Thursday, November 25, 2010

Losing The Cyber Space the Russians.

Here in Georgia there is an outbreak of cheating on a test called the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, which is designed to measure a student’s preparedness to move on to the next grade. When the test scores came out it looked like Georgia was once again headed for the very bottom of the educational dung heap.  Miraculously, in some districts the students did much better after a two weeks “Summer school” session. In fact, some of the students who had made the lowest grades turned around and aced the test. Cheating was suspected, teachers and principals were fires, and in the next round of testing, so many of the test sheets had been corrected it gave the image of a lunchroom full of teachers going through each test sheet and changing the answers to correct ones.
This, people, is happening in grade school.

A friend of mine who teaches senior level Journalism at a Valdosta State University tells her students at the first of the year there is a level of assumed competency.  If you’ve somehow gotten to the point where you’ve spent three years in college there are some things that you just have to know to get to that point. Many, however, bail out of her class and look for an easier professor. They aren’t looking for an education but instead are merely seeking a degree.

Regardless of whether you “blame the teacher” or “blame the parents” or “blame the system” something is terribly wrong with public education in America. Students enter our classrooms woefully prepared to learn, and they leave in the same condition. It’s impossible to get a high school student to make change without a calculator. It’s nearly as hard to get one to discuss the last book they read. American history is something they have heard about, and they know it involves that war where Private Ryan was fighting the Russians, but more than that, they cannot say.
If you really want to know the difference between what American cousnt as important versus what, let’s say, the Russians are thinking about, look no further than the blogoshere.  Americans are predominated by who got kicked off dancing island and where the latest implanted celebrity has crashed her car. Americans cannot tear themselves away from the playoffs, and something is always in season when it comes to sports.

I’m not claiming there are no intellectual conversations being held in American English, nor do I claim the Russian are some intellectually pure society. What I do claim is there is a higher regard for simple discussion in Russian in regard to language, and other pursuits of the mind, that are sadly lacking in American cyberspace. Moreover, it’s not impossible for me to jump into a conversation held by Russians for most speak some American, but damn few Americans speak any Russian at all.

Do you see where just that last fact might be a bad sign for us?

The Russians are grasping the concept of video art in a way that transcends language. We Americans are still hooked on videos that show some moron on a skateboard losing his front teeth on a rail. Whereas the Russians are seem to be melding music and video together in ways that most Americans haven’t dreamed of doing yet, we’re still fascinated by what Paris Hilton did last week, or what the hick daughter of a hick governor from a hick town did on television last night. The Russians are producing some incredible artwork on the internet and in real life, and they are working hard to make it better. I trust this is also true in India, and in China to some degree, and I know the Poles are breaking out on the net, yet we Americans are being left behind.

Isn’t bad enough we are not educating our children, but we have also stopped trying to educate ourselves.

Once again, let me make one point perfectly clear; this is not some anti American rant or some pro Russian treatise. This is one man’s point of view in regard to what the American culture values. Clearly, education takes back seat when it comes to sports, television, video games, social activity online, and otherwise being entertained into a stupor if not stupidity. The friends I have close to me are all self educated people who lean heavily on writing as a skill. True, they are college educated folk, but most of what they have learned about the craft has been self taught, as I have been.

The idea that a person can go somewhere and become educated against their efforts is just plain silly. Neither adults nor children can be made to learn. There has to be a drive, a thirst, and a zest for knowledge not found on television, video games, or text messaging lol. I see this is some of the Russian people I keep up with, and some of them want very little more than to have a chance to use their artistry to come to America, the home of the brave and the land of the free. It’s the Promised Land for many people who have vision and who want to work hard to see their dreams come true, or at least have a chance for that. I think many of these people see Americans as a people who have an incredible opportunity to seize the educational resources around them, free of oppression or government interference, yet they are a distracted people, bound to being amused by the latest You Tube video of two cats dancing with a Bigfoot.

We Americans have failed when it comes to education even as we succeed in being entertained. We have forgotten the simple and pure joy found in the hard work of discourse and discussion, bent not on proving one person or group right or wrong, but discussion as a method of discerning truth. We are dismayed at the state of our politics, but we have only to look back at our education system as a model to see where we are headed. We cannot expect our children to be better than we teach, we cannot expect our news channels to rise above what we demand, and we cannot expect our leaders to do more than give us what we have earned, or not earned, as it is.

Take Care,


  1. Mike, I couldn't agree with you more. Great post!

  2. Thanks, Brenda, you're one of the good America writers, and good Southern writers around.