Early last week, President Obama received a moderate amount of flack because of a remark he made—within the context of a speech about whether America is doing its best to compete against other economic powers globally—about how Americans have been “lazy” in regards to focusing on our economic priorities. And naturally politicians (being the creatures of opportunity they are) and other assorted talking heads wasted no time in highlighting (or rather crafting) the president’s implied lazy American “insult” in official statements and opinion pieces. Republican Party presidential nominee candidate Rick Perry has even misleadingly parlayed Obama’s “insult” into a television campaign ad.
Sadly, predictably, and ironically, taking the president’s overall message out of context to form a straw man argument is a tried and proven method for conditioning mentally lazy Americans—those who make up a great many among the potential voting electorate who don’t objectively research issues—into believing the worst of an ideological opposite. Both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of employing this tactic.
But despite the distortion of the president’s message, the reality is that Americans are indeed lazy! Part of this stems from our desire to squeeze as much economic profit from so little effort or investment of what resources we have to utilize, whether they be mental, monetary, material, or spiritual resources. The remainder of the reasons derives from the erosion of the values which propelled America to the zenith of global and military dominance.
To the contrary, those in denial are usually quick to reassure us that America is [still] #1 in virtually everything we do. Common sense (with a helpful dose of reality) dictates that this isn’t true…far from it in fact. The recent trouble with Detroit’s auto industry proves this in the realm of auto manufacturing. When it comes to health care spending as a portion of a country’s gross domestic spending, other countries spend far less than America…and manage to cover the majority of their citizens—without the pretense by some political quarters that (somehow) our “rights” as citizens will be in jeopardy if all Americans are somehow covered by affordable health insurance. And depending on which survey/study you read, there are at least 14 countries whose student’s standardized test scores—as a reflection of the quality of their education and student motivation—are far ahead of lagging American students. In many ways, American arrogance is sorely misplaced.
And when such shortcomings are pointed out by souls brave enough to withstand the predictable barrage of oncoming criticism for their “anti-patriotic” overtones, they are invariably glossed over (read: ignored) by those who would portray themselves as defenders of American idealism. These people do themselves and the country a disservice when they attempt to stir a sense of national pride in American ingenuity which is fit more for memories of a bygone era than as contemporary “proof” of what we can do as a country. Instead of being ashamed when comparing ourselves to the rest of the industrialized world, we gloss over failings with misplaced patriotism, which touts innovation which rarely applies in the current world.
Why this conclusion? In many areas, the reality speaks for itself.
What can be said about the public education system in America which hasn’t already been said? Too much government mandate. Too little regulation. Too much or too little local control. Government control vs. private innovation. Bad teachers. Good teachers who aren’t compensated enough. Too much or too little parental involvement. The list goes on. But whatever side one takes or whatever reasoning one assumes, the bottom line is that Americans put far more effort into bickering, arguing, and comparing ideological schools of thought on how best to fix our schools than actually remedying even the most fixable of basic roadblocks hindering an effective (and competitive) education.
Anecdotally and realistically, the curriculums in most American public schools are not challenging enough, nor are the learning environments in many schools functional enough for the formation of a globally competitive citizenry. We’ve known this for the last generation, but we lack the collective will to make the hard decisions as public servants, parents, politicians, and concerned individuals to change this. We know that our public school students’ performance as a nation is well below that of other students from “second class” countries; the comparative standardized test scores don’t lie (but I’m sure that those who don’t agree will find some “flaw” in the methodology). Having spent a great deal of time in and around colleges, I know firsthand that many foreign students take their studies in American colleges far more seriously than their American counterparts. This is a reality is based in part on the fact that many—if not most—of these students hail from countries whose public/primary school systems prepare them to face education abroad with a love of learning, disciplined structure, and in many cases the cultural banking of respect for teachers (as well as authority figures). Even in countries ravaged by war, civil strife, and other calamities, there are instances of children compelled to make their way—some by a sense of duty or personal conviction—to schools some distance away from home in order for them to learn.
One the other hand, we Americans program in our children a sense of entitlement rather than duty. Working currently with at-risk teens at an alternative school, I can’t tell how many times I’ve silently sighed in exasperation as I experience daily how pampered and lazy American children are academically (and in most other ways which count). Many, if not most middle and high school students—especially in urban and city schools—view books and reading in general as a chore given as a form of punishment. Trying to get some students to write is comparable to trying to bathe a house cat. And the respect for teachers is anything but…. Our schools are brimming with lazy students, too uninspired and unmotivated to open their minds to anything beyond the misplaced sense of self-importance and self-absorption their parents helped to impart them with. American students are (somewhat in many cases) indulged by having economic and material resources diverted to creating and maintaining morally and philosophically questionable “investments” such as police/resource officers, accommodation for special needs, and so forth. Such resources are financial and material burdens placed public education by bad/lazy parents who feel they have “rights” enough to allow their disruptive children (discounting those with bona-fide handicaps. What I’m speaking of are the many students over-diagnosed with afflictions such as “Oppositional Defiance Disorder” and other similar “disorders”) to negatively impact the education of those striving to learn in otherwise challenging environments (See: Related Article).
And those students who do take their studies seriously, some are too lazy to actually take the time and effort to learn. Many American students have been socialized with a new but warped set or moral imperatives that compel them to seek the quickest, least labor-involved way to carry out their study requirements. Online term papers, cutting and pasting, and half-hearted efforts are only few of the usual ways that American students showcase their lack of initiative. Once the sole province of a relatively few “slackers,” in our public schools, cheating, taking shortcuts, and/or just laziness has become the new norm in most public schools throughout America. Just last month, several New York area university graduate students were arrested for their involvement in a scheme in which they were paid by high school students to take the SAT college entrance exam for them. In another example, law enforcement authorities and college officials have been made aware of the growing trend of high school and college students obtaining by illegal pretenses (or purchasing on the black market) the ADHD prescription drug Adderall.
Sometimes called the “smart pill,” abusers are taking the drug as a way of increasing concentration needed to complete multiple assignments so that, in many cases, they are able to engage in more extracurricular activities. Finally, the recent reporting of several standardized testing scandals—aided by public school officials—in public school throughout the country attest to the new culture of thinking that many of our American students have latched onto. It’s no wonder American students seek shortcuts and embrace laziness; they are learning their laziness from adults (See: "And Now A New Standardized Testing Scandal" and "A Scandal of Cheating And A Fall From Grace").
To Be Continued