We have a new epidemic in this country and it’s not obesity.  This country is experiencing an epidemic of “Stupids.”  Apart from the fact that our new generation of congressional representation does not have a clue as to how government and the economy work, we have another really big problem, education.

“The new statistics, part of a push to realign state standards with college performance, show that only 23 percent of students in New York City graduated ready for college or careers in 2009, not counting special-education students. That is well under half the current graduation rate of 64 percent, a number often promoted by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg as evidence that his education policies are working.

But New York City is still doing better than the state’s other large urban districts. In Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers, less than 17 percent of students met the proposed standards, including just 5 percent in Rochester.

I have to admit that I have no idea how many kids dropped out of school when I was a student (1948-1960).  However, I had many friends across the socioeconomic ladder (greasers and preppies) and I do not remember ANY of them dropping out.  What’s more, everyone could read, write, and do basic math skills when they graduated.  I heard, the other day, that Richard Dreyfus was making it his goal to put “civics” back into the high school curriculum.  The first question that came to my mind was, “When was it removed?”

I cannot even begin to imagine how a person can get through elementary school (K-6) and not be able to read, write, and do basic math.  After five years of practice how can you not?  I took English composition as a freshman in college, albeit in summer school (I couldn’t wait until Fall).  We had to write eight papers, at least one a week, and a term paper, complete with footnotes, note cards, and bibliography of original sources.  We could not graduate unless we passed that course and we could not pass that course until we could articulate an intelligent idea on paper.  I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts and went on to get an MA.

When I went back to college, just twenty-four years later, to get Bachelor of Science, not only did I have to show that I passed English Composition to get back into college, I had to take a Writing Proficiency Exam, WPE, before I could get out.  I had to demonstrate that I could, in fact, organize my thoughts on a subject and present them in an articulate, written essay.  EIGHTY PERCENT of the graduating seniors had to take the WPE several times before they could pass.  The preparation I received, nearly a quarter of a century earlier, allowed me to pass the exam, with flying colors, the first time.  Something happened to education during my twenty-four year absence and all I know is that we cannot blame it all on the teachers.  Life in the “home” has changed dramatically with unemployment and foreclosures.

I do have one small clue.  I have a sibling, nine years my junior, and there was a major attitudinal shift between his and my generation.  He had a pretty good IQ, right up by mine, I would guess.  We were raised with nearly the same values, but something major happened.  He cut classes in high school.   I asked him why and he told me that he didn’t like the teacher.  I, too, had teachers I did not like.  I thought Mr. Jenkins, in the seventh grade English, was tedious because we had to diagram sentences ad nauseum.  I did not like my U.S. History instructor because he was more interested in whatever sport he coached than the subject he was supposed to teach and it showed.  However, I learned history in spite of him, because that was my job.  It never occurred to me that I could skip his class.

I believe this attitude may be prevalent in the parents of today’s students, not to mention the students, themselves.  One thing I do not understand about the current college prep curriculum is this:

One idea is to simply report a college-ready graduation rate as an aspirational standard and leave it at that. Another is to impose tougher graduation standards — like requiring that all students in the state take four years of math and science, or permanently raising the passing score on high school Regents exams to 75 in English and 80 in math.

Since when did a kid, who was bound for college, NOT have to take science and math every year (s)he is in high school?  I took biology, chemistry, and physics. I took algebra, plane and solid geometry, and trigonometry.  And, I took German.  I opted out of calculus.  We had English and some kind of history and geography course every year.  When did that change, and more importantly, why?

There is talk about getting rid of teachers when students do not place well on tests.  Maybe, but a teacher only has a kid in class for roughly five hours per week .  How well that kid does might depend, I would think to a large part, on what happens in that kid’s life during the other one hundred sixty-eight hours in the week.

Regardless, if we do not correct this problem with education now, today, we can forget about competing in the world tomorrow.  Our students are not the only people suffering from the “Stupids.”   It appears that the disease is rampant among the GOP.  How do I know that?  It is simple.  They want to cut Federal Aid to Education.  They do not want to cut Defense.  All I know is that if they do not fund education, there will be nothing but the GOP to defend.  But then, maybe that’s their plan.  Meanwhile, the “Stupids” are eating away at the fabric of this country.