April 26 , 2024 /


What follows is a look from 30,000’ and a close up look to see how this affects individuals.  Then it’s how the individuals form a collective that in turn affects the bigger picture, back and forth “from both sides now.”

 After a 60-year career in a variety of settings helping people to learn, grow and change, here are some of my observations and conclusions about why the U.S. is where it is today. I contributed where I could to schools that were having an impact and making a difference. There are extenuating circumstances that help shape the profile of the the U.S. and I believe education, or the lack thereof, is one of the biggest factors.


The following statistic explains why the U.S. is struggling with millions of people who cannot process information independently and who rely on what others say whether or not what is said is valid

54% of adults aged 16–74 years old, or about 130 million people, are reading below the equivalent of a sixth-grade level.


These adults were not served well by a flawed educational system, one that failed to transmit values of respect, personal responsibility, restraint, and a deep and genuine concern for the victims of abuse, racism, oppression and economic disparities. Nor were their parents among those who insisted on meeting standards for improvement.


The U.S. ranks 13th in education compared to other countries and 33rd out of 44 advanced economies when it comes to the percentage of young people attaining a post-high school degree.


A college degree is not necessary for success nor for a meaningful and productive life.  However, college graduates outperform their peers who have only completed their high school degree. For example, the average graduate is 24 percent more likely to be employed and average earnings among graduates are $32,000 higher annually and $1.2 million higher over a lifetime.


If you asked high school graduates today for their understanding of one’s civic responsibility beyond voting, what do you suppose you would hear?  What do you think students understand about the history of protest which began in the U.S. with a revolution against King George III and taxation without representation?  And in the centuries and decades since then?  In the 40’s with the cost of WWII in both dollars and lives? In the 60’s with civil rights and Vietnam?  In the current and ongoing debate about the freedom of choice for women?


Here’s MLK speaking toward the end of his life:  “If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.”


“An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.”  That quote cannot be found in any of Thomas Jefferson’s papers, although it represents his views on education. We have done a poor job in educating our citizenry and there will always be differences of opinion on various issues. Why can we not express those in a way that respects differences without such vitriolic attacks?  From my observations over the past 70 years, I believe it’s a serious lack of moral and ethical leadership.  Thus we end up not only with uneducated and unenlightened citizens but also with leaders who are not committed to serving others, only themselves. There is an opportunity to make some changes in November.


The following are the 5 biggest behavioral differences that I see between educated people and uneducated, or undereducated, people.   It is not only about going to school although schools have been one of the primary transmitters of culture.


An educated person views differences with compassion and respect.

An uneducated person views differences as evidence of their his or her superiority and views differences with contempt and condemnation.


An educated person has a set of values that has the capacity not only to discriminate between right and wrong but also to tell the difference between that which is dishonorable and that which has integrity.

An uneducated person does not honor the truth and has little respect for the rule of law.


An educated person can speak and write clearly and do so with a measure of precision and grace.

An uneducated person has a limited capacity to communicate effectively and may express confusion and a lack of clarity.  What we have here is not only a failure to communicate but a failure to educate how to communicate.



An educated person has acquired an ability to think and work independently, is dependable, rational and can solve problems.

An uneducated person reflects the opposite of those characteristics and may cause more problems rather than helping to provide solutions.




An educated person can engage in a debate and discussion with equanimity.

An uneducated person has difficulty being rational and tends more toward emotional reactions.


The U.S. has an entire generation of uneducated adults, millions who cannot or do not think and are easily led and manipulated by those whose motives are not in the best interests of the uneducated. Many of these people are being used and abused without their knowing.  Those who are uneducated, or undereducated, those we have failed to move forward, remain stuck in a stagnant, obstinate, closed mindset.



The results of “ a dismal failure” have created an epidemic of stupidity, defined as “behaviors showing a lack of good sense or judgment.” Here’s the problem with stupidity as described by Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed,- in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical – and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for when dealing with a stupid person than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.”

From Bonhoeffer’s book, Letters and Papers From Prison (1951)

Systems are designed by people and the failure of a system to deliver intended results creates a demand for different designs. This is true for education, for government, for health care and for a lop-sided economy.  The top 10% of households by wealth in the U.S. had $6.5 million on average. As a group, they held 66.6% of total household wealth. The bottom 50% of households by wealth had $50,000 on average.

History suggests that when a system is no longer sustainable, it will either change or collapse.    




Comments (4)

  1. These are shocking statistics Gary. The situation for uneducated people is only going to get worse with advancements in AI which are replacing jobs in factories and in resource-based sectors like agriculture, forestry and mining. Robots are replacing some of the Labour-intensive jobs in these sectors. I remember when high school students would drop out to go work in the oil patch or logging. When those jobs dried up 10-15 years later, these men, now in their thirties were faced with very few prospects. Their skills were specific to the industry that they worked in and did not transfer into other positions. The minimum requirement for a lot of entry level jobs was a high school diploma which they did not have. And the biggest blow was that the jobs that were available to them, paid salaries significantly below what they had been earning. Careers today require constant upskilling in order to remain competitive and that requires education.

    1. Tara,
      You are right on two fronts – shocking and people are going to need training and re-training for new jobs. I am currently looking at why the U.S. dropped from 16th to 23rd on the GHI – Gross Happiness Index, a significant study that countries undertake and which a number of us believe is a more important measure of success of a society than the GDP. However, the “leaders” at least those in power currently, don’t seem to see it that way or care enough to make significant policy changes, Thanks for continuing to be a reader and subscriber. Gary

  2. Interesting read, this is happening all over the globe and is affecting many. This process is seen by the powers and those who are affected do have options after their terms in service.
    F. Went.

    1. Thank you! I am not clear on your “terms in service” unless it’s a contract of some kind. And, I’m curious as to “who are affected” and do you mean students or teachers or all of us? Sorry to be so obtuse.

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