To the Editor:
NICHOLAS EBERSTADT covers many of the reasons for our national decline (“Our Miserable 21st Century,” March). However, he omits one important explanatory variable.
The average quality of public K–12 education is in decline. There has been a slow decrease in average scores of the ACT tests for high-school graduates applying for college entrance, resulting in an increase in the percentage of those not “college ready.” The International Assessment (PISA) tests of sophomore high-school students from 70 advanced countries show that the U.S. ranked in 41st place in math, 10th below the average; and 24th in reading. Among third- to eighth-grade students in New York City, only 36 percent passed math and 38 percent English, but for black students of the same age, the numbers drop to 20 percent and 27 percent respectively. The numbers are probably similar in other large cities. And all will become eligible voters.
How can we expect graduates from such schools to be anything other than angry when confronted with a technological world that requires them to be proficient at the very subjects we are failing to teach? For years, from “no children left behind” to “race to the top,” our government has failed those graduates. Mr. Eberstadt rightly says: “The great American Escalator is broken—and it badly needs to be fixed.” Much of the breakdown can be attributed to the gradual decline of the quality of K–12 education.
Asheville, North Carolina
To the Editor:
THERE IS A critical contributing factor to “Our Miserable 21st Century” that Nicholas Eberstadt has left out: the disappearance of middle-class aspirations for jobs and family. As shown in the last election, anti-capitalist sentiment has become a significant force. It continues to thrive among Generation Xers and the Millennials who are content to live with pals in a frat-house atmosphere, or with parents who are delighted to shelter the 30 percent of live-at home adults. The shift is cultural, not economic.
Nicholas Eberstadt writes:
THE 5,000-word essay, for good or ill, is not sufficiently lengthy to offer an absolutely exhaustive treatment on the nature of “Our Miserable 21st Century.” With more space and time, we would surely wish to bring our troubled K–12 public-school system into the tableau. Likewise: the changing mentality of young Americans vis-à-vis capitalism. (How old does one have to be to remember personally the days when the U.S. had a really good economy? Over 30, for sure—maybe 35 or 40?) Thanks to Bertrand Horwitz and Dave Bernard for adding these items to the conversation.