge of geography.  His Washington office was told that Guyana is not Guinea; they simply said that he meant Papua New Guinea. They had no idea where Papua New Guinea was and it did not matter. As many of us know, neither Guyana nor Papua New Guinea is connected to Ebola.

     The dumbing down of America has its roots in years of neglect and misplaced priorities. Many of our young people have become addicts to social media and spend hours in front of a screen without direction. The money and intelligence that go with the technological explosion are not in our hands. We are slaves to the technology.

      Richard Hofstadter, a History Professor at Columbia University, was among those that provided the theoretical basis for anti-intellectualism. He argued in 1963 that there was a cult of ignorance in America.

    According to Hofstadter, ‘the strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is as good as your knowledge.’ This was said before the invention of the internet! Isaac Asimov says, that for the most part, intellectuals have been relegated to a corner where they have become an object of derision. Allan Bloom says that universities are offering everything else but education while E.D. Hirsch argues in favor of cultural literacy in public schools, and proposes a list to replace fragmented curriculums.

      Education has been sacrificed at the altar of job training and the result has not been promising. What has led to the state of dumbness in America? The former Senator from New York, Daniel Moynihan, explained that dumbness in America is not an overnight phenomenon. It was going on for years and the social media embraced it with the tentacles of a matrix. Moynihan argued that video knocking print off the shelves and formal learning replaced by web surfing became the recipe for a sub-standard education.

    In 1982, to the dismay of many Americans, it was stated in official circles that learning in America had failed to meet international standards. It became a wake-up call for the nation. The National Endowment for the Arts reported that in 1982 the number of adults that read books for pleasure was 82 per cent. But twenty years later, this figure had dropped to 67 per cent, and the proportion of 17 years-old that read nothing, unless required by school, doubled between 1984 and 2004.

    In 2009, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs commissioned a civic education poll among public school students and found that 77 per cent of them did not know that George Washington was the first President of the United States, nor could they name the author of the Declaration of Independence. When the citizenship test was administered to these students, they did not fare any better as only 2.8 per cent was able to pass it.

     There were other disturbing revelations. The National Assessment of Educational Progress found that 68 per cent of students in public schools in the US, did not read with proficiency by the time they had reached the third grade. The US News and World Report states that less than 50 per cent of students mastered college level reading upon graduation from High School. Dumbness has also found itself in the echelons of government.

   A recent survey found that 74 per cent of Republicans in the US Senate and 53 per cent in the House of Representatives do not accept that climate change exists, or that it has the capacity to affect the planet. These views have come at a time when the US National Academy of Sciences, and other international agencies, state that the opposite is the case. Mr. Trump has called climate change a hoax.

    In 1983, anti-intellectualism came to the fore in America when a publication sent shockwaves in the country. The document was called ‘A Nation at Risk.’ It was published during the Reagan administration and it pointed out that, in an age when science and technology were going to be in great demand, the children in America were ill equipped to meet them.

     According to the report, ‘a total of 13 per cent of all 17 years old in the US were functionally illiterate. Functional illiteracy among minority youths may run as high as 40 per cent.’ What was damning about these revelations is that many 17 years old did not possess higher-order thinking skills and 40 per cent ‘could not draw inferences from written material; only one-fifth can write a persuasive essay, and only one third could solve a mathematical problem requiring several steps.’

   Would the present generation be able to achieve these levels or even surpass their parents? One scholar concludes that, ‘for the first time in the history of our country, the educational skills of one generation will not surpass, will not equal, will not even approach those of their parents.’

     The anecdotes in the media are often amusing. When asked to name a country that begins with the letter ‘U’ some seventh graders replied ‘Europe, Utah, or Utopia.’ A group of eighth graders were next asked to name the currency used in England. Here the response was ‘pesos, the dollar, I don’t know, or Queen Elizabeth money!’ Another question was: What is the name of America’s neighbor, south of the border? The response to this was ‘Disney World, Texas, or Montana.’

        American education for several years has been influenced by the ideas of John Dewey, and his supporters. The idea here is that education is in the service of social reform and progress. The classroom becomes an agent of social change with teachers and principals as the lead players. Education should grow and develop through its own questions and research.

     Another consideration is policy. The classroom as a regimented arena has infiltrated and shaped policy, notably the Common Core Curriculum. This curriculum was seen as the panacea that would fight anti-intellectualism and get students back on track. Progressivism would lead the schools to be centers of leadership and obedience, with students being given the tools for the workforce.

    But Common Core has been criticized as being too regimented, teaching for assessments and for failing to produce well-rounded students. Diane Ravitch, a historian on education, says that at first, she was neutral on Common Core. But this changed when she saw that Common Core did not fundamentally improve scores. Ravitch concludes, ‘I have come to the conclusion that the Common Core standards effort is fundamentally flawed by the process with which they have been foisted upon the nation.’

     The third consideration is policy approaches to tertiary education. The mountain of student debts is estimated at $1trillion. This sum exceeds the GDP of several countries. The spiraling costs to pay for elite colleges has led many to question whether higher education is worth the effort. This is a discussion that will go on, but before one thinks of college, the basics must be mastered in schools.

    There is good reason to put good schools with quality programs in run-down neighborhoods in America. It is here that the transformation will begin and where students will master academic instruction and learn to be a total person. We can start by minimizing distractions, stamping out school violence, and placing education at the top of the agenda. The pandemic has not helped to improve standards.

    Many school districts have had to waive or loosened standards to enable students to graduate. It has affected lower-income households the hardest. The State Department of Public Instruction in Dane County, Wisconsin, states that, ‘the poorer and more diverse a district’s student body, the more likely the district’s leadership sought graduation requirement waivers from the state and lowered other standards.’

  Many educators have argued that COVID has presented the States with the opportunity to rethink how ‘we do school.’

     It would be interesting to see what would emerge from this rethink. But for now, the task is for parents, teachers, and the school administration to work together, to reinforce discipline, to frame policies for effective supervision, and instruction, and to produce the next generation of literate students.

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  • JoE  On 05/23/2021 at 1:43 pm

    Excellent review of the many facets of US policy that came into play to produce the low educational standards easily observed among too many Americans. Thank you.

  • wally n  On 05/23/2021 at 2:23 pm

    Even today, and I am sure in most countries, the value of Education starts at home. I knew many families in Guyana, back then,were poor, their children had to do farm chores,etc before and after school, home work in dimly lit rooms, they did do well in school and later in life.
    Initial discipline, is so important to build a foundation, youth if not contained/directed, tend to go off the rails. Just showing up, is never enough. OK that was me.

  • Reginald Chee -A-Tos  On 05/24/2021 at 3:53 pm

    A well written article based on factual evidence.As one intimately involved with the education system in this country,I have witnessed first hand this saddening trend.As you said Sir,it started with the abandonment of books.Parents also contribute to this phenomenon by replacing reading with video games and social media.Thanks for the enlightenment.

  • Ian Wishart.  On 05/25/2021 at 1:28 pm

    The anecdote about US Congressman Darrell Issa reminded me of a (very) brief conversation I had with another undergraduate shortly after arriving at Nottingham University in 1954.

    She: Where are you from?
    Me: British Guiana.
    She: Oh that’s in Africa isn’t it?
    Me: No, it’s on the north-east coast of South America.
    She: Oh no, it’s New Guinea that’s in Africa.
    Me: No, that’s an island north of Australia.
    Exit a better educated undergraduate.

    • Chris  On 05/25/2021 at 1:58 pm

      A bet you 9 out of 10 people on the planet couldn’t extemporaneously say how many continents there are and to correctly list their respective populations in descending or ascending order.

      Test your knowledge: try to answer the question before you look up the answer.

    • Chris  On 05/25/2021 at 9:31 pm

      Question for Ian Wishart:

      In 1954, did you travel to England by air or sea?

      • Sophie  On 05/26/2021 at 8:38 pm

        “The Revolution is in our living rooms and it is digitized.” Never a truer word has been spoken, or in this case written!

      • Brother Man  On 05/27/2021 at 4:04 am


        Why should Guyanese be concerned about the dumbing down of America? Why should Guyanese be bothered about Common Core?

        How many even know or care to know what it is. Last time I checked it is called Guyanese Online, American Online.

        It is well-known that half of Americans think America constitutes the four corners of the world and that the other countries are alien places far, far away.

        Some dumb Americans think that Texas is a country. Others will tell you that they speak French in Canada. Many couldn’t point out Mexico on the map or Canada. A considerable number of them believe that dinosaurs and Adam and Eve were neighbours and that the world is a few thousand years old. On this count, they aren’t alone.

        Seriously, why should Guyanese care about the cesspool that is America?

        Brother Man

      • Chris  On 05/27/2021 at 12:35 pm

        Talking about the dumbing down of America, America is the dumbest country on earth, with the dumbest lawmakers anywhere. Almost every day you read about mass shootings. The solution to this plague is very simple: ban guns. This would require the abolishment of the Second Amendment and to make it illegal for private citizens (with a few exemptions such as hunting) to own guns. Guns should only be in the hands of law enforcement, the army, secret service, and that sort. Then there would have be a mass recall of all privately-owned guns. There is currently more than three hundred million guns in circulation in the United States which must then by be turned in. It should then be a crime to own a gun, barring exemption. If this is done, the daily mass shootings will stop. It is the only practical solution to the epidemic of gun violence. But American politicians are too dumb to do the sensible thing, to find common ground and ban guns.

  • guyaneseonline  On 05/27/2021 at 1:37 pm

    To Brother Man: — and other readers

    I usually do not get involved with comments unless necessary.

    Brother Man — You mentioned that this publication is called Guyanese Online and not American Online and therefore should not carry articles on USA politics.

    Well here are some facts:
    1. Guyanese Online is focused on the Guyana Diaspora and Guyanese Associations in the Diaspora. This Diaspora is estimated at over a million Guyanese, when we include their descendants.
    2. Most Guyanese have emigrated to the USA. The majority have settled in New York State, New Jersey, Washington DC area, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, and Florida. For this reason, Guyanese Online carries articles on USA politics and other subjects that may be of interest to them.
    3. Our recent statistics show that for 2020 (10 months as we did not publish in April and May) the total views were 760,128. The views from USA = 357,018 (46.96%); Canada =170,954 (22.49%); UK & EU= 65,507 (8.61%). These three geographic areas accounted for 78.06% of readers.

    I hope that this information helps in understanding my selection of articles carried on this website over the last 11+ years.

    Cyril Bryan. Editor/ Publisher

    • Brother Man  On 05/27/2021 at 8:40 pm

      To Mr Cyril Bryan: much respect to you, Sir.

      Thanks for the info on Guyanese in the Diaspora. That is a phenomenal number of Guyanese and their descendants living abroad. It is clear that the numbers could be much greater.

      Guyanese Online is your site and you are the esteemed manager thereof. You have every right to post whatever topic you deem necessary. As a viewer, however, all I have to say is that there may be a delicate balance between censorship and free speech and I’d let you be the judge of that.

      Yours sincerely,

      Brother Man

  • dhanpaul narine  On 05/28/2021 at 10:52 pm

    Please permit me to thank Mr. Cyril Bryan for his tremendous contribution to our community. He presented statistics to show the impact of this site to Guyanese, and others, everywhere, and he should be thanked for his vision. Brother Man asks, ‘Why should Guyanese be concerned about the dumbing down of America?’ It would have been a perfectly legitimate question if there were not thousands of Guyanese students in American classrooms.

  • dolphinwrite  On 06/15/2021 at 6:33 pm

    It is easy to see the dishonesty in this article. I matters not what words, language, grammar, or intellectual mumbo-jumbo is used. To those truly seeking to understand, another person’s biases are instantly revealed. And I caution the writer on this. If the purpose is to persuade without real information, to make one feel good for spreading disinformation, you are a usable puppet without even knowing it. And you’re encouraging the puppetry in others.

  • dolphinwrite  On 06/18/2021 at 5:48 pm

    But, I have to add, you did mix some facts with the disinformation.

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