Whenever such studies emerge comparing countries on academic achievement, they set off alarms of impending economic doom. Unless we do something about it, the U.S. will lose its pre-eminence in the global system.
But the report also touches on the impact of less-discussed aspects of learning; the ability to solve problems, to communicate effectively, to self-manage and to keep up in a fast-changing job market.
The report’s summary noted: “In all countries, individuals who score at lower levels of proficiency in literacy are more likely than those with higher proficiency to report poor health, believe that they have little impact on the political process, and not participate in associative or volunteer activities. In most countries, individuals with lower proficiency are also more likely to have lower levels of trust in others.”
Clearly, more than the GDP is at stake with subpar education. It impacts government, charity, the very nature of a society.
Jonathan Jacobs assessed what this may mean for American civic society in a September essay in The Wall Street Journal.
“The decline in education means a decline in the ability of individuals — and ultimately the nation as a whole — to address political, social and moral matters in effective, considered ways,” wrote Jacobs, chairman of the philosophy department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
He lamented that, too often, the education system itself, even at the college level, fails to teach students to make distinctions between “theories, beliefs, hypotheses, interpretations and other categories of thought.” Learning how to think is replaced by “ideological scorekeeping,” and “the use of adjectives replaces the use of arguments.”
This concern takes on a certain piquancy in light of the stalemate in Congress over raising the debt ceiling. Never mind the uneducated masses; look at the gross dereliction of civic responsibility on display in Washington!