When people refer to a failure of the public school system, what they really mean — often unknowingly, because humans are excellent at not knowing things — is a failure of biology combined with a perverse and resounding success of large-scale tribalism.
I would love to believe that the “It’s 9 degrees outside! Explain that, global warming cultists!” cry that Fox News-dependent primates unfurl every winter is meant as a joke, and that the loudest voices in this off-key yahoo chorus are merely sowing doubt for the sake of political leverage. But in fact, when one visits the comment sections of Fox News (sometimes I get lost), one quickly realizes that huge swaths of the population really do not grasp the notion of — among countless other climate-related concepts — local cooling as a consequence of general warming. It really isn’t that hard to understand, for example, that as polar ice melts, this has effects on atmospheric circulation that can push especially cold air from the Arctic into lower, but still cool, latitudes — say, where Boston and Minneapolis sit.
But people are not machines, and they need to be engaged in what they are being taught to grasp non-intuitive scientific concepts like the one I just outlined. I can think of a number of things I came to understand only after poring over the material numerous times, something I did only because I was highly motivated to learn them and, importantly, not encumbered by cultural reasons to reject them.
When a kid from an Evangelical household in the Bumpkin Belt who passes through his K-12 years and emerges scarcely less ignorant about certain things than he started, it’s probably not primarily the fault of any of the well-meaning teachers he may have had. It’s most likely because he belongs to a tribe that requires him to mightily reject certain concepts, no matter how sensible these appear to kids of a similar age not poisoned by extremely tenacious religious and political dogma. These kids look for all the world like basic morons, but even the smarter ones are capable of sounding no more informed than a typical house plant when it comes to things like evolution and the age of the cosmos, because their parents have inculcated hopelessly fucked-up ideas into their heads.
Now, if people were actually intelligent by some external and reliable standard, we might be better at absorbing and accepting facts. But really, humans are only smart because we’re the best of a weak and pitiful Earthly lot. If I stumbled into a basketball game among pre-schoolers, I am pretty sure I could absolutely annihilate any five-member team the kids could throw together all by myself, especially as soon as I figured out how to get away with vicious flagrant fouls. But this would not offer a valid reason for proclaiming myself a basketball star. We humans might be fairly smart compared to the rest of the animals on our own planet, but compare what even the greatest of humankind’s feeble minds are capable of in relation to even the most virus-riddled CPU from the 1980s, and it’s far more lopsided than “no contest.”
I could spend a lot of time emphasizing where the political left screws up in these areas, too, but I’m trying to offload the least loyal friends I have before moving on to the ones I’m less eager to offend. It’s also a lot easier in this political ecosystem to see where folks normally associated with the right frantically fist-fuck so many basic and seemingly undeniable concepts into unrecognizability. None of those poor waddling souls are aware that Fox News is nothing more than long, slow, non-pharmacological lethal injection that erodes whatever higher cognitive functions they once may have possessed, leaving them only with the capacity to feed themselves and make sojourns to secure groceries, watch stock-car races, and vote for the kinds of people who make the permanent “news” haze seem even more rewarding.
So, while shitty teachers abound just as incompetent workers populate almost every occupation with aplomb, trying to blame the public-school system for the reason so many people grow up making all the sense of farm animals equipped with goat-thought-to-speech devices is wrongheaded, and is a facile argument made by shitpile-hominid hybrids like Betsy DeVos so they can promote even bleaker collective intellects than the one in which all of us sad sacks are continually drowning.
People are dumb and hapless. I am, you are, and most people both of us know are probably even worse off. Life is a thankless task none of us asked to undertake, and the practices we adopt to stave off ennui and misery often make things worse. We are fucked in the head, so it only stands to reason that any solutions we create are bound to magnify the problems. We create tribes filled with, and invariably led by, monumentally ignorant noisy motherfuckers whose ability to maintain a veneer of superior intelligence in the eyes of the deluded is their only real cognitive accomplishment. Blaming schools for the collective intellectual ruin of our citizenry is like blaming aeronautical engineers when a hijacked plane is crashed into a building. We’re a bunch of fucking idiots who gather in groups to jabber, fornicate, and use drugs so it doesn’t seem so bad, and creating enemies of each other is just one more tonic for this sad party.
(You can probably understand why the notion of a global thermonuclear war fails to trouble me much.)