America continues to lead global innovation, though while we’ve stood still the rest of the world’s been racing to catch up.
The College Board has recently published a report confirming what most Americans have already known for years; the United States is rapidly falling behind the rest of the developed world in terms of college education. Their findings indicate that out of 36 surveyed nations, the U.S. only comes in at twelfth place. Keep in mind that this is on a list where Americans once held the top spot by a wide margin, boasting unheard of rates of higher learning completion.
In a confusing and rather frightening turn of events, the people that developed the atomic bomb, internet, and a spacecraft capable of landing on the Moon are stagnating. It’s almost realistic to think that the long history of American ingenuity and invention is about to meet its end, but not for reasons of the inspirational well running dry. The problem the nation faces has nothing to do with a lack of new ideas, but a lack of drive. That, if nothing else, is what must be taken from the College Board’s findings.
What does it mean when the issue is nothing but motivational? In short, it means that American youth no longer care about their education, in ways both large and small. And this is an attitude that begins long before the college level. Middle schools are dominated by students only concerned with popularity, and high schools by teenagers that believe intelligence is anything but worthwhile to cultivate. To enjoy learning or to appreciate the value of quality schooling is to be a loser, a social outcast. Many see it as obvious; why would anyone put in the time and effort necessary to get higher grades when it would only net them jeers from their friends and peers?
Young people seem to have forgotten that education is only the means to an end, not the end itself, and in that ignorance, they have forgotten its purpose. They should be using the time they have to build a foundation for the rest of their lives, garnering all the knowledge they can while it’s available. Instead, many school-aged Americans place all their focus on relatively trivial things, assuring themselves that they have the rest of their lives to read books and write papers.
Recognizing a problem isn’t always enough to discern why it exists, though, but the College Board’s report sheds light on that subject, as well. Consider this; the nations seeing the sharpest decline in degree earnership are among the most-developed and entrenched powers in the world. The United States and others all fall in the mid to low rankings, a stunning reversal of years past. And at the top? China and India lead the pack. Countries that, a scant few decades ago, were regarded as hopelessly lost in the Third World are now clawing their way toward the First.
It’s enough to make your head spin, but it’s not difficult to see what’s happening. Just as American innovators, eager and ambitious, pushed aside a stagnant Europe to take dominance, so are young Chinese, Indians, Brazilians, and others seeking to oust America. Their youth learn of the opportunity and prosperity that could be theirs if only they push themselves to the limit time and time again. Ours are given it all on a silver platter from the day they’re born. With all that in mind, the growing trend of American students simply lacking the same drive as their international contemporaries isn’t all that surprising, after all.
But how can U.S. leaders really combat such a dilemma? Motivation isn’t something that can just be legislated into action, it has to come from the learners themselves. Provide greater incentives for hard work in grade school, outline to children the tangible benefits of education in terms they can understand, and make college for accessible and affordable for Americans of all walks of life. History is clear that all great powers must eventually give way, but the greatness of the United States comes in overcoming the odds, no matter how impossible. And with future generations again engaged in their learning, we can see those odds defied.