Monday, June 16, 2008

Core Curriculum

There is a Luke Wilson movie that actually made it to theaters last year, titled Idiocracy. Not a good movie, to say the least, but the premise was quite interesting. It is based on a future America where Americans have gotten stupider and stupider over the decades and centuries such that the great USA is populated and run by morons. Language has no rules. Simple addition is difficult for everyone. Attention span is nonexistent unless it's with respect to sex and sports. If it were not for the computers that still miraculously seem to be running despite tech support, it would be the dark ages all over again. My first thought was that this future is an impossibility. There is no way that people could actually be getting dumber. We have advances in technology, medicine, and electronics everyday. We can do more now than our parents could in their day, and even more than our grandparents in their day.

But that is an unfortunate generalization.

The fact that we can do more now in terms of communications, medicinal treatments, eco-anything, and activities of daily living does not imply that we are all smarter. It simply demonstrates that some people are smarter because they have developed these advances. The rest of us are either the same or dumber. And the evidence seems to indicate that the latter is becoming the trend.

For starters, the rules of the English language are disappearing. Grammar and word choice are becoming optional. I have a lot of respect for teachers, but I would bet that less than half of all K-12 teachers can tell you when to properly use a comma, or when to hyphenate a two digit number in a sentence. And if most of them don't know, you can bet even more students will never know. This then perpetuates to future generations until there is no correct way to use a comma or a hyphen. What does it matter, you say? Languages evolve over time. The vernacular always changes. Remember old English? Or olde English? We've come a long way. I will concede that point. But what we are witnessing is more than evolution of a language. It is loss of parts of a language because of ignorance. Just the other day I was watching Good Morning America and there was a satellite video interview with a marine. The caption read, "Lt. John Doe, Marine Core". Are you kidding? Who typed that? Did they graduate high school? And even worse, who's double checking? Did they go to high school either? Not knowing the difference in "core" and "corps" is not an evolution of language. It's stupidity.

There are clear offenses against the English language everywhere--double negatives, split infinitives, dangling participles, and ending sentences with a preposition. And those are the obvious problems. There are also mistakes in tense, plurality, and punctuation. Now my grammar is far from perfect, but I do know when I need to look up a rule on commas or semicolons. There are also problems with math, which makes for easy exploitation, as explained in my last article, "Number Theory".

I think that there will be an even more pronounced divide between the well educated and not so well educated, just as today there is a wide divide between the rich and the poor. The problem is that erudition does not always follow wealth, as many rich celebrities such as Paris Hilton and Jessica Simpson have demonstrated. So what does that mean the future will hold? It means big changes are still needed. There needs to be objective goals that can be tested objectively. The No Child Left Behind Act was too lenient. If you can't spell it doesn't mean you don't test well. It means you're not ready to graduate. There should be no more excuses. All fifth graders should have at least the same knowledge, and those requirements should be more extensive. It shouldn't matter whether or not you have a learning disability. There are so many special education teachers these days that you can get special attention and learning methods and whatever else you need. But if cannot do what a fifth grader needs to do, you cannot become a sixth grader. Period. If we can improve education in America, we might avoid an idiocracy in the future. Otherwise, it might be Atlas Shrugged come to life.