The American education system is creating ignorant adults

In times of rapid change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”—Eric Hoffer

“Every valuable human being must be a radical and a rebel, for what he must aim at is to make things better than they are.”—Neils Bohr

“A good case can be made for ending initial education (more of which could be obtained in the home through electronic devices) somewhere around the age of eighteen. This formal initial period could be followed by two years of service in a socially desirable cause; then by direct involvement in some professional activity and by advanced, systematic training within that area; and finally by regular periods of one and eventually even two years of broadening, integrative study at the beginning of every decade of one’s life, somewhere up to the age of sixty.”—Zibignew Brezezinski 1970

There is an illuminating briefing produced by the Center for Digital Education titled Education Market Forecast, 2012. One page, in particular, displays where select US K-12 schools and universities would rank in the Fortune 500. The New York City K-12 school system, with US $18.5 billion in revenue, would be ranked number 136 far ahead of Marriot International and Yahoo, Inc. At the college level, the University of Michigan with US $5.8 billion in revenue ranks ahead of MasterCard and the Washington Post.

There are approximately 4,493 colleges and universities in the USA with some 35 million or so students. At the K-12 level there are roughly 49 million students in 98,708 public school facilities in 14,000 districts. Private schools (parochial, charter, etc.) have nearly 6 million students under their care in as many as 33,000 facilities. States of the United States spent (all sources) nearly US $2 trillion on education. K-12 and college/university systems employ 11.1 million people. Only 50 percent of the 11.1 million are teachers with the other 50 percent being administrators, ground and maintenance personnel, technology advisors, etc. It is worth noting that public and private spending (all sources) on the K-12 through the college and university levels in the United States exceeds that spent on Social Security and national defense combined.

“Colleges and universities are important regional economic engines for their communities and are multifaceted in that they provide education, workforce training, employment, research activity, and health care,” according to Moody’s Education Outlook 2012. It is becoming the case that colleges and universities are employers of last resort in places like Detroit, Michigan, or Upstate New York. This is likely to change for the worse as in January 2013 Moody’s indicated in its US Higher Education Outlook Negative for 2013 that “the US higher education sector has hit a critical juncture in the evolution of its business model.”

Education factories

Mark Twain, Thoreau, Shakespeare, Diversity and Sustainability notwithstanding, the American education system (K-12, college/university) is a profit making industry (despite the org/edu claims) that is in the business of manufacturing, and warehousing, American human capital. Any nation-state that hopes for longevity must design an education system that ensures a secure life and continuity for its people. That means teaching national/social uniformity in living and purpose.

The US education system is the backbone, the spinal column of the nation.

A key function of the education industry is to develop and produce taxpayers that will have skill sets useful in maintaining and increasing the nation’s productivity levels whether in a research laboratory or the bedroom (nation’s fertility rate). Critical in the manufacturing process is designing individual and collective minds to agree to the covenant, a sort of secular religion, between “we the people” and the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the ideals contained in the Declaration of Independence. Those same minds are manufactured to generally accept the worldviews of American business, education and government leaders flowing through corporate media.

Another critical function of the US education industry is to produce minds that are numb to the contradictions in the capitalist, globalist mode of living and thinking. Certainly not numb to asking questions of the system (to a point); but produced with an inability to think with depth and breadth about the globalized world, about life and one’s place in it, about connections. In 1950, Dean Acheson remarked that higher order Americans spend about 10 minutes a day thinking about what goes on outside the borders of the USA. Even with the Internet and WWW, that 10-minute mark probably still holds.

From preschool to graduate school students undergo a form of distraction therapy. Video games, American Idol, late night talk shows, nonsense news and information, marketers for clothing, tech gear, music, and credit cards bombard the mind like spray wax at the end of a car wash. But this is all part of the plan for education in America. It’s an education in buying and selling; what George W. Bush described as freedom, “freedom is the ability to buy and sell.” He was right on many levels but no one likes to pull the curtain back and find that the education industry is just like the defense industry with contractors, consultants, presidents, CEOs, analysts, investment bankers, fraud, waste, abuse, etc.

It is utterly popular and awfully tedious to say that there is an education-military complex. Eisenhower’s overused statement is very much dated. In fact President U.S. Grant thought about those matters during his presidency. But, we seem to be in the midst of the development of a national security republic perpetually at war and undereducated, by design, in the machinations of the American national security state.

Arguably, it is dangerous to try and break up the industrial model of education, particularly now in the midst of high unemployment in the USA and the perilous state of the US and world economy. The warehousing function that K-12 and college universities play is vital to local economies and keeping millions of young people off the street. The industrial model excels at manufacturing minds with conformity/uniformity built in.

And yet, the US education industry is not even listed as a leading Critical Infrastructure sector in the USA. Perhaps it should be listed under the Defense Industrial Base as important as its function is to the nation.

What’s a nation-state to do?

So you want to privatize, corporatize, and decentralize the US education industry? You want to end formalized education at 18 years of age, as Brezezinski said in 1970? Is this the best way to get more competent American engineers, scientists, warfighters, buyers, and sellers? You want to make the US education industry more efficient and effective? You want high scores on the national College Board-Educational Testing Service (teach to the test) to claim the number one slot in the world? You want to save money by eliminating excess human capital, and closing/consolidating schools? You want to do podcasts, Skype around the world, work in electronic collectives via the Internet and World Wide Web?

The answers to these questions raise significant issues for the future stability of the American nation-state and, indeed, the continuity of the American Republic and its form of government. At the moment, the glue that binds Americans together is many years of participation in the US education system.

What needs to be changed within the American education system is not so much the addition of technical wizardry, robust communications networks, or the next big fad (teacher as facilitator, blended learning, TED lectures, etc.). An emphasis needs to be placed on the nuts and bolts, the blocking and tackling aspects of education, the items that are foundational—human capital.

It all has to start with the reeducation of “educated” adults in positions of power: parents, professors, teachers, mentors, politicians, military leaders, et al. It is a crime to blame the young for the failings, the ignorance, of adults who refuse to re-educate themselves about the world around them. They fear the information and knowledge on the Internet and WWW. They are the “learned” that Eric Hoffer refers to above.

Duh . . . what?

Most American adults do not know the difference between the Internet and WWW or have a rudimentary knowledge of the history and mechanics behind it. Hence, the young reflect that. The same adults would not be able to locate Benin or Brunei on a map even though Google Earth is at their fingertips. “I know nothing about anatomy,” said an adult recently. Well, over at Chrome there are, for no charge but time, 3D software programs on human anatomy. In fact, for every field of academic endeavor, there is a free education software program that can be downloaded and used to self-educate.

Over 50 percent of American adults reject Evolutionary Theory and Evolutionary Psychology/Biology. American adults (the “great leaders”) are destroying America’s English language to the point that words/concepts like accountability, torture, displaced peoples, drones, casualties, shootings and death are meaningless to K-12 and college university students. Those same adults rip teachers and administrators for lack of effort and appropriate qualifications and demand action and accountability.

Finally, the academic disciplines are mostly stove-piped and isolated from each other during a time when understanding the economic, social, biological, and cultural interconnections, from the local to global level, are paramount. In fact, students are more stimulated and thrive in a well-run interdisciplinary program as opposed to smokestack pedagogy. There are many ways to discover. For example, can literary analysis/criticism inform about militarism in society? Yes. Greg Winston’s Joyce and Militarism (2012, University of Florida) focuses in on some of James Joyce’s classics and the times/environment they were written. It is an extraordinary book that travels through the occupation of Ireland by England and World War I.

Murray Gell Mann put it best at a conference sponsored by the National Defense University in 2003: “Unfortunately, in a great many places in our society, including academia and most bureaucracies, prestige accrues principally to those who study carefully some aspect of a problem, while discussion of the big picture is relegated to cocktail parties. It is of crucial importance that we learn to supplement those specialized studies with what I call a crude look at the whole . . . It is essential, in my opinion, to make some effort to search out in advance what kinds of paths might lead humanity to a reasonably sustainable and desirable world during the coming decades. And while the study of the many different subjects involved is being pursued by the appropriate specialists, we need to supplement that study with interdisciplinary investigations of the strong interdependence of all the principal facets of the world situation. In short, we need a crude look at the whole, treating global security and global politics as parts of a very general set of questions about the future.”

What a radical idea.

John Stanton is a Virginia-based writer specializing in national security. The Raptor’s Eye is a recent publication. Reach John at

2 Responses to The American education system is creating ignorant adults

  1. Yes, just another federal government project with billions of dollars wasted.

    Teachers tell us they need more in their salary to educate our children & keep the good teachers, but we all know that throwing money at a problem only makes the problem larger especially when the USG is involved.

  2. Rand Clifford

    This terrific article is as focused and well-written as it is important. John Stanton is very talented, and for this article, IMHO…Six Stars******