Adult Americans, only you can prevent dunce caps

My wife and I have experienced a lot of sweat, tears and drama because of our son Gideon's fifth-grade math; but in light of a recent study, I think it's worth the effort.

According to the New York Times, a study called The International Assessment of Adult Competencies spells trouble for the United States. (No, Gideon, the "adult competencies" did not include fluency in saying, "Because I said so!")

Researchers tested 157,000 people (ages 16 to 65) in 23 developed countries, assessing performance in reading, math, and "problem solving in a technology-rich environment." Americans were decidedly below average.

What would George Washington think of the country he helped found? I mean, George was "first in war, first in peace...," while today's Americans are "16th in reading, 17th in problem solving, 21st in math and first in the hearts of people peddling brain-numbing apps."

I expected someone to shoot the messenger when the results were announced, but I think the researchers are safe. The protesters can't quite figure out the combination to the gun safe. ("It's the sum of my birth month plus my remaining fingers. Wait, wait -- don't tell me!")

No shooting, but there is a lot of running around like headless chickens. One educator was overheard whimpering apologetically, "Maybe if we doubled the number of bananas that students put condoms on in Metal Shop class..."

We need a cool head if we're to address the crisis. Well-planned action is vital so we can compete in the new global economy, stop squandering the dominance America has enjoyed for the past century, grow a strong middle class, avoid the creation of a permanent unemployable underclass and stop depleting the world's precious resources to crank out "feel good" blue ribbons and smiley face stickers.

We're not going to fix this overnight, but it's worth fixing. Parents -- no matter how lowly their own educational background -- need to encourage scholarship to the best of their ability. Kids need to be realistic about the job market; you may think you can always coast and settle for a menial job, but some egghead is probably out there right now inventing an algorithm-dependent BROOM.

College professors need to prepare us for marching boldly into a brave new world, not for falling on our ceremonial swords because of America's transgressions. ("We didn't provide transgendered restrooms on the Trail of Tears -- and yeah, all the indigenous peoples in general falling dead from exhaustion was sort of a downer, too.")

Communities need to publicize continuing education, whether it be community college courses or adult literacy tutoring -- and make attendance easier via childcare and transportation. Individuals need to exhibit the willingness to avail themselves of those resources.

All of us could stand to replace a fraction of our mindless entertainment with something enriching and challenging, even if it's as simple as working a crossword puzzle, glancing at a "word a day" calendar, keeping a journal or researching our family tree.

We simply must dedicate ourselves to this course of action, not just because it makes sense, but "BECAUSE I SAID SO!"

Hmph! Why CAN'T they test such proficiencies? I'd be valedictorian. "Do you want your face to freeze like that? You'll understand when you're older. Don't make me come back there..."

©2013 Danny Tyree


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