USA kids don’t know about free speech

[Giagnocavo]Michael reports on a CNN story about how kids in USA high schools are blatantly ignorant of some of the basic rights of their society, such as freedom of speech. It is sad and chilling indeed. But it comes to no surprise. When I read it, I couldn’t stop thinking “of course, everybody knows that USA kids are dumb”. I didn’t voice it because it is not politically correct, though.

The USA have brilliant scientists and extremely interesting people. But they also have one of the poorest primary and secondary education systems in the developed world according, for example, to the PISA report 2003. For example, if you look at the ratio between student performance and educational expenditure, the USA is the second worst after Italy, and is also the one that spends the most. In most measures included in the report, the USA appears well to the right, that is, below average. And the PISA report 2003 is not only including OECD (i.e. “developed”) countries but developing countries as well. Even in this context, USA scores well below average.

The gut feeling of many of my friends and family also corroborates this. USA people are not regarded as bright. Of course this is only a gut feeling, but one that is quite common and also supported by studies such as the above mentioned PISA report. Some say the USA is too concerned with itself and often neglects the rest of the world. After spending some time living in the USA, some friends tell me that it is really hard to find quality information about what is going on in the rest of the world. TV news broadcasts and newspapers are so locally focused that the average Joe becomes oblivious of other places and other people. As a little example I’ve been discussing recently, I bet most 20-year olds in Europe can pinpoint New York or Los Angeles on a map, but very few 20-year olds in the USA could do the same with Marseille or Brussels.

Double ethics do not help either. We are sick of hearing how the USA are the leaders of the free world, and how the USA is where freedom exists at its best. Bullshit. Look at the terror campaign run by the Bush government. Or the amazing combination of extreme prudishness for sex and nudity together with a blatant acceptance of ultra-violence. I’d rather let my kids watch a couple making love on TV than two guys beating the hell out of each other. Not in the USA, however. Violence is OK. Nudity is bad. We are the leaders of the free world. But you shut up and do what I say. That’s double ethics.

Somebody once said that travelling and meeting other cultures is the best way to learn and become an educated person. To this, I would add that spending more in education and less in the military would also help raise the average performance of students. The USA seem to be walking in the wrong direction.

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