While much of the debate about primary education system in America is concerned with the levels of funding, that is not the problem nor was it ever the problem. American schools are funded well enough. The problem is twofold: The weakness of the curriculum on the part of schools, and the culture of resistance to learning on the part of students and their parents. And it is only by addressing these problems that the American educational system can be fixed in any kind of a meaningful way.
America's high school graduates have levels of knowledge comparable to that of 7th and 8th graders in many other countries. Subjects such as geometry, biology, chemistry and physics are not taught until later grades of high school. In the Soviet Union, biology was taught starting at 3rd grade; geometry at 4th; chemistry at 5th and physics at 6th. In many other countries, from Europe to Japan, schools graduate students with levels of knowledge that American students do not see until well into their higher education.
A number of years ago, the Time magazine ran a story complaining about how hard it must be for American students to have 2 hours of homework a week. In many other countries, it's 3 hours a day. America has some of the world's best universities; but most American students never see higher education. Which leaves a majority of the population hostage to the weakness of American primary education. And that is not only embarrassing; it is dangerous.
Just how dangerous? Consider this. America is a democracy in which people decide on the shape of their government. If the majority is undermined, then an unscrupulous politician could forge out of them an electoral majority by telling the public a pack of lies that one can only know to be lies if one has had education. We've seen this with Bush Jr. We have also seen this with conmen such as Glenn Beck, Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson convincing millions of American citizens of such absurdities as that the world is run by a Satanic New World Order conspiracy; that nothing that people do can affect the environment; that AIDS is God's way of controlling the homosexual population; that global warming is a UN hoax; and that scientists are fools and sinners (and they, in claiming such things when their whole lifestyle was made possible by science, are not). An underducated population is bonanza for conmen. And conmen do not have in mind the benefits of the people or of America. Nor are they characterologically suited to lead a great nation.
Another problem is the culture of resistance to learning among many students and their parents. In most of American schools, a student who takes studies seriously is either a nerd; a commie; a know-it-all; acting white; Egypt thinks they're better than everyone else. What makes the students making such statements think that they speak for everyone else – 7 billion people, most of them nothing like themselves? Once again the reason is ignorance. They know nothing, and want to know nothing, outside their neighborhood. And their arrogance in claiming to speak for everyone else is a far greater arrogance than any that they describe to the serious student.
Are there American people who are not like this? Of course there are American people who are not like this; and they deserve all the support and respect that they can get. Many of the people with broader perspective become educators, where they are having to fight the culture of resistance to learning in schools. And it is by strengthening the curriculum and confronting the culture of resistance to learning that their efforts can finally pay off. But more importantly than that, American education will be again made competitive and will produce a population of more knowledgeable people – people who, being more knowledgeable, are also more responsible and aware of what they are doing to their country and to the world.