American policy has generally worked from the assumption that the problem lies in basic weaknesses in the structure of our educational system with its inherent inequalities and the way in which our school curricula are constructed. These certainly have contributed to comparatively weak scores. I have long been convinced that one of the reasons Japan’s educational system is better than the U.S.—at least in the sense that a very broad swath of the general public receives a good and equal education through high school—is related to funding. The U.S. system generates inherent inequalities in school funding by depending upon property taxes. Even in states where there is some (usually grudging) redistribution of wealth to support public schools in poor areas (in Texas it is called the Robin Hood law), it is obvious that children in wealthy areas receive a better education with far greater academic and other resources than those in poorer areas. In Japan, because there is a national curriculum and a significant portion of the funding for public schools comes from the national government, in addition to funding from prefectural and municipal governments, there is considerably less inequality in distribution of and access to quality education than in the U.S.
Unfortunately, the troubles with the U.S. education system are much deeper than distribution of funding or curriculum weaknesses, although these are both a byproduct of the cultural issue that Asimov observes. The troubles lie in the cult of ignorance and anti-intellectualism that has been a long-standing part of American society and which has become increasingly evident and powerful in recent years through the propagandizing and proselytizing of groups like the Tea Party and the religious right.
The fundamental reason that countries in places like East Asia present such a significant challenge to the U.S. politically and economically is not because they have a lot of people or big militaries, or seem to be willing to grow their economic and political might without concern for issues like damage to the environment (China). The problem is that these countries have core cultural values that are more akin to a cult of intelligence and education than a cult of ignorance and anti-intellectualism. In Japan, for example, teachers are held in high esteem and normally viewed as among the most important members of a community. I have never run across the type of suspicion and even disdain for the work of teachers that occurs in the U.S. Teachers in Japan typically are paid significantly more than their peers in the U.S. The profession of teaching is one that is seen as being of central value in Japanese society and those who choose that profession are well compensated in terms of salary, pension, and respect for their knowledge and their efforts on behalf of children.
In addition, we do not see in Japan significant numbers of the types of religious schools that are designed to shield children from knowledge about basic tenets of science and accepted understandings of history—such as evolutionary theory or the religious views of the Founding Fathers, who were largely deists—which are essential to having a fundamental understanding of the world. The reason for this is because in general Japanese value education, value the work of intellectuals, and see a well-educated public with a basic common knowledge in areas of scientific fact, math, history, literature, etc. as being an essential foundation to a successful democracy.
In short, the motivations behind The Origin of Species were moral. The Origin was published during a time when scientific racism was on the rise and Origin was the work that decisively demolished polygenist thinking in favor of “common descent.” All through Darwin’s Notebooks, where he hatched the basic ideas in the Origin, his guiding idea was the genealogical tree, where all of humanity was seen as one, big branching family.
Saying “rich people create the jobs” is like saying that seeds create trees. Seeds do not create trees. Seeds start trees. But what actually grows and sustains trees is the combination of the DNA in the seed and the soil, sunshine, water, atmosphere, nutrients, and other factors in the environment that nurture them. If you think seeds create trees, try planting seeds in an inhospitable environment. Plant a seed in a desert or on Mars, and the seed won’t create anything. It will die.
We’ve flushed $4 trillion down the toilet of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and, aside from the enrichment of military contractors, got nothing. Think of all the nation-building we could have done at home for that money — and investments that would have more than repaid themselves. We’re the only urbanized advanced nation without high-speed rail. We no longer have a manned space program. And yet, if the media are to be believed, this is Obama’s fault and, as always, has “Democrats on the defensive.” Why the hell are Republicans never on the defensive for pushing endless wars; deregulation, union busting, financialization and bad trade deals that have eviscerated the middle class; driving the nation to the brink of default; preventing action on climate change, and a host of nihilist destruction?
We should start by acknowledging that the very idea of the Iraq war was a travesty and an enormous strategic blunder. The clearest indications of the disaster to follow were the stated pre-war rationales—which combined one falsehood and one delusion. The falsehood was that Iraq posed a threat to the United States, and the delusion was that the invasion would undermine militant Islam and jumpstart the democratization of the Middle East. This unholy marriage between cynicism and fantasy directly resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and the displacement of millions of them, the deaths of thousands of American and the expenditure of almost a trillion American taxpayer dollars, the dangerous destabilization of the Middle East, and the further aggrandizement of militant groups in the Muslim world.
The same people who scream “WHAT PART OF ILLEGAL DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND!!” want the cheap products — housing, landscaping, housecleaning, poultry, beef, produce — that disproportionately hire illegals. America is addicted to cheap illegal labor.