Being retired has freed up time for me to discover why American schools are producing poorly educated students as compared to the world’s industrialized nations.  It’s because they are sent there by poorly educated adults.

A recently introduced international study titled “Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies” makes us look a little weak.

More than just readin’, ‘ritin’ & ‘rithmetic, where we do fall to the low end of international rankings, we also fall short in practical application.  American adults have difficulty, for instance, in figuring mileage reimbursement, sorting email, and even comparing food expiration dates.   Huh?

We are doomed.  Not only are schoolteachers faced with kids from average American households, teachers must also rise above their own average American upbringing.

In an Atlanta Journal story regarding this study, Maureen Downey said of adults scoring at the highest level, “This means, for example, that they can perform multiple-step operations to integrate, interpret, or synthesize information from complex or lengthy texts that involve conditional and/or competing information; and they can make complex inferences and appropriately apply background knowledge as well as interpret or evaluate subtle truth claims or arguments. They are also good at numbers: they can analyze and engage in complex reasoning about quantities and data, statistics and chance, spatial relationships, change, proportions and formulae; perform tasks involving multiple steps and select appropriate problem-solving strategies and processes; and understand arguments and communicate well-reasoned explanations for answers or choices.”  Do you know anybody like that?

That’s when the light went dim for me—I realized that I could hardly read and understand that beautifully composed quote.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we all could think at that level.

Maybe that’s why we still keep calling ourselves the greatest nation on earth.  We aren’t even aware of evidence that might contradict the idea.  If we are to continue as the most successful nation, we’ll need to raise children with skills necessary to the work and expect more from ourselves.

More and more low skill/manufacturing jobs are being eliminated by automation.  This new world will require a combination of technological and problem-solving skills.  Many of the countries scoring highest in this study put emphasis on continuing education.  They haven’t given up on their adults. Instead of leaving them to search for work with only their long obsolete high school education, they give them new skills.

Continuing education of adults might also narrow the gap between high and low income families.  We Americans like to say that hard work can make anyone succeed.  Mostly, it doesn’t.  Young Americans scoring low in literacy are most often from low income families and far more likely to be unemployed.  The young people with high scores in this study came from parents with high scores and high incomes.  Only education can break this cycle.

Read again the Atlanta Journal quote from above-—make complex inferences and appropriately apply background knowledge as well as interpret or evaluate subtle truth claims or arguments.  That skill would not help you analyze any statement released from a Washington, D.C. press office any time this year.  Congress believes we are idiots.  Let’s work to make sure that they’re wrong.

(Don Vowell lives in Keizer and gets on his soapbox regularly in the Keizertimes.)