I had intended to call this “America’s Coming Educational Crisis” but 1) the crisis is already there and 2) I think it is far more important that we look to the future and see if it is possible to even have a future.
Some quick statistics As of 2014, 91% of Americans held a high school diploma and 34% of Americans had the equivalent of a college Bachelor’s degree. The good news about this education is that the numbers are trending upwards. The bad news is that this may not mean a whole lot.
A recent study indicated that over 50% of Americans today believe in the Biblical story of creation which makes sense since there are other studies which indicate most Americans own a Bible. This is just one of several statistics that look at the level of scientific illiteracy in this country today.
Sixty-one percent of Americans do not believe that the “Big Bang” actually happened, despite the evidence that it did. One in four Americans still believe that the sun revolves around the earth. And a fast majority of Americans (some 70%) feel that government funding for science and mathematics education was either too generous or just right (and all one has to do with that is examine the spending on science and mathematics education in the 1960s to know that we are clearly not spending enough today).
It isn’t just the big ticket topics such as evolution, climate change, and renewable energy. It is the basic concepts that are taught, such as DNA (Americans seem to want food containing DNA to be labeled), what a microchip is, or the nature of vaccines.
In short, despite statistics that indicated that we are becoming an educated society, follow-up studies indicate that we actually know very little about the world in which we live or the people with whom we share this world (there are other statistics that indicated people in this country can’t locate states on a map or countries on a globe).
And if our scientific illiteracy is shocking, consider the state of our Biblical illiteracy. While the majority of Americans own a Bible, they apparently do not know what is in it. Over 50% of Americans seem to want to slow down or stop the immigration of Syrian refugees; yet the main story of the Bible is about immigrants and refugees and the need for the people of God to help them, not turn them away. (Note – a majority of adults think that the Bible teaches that the most important purpose in life is taking care of one’s family.)
Despite the presence of the idea that this is a Christian nation, founded on Judeo-Christian principles, most Americans would not be able to list those principles (probably because such a list does not exist). Most people (82% the last time it was checked; 83% of born-again Christians) will tell you that “God helps those who help themselves” is in the Bible but that only works if you consider Benjamin Franklin and his Poor Richard’s Almanac as a chapter in the Bible.
Consider the following tidbits of data gathered over the years:
- Fewer than half of all adults can name the four Gospels.
- Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples.
- One study indicated that many people thought that both John the Baptist and Paul were disciples.
- 60% of Americans cannot name even five of the Ten Commandments.
- 12% of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.
- A survey of graduating high school seniors revealed that over 50% thought Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife.
- This is one of my favorites – a considerable number of respondents to one poll felt that Billy Graham preached the Sermon on the Mount.
I don’t think that we need to go on.
We cannot continue along the path that we are presently on, where fear and ignorance dominate and where the only answer seems to be to try what we have done in the past. Our answer to war and violence is more war and violence, even when we know that cycle will only end when there are no more soldiers to send into battle. In the 1960s, this country was willing to go to nuclear war against the Soviet Union, even when everyone knew that the majority of people on this plane would not survive and those who did would envy the dead. And yet, we pushed for more and more nuclear weapons.
Our politics today are the politics of fear and ignorance, fueled by the greed of those who afraid of what they may lose, but what good are countless millions of dollars when you have no where to spend your money? Very few politicians offer solutions that build up this country and this planet.
Fear and ignorance can be overcome but it has to be through education, both secular and sectarian in nature.
It is the lack of knowledge that threatens our future. Our present educational system has produced individuals who can take tests quite well but who are incapable (I am sorry to say) of generating new answers. If the answer to the question is not in the back of the book, they don’t have the capable of finding it and they don’t want it on the test.
The fundamental fact that we must understand is that there is at least one book that hasn’t been written yet and it contains the answers to the questions that we must answer. If we do not begin to change our ways, morally and educationally, we will not have the skills and understanding needed to read that book when it is published and we will not be able to answer the questions it contains.
There is a great challenge before us today as 2015 comes to a close. Cliche or not, what happens in the year 2016 will determine our future. Act as if we are at the crossroads and determine which way you will go.