A lot of work to do, and some really good prospects.

This is one of those editorials meant to shock us into action, and it’s pretty effective:

Clueless in America – Bob Herbert (NY Times)

EDin08 agrees, and the poll results included there are pretty heartbreaking. As with any of these “OMG! What are we going to do!” pieces, it’s worth the exercise of looking for the points of light. For example:

“In math and science, for example, our fourth graders are among the top students globally. By roughly eighth grade, they’re in the middle of the pack. And by the 12th grade, U.S. students are scoring generally near the bottom of all industrialized countries.”

What this means is that intervention and reform in the right places (somewhere between 4th and 12th grade) can really have an impact. Additionally, these woeful accounts of American youth overlook the changes that are happening in the way that kids work.

Yes, school- and fact-based performance is way too low, but young people are writing (informally – look at the words-per-day txted or blogged or Facebooked by the average 13 year old) and creating at incredibly complex levels. Kids’ brains are much, much more agile than their parents’ brains were at the same age. Young people can process complex problems and can’t help thinking about things in incredibly nuanced ways. Everything Bad is Good For You by Steven Johnson compares the plot of the average action TV show from the 70s to an episode of Alias or 24, along with looking at the differences between Pac-Man and Grand Theft Auto III. Johnson’s argument (and mine too, I guess), is that, while young people are growing up today without an awful lot of essential information, today’s entertainment and communication systems have conditioned them into incredibly powerful critical thinking machines; “you don’t ride a treadmill to find out how it works.” Jabari Mahiri, an education professor at UC Berkeley (ed. note: Go Bears!) holds a similarly admiring view of America’s brilliant-but-failing young people.

The idea is that If the schools pick it up and get these kids the essential facts and professional/study skills they need to excel academically, an outcome predicated on schools meeting the kids halfway, the outlook for America’s future isn’t quite so gloomy.

UPDATE: A dissent from The New Republic


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