A new book, The Age of American Unreason, revives the one about society getting stupider.
A popular video on YouTube shows Kellie Pickler, the adorable platinum blonde from â€œAmerican Idol,â€ appearing on the Fox game show â€œAre You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?â€ during celebrity week. Selected from a third-grade geography curriculum, the $25,000 question asked: â€œBudapest is the capital of what European country?â€
Ms. Pickler threw up both hands and looked at the large blackboard perplexed. â€œI thought Europe was a country,â€ she said. Playing it safe, she chose to copy the answer offered by one of the genuine fifth graders: Hungary. â€œHungry?â€ she said, eyes widening in disbelief. â€œThatâ€™s a country? Iâ€™ve heard of Turkey. But Hungry? Iâ€™ve never heard of it.â€
My guess is that the elites have been moaning about the ignorance of the plebs in every country in every age since the dawn of time. The only difference in the USA in modern times is the expectation that everyone will go to college so that, when college graduates don’t know some piece of trivia, they bring a stain of ignorance on every American.
When I was a lad in England, it was quite rare for people to go to college – even very clever people. You could function very well without going. My sister, for example, left school at 16 to work in a bank and, by 18, was a supervisor. Her son, my nephew, followed in her footsteps and was a bank manager by the age of 22.
Even at my rather elite school, only about 15% of people went to college. Many skipped college for lucrative careers as traders on the stock exchange or as salesmen. It wasn’t considered an inferior career path either. Except for the truly brilliant people, the merely very intelligent ones had a real choice to go or not to go with very little societal pressure either way. There were very few jobs that were restricted to college graduates.
Over here and now, you can’t get any kind of decent job at all without a degree – so everyone has to have a degree whether they want one or not. I have never seen a study on this, but I’ll bet that the net effect is that the average education is worse as a result.