The online magazine for Time recently posed the following question: “Is America no longer #1?” The author, Fareed Zakaria, proclaims that he is an American by choice rather than by birth. So perhaps he has a more objective viewpoint than native Americans who take the country for granted. He maintains that many citizens demonstrate an alarming degree of complacency about America’s global position, assuming that we will always be at the top of the list.
Although the US still has the largest economy and military, other countries are running at our heels. His argument indicates that we’re driving by looking at the rear mirror. “What we see today is an American economy that has boomed because of policies and developments of the 1950s and ’60s: the interstate-highway system, massive funding for science and technology, a public-education system that was the envy of the world and generous immigration policies.”
He provides the following statistics:
• American 15-year-olds rank 17th in the world in science.
• They rank 25th in math
• We rank 12th among developed countries in college graduation.
• We come in 79th in elementary-school enrollment.
• Our infrastructure is ranked 23rd in the world.
• We’re 27th in life expectancy.
• We’re 18th in diabetes.
• We do rank first in several categories: obesity, crime, and debt.
One way to shed that smugness and engage in a competitive environment is by educating our students. Our university system is still the envy of most of the world. Thousands of foreign students compete for placement in our best colleges. Our public schools must change their paradigm to prepare American students so they can once again climb to the top! Rather than a factory-based educational design that groups students according to age, we should offer mastery-based education that allows students to work at their own pace. Thus, capable students could race ahead of their age-mates when they display aptitude and interest in a particular discipline. Perhaps we could begin to re-gain our global standing.