James Shott / February 28, 2017

America’s Troubled Youth Foreshadow a Troubled Future

They’re unprepared to discharge the duties and obligations of citizenship.

As if there aren’t enough problems facing America, there’s one that we hear about here and there in comic segments on TV, but those episodes don’t really show the problem in a way that we realize its impact. America has produced a substantial number of young people who don’t know the fundamental elements of their country or the important aspects of its operation, and who are, therefore, unprepared to discharge the duties and obligations of citizenship.

Ours is a country whose success and ability to continue being successful depend upon its citizens understanding its foundational principles. We must know how government is supposed to work, being able to discern when it has strayed from its proper course, and then work to restore things so that the republic can and will survive and thrive.

John Adams put it quite succinctly: “Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people.”

And his cousin Sam Adams likewise warned, “No people will tamely surrender their Liberties, nor can any be easily subdued, when knowledge is diffusd and Virtue is preservd. On the Contrary, when People are universally ignorant, and debauchd in their Manners, they will sink under their own weight without the Aid of foreign Invaders.”

In our own day, economist Walter Williams addressed this aspect of the younger generation in a column titled “Dumb American Youth.” Williams provides some troubling statistics that help to put this problem in perspective. “According to a Philadelphia magazine article, the percentage of college grads who can read and interpret a food label has fallen from 40 to 30,” Williams wrote. “They are six times likelier to know who won ‘American Idol’ than they are to know the name of the speaker of the House. A high-school teacher in California handed out an assignment that required students to use a ruler. Not a single student knew how.”

He quoted a News Forum for Lawyers article about a study by American Institutes for Research revealing that more than “75 percent of two-year college students and 50 percent of four-year college students were incapable of completing everyday tasks.”

And included in Williams’ essay was this damning assessment of today’s youth: “Reported by Just Facts, in 2009, the Pentagon estimated that 65 percent of 17- to 24-year-olds in the U.S. were unqualified for military service because of weak educational skills, poor physical fitness, illegal drug usage, medical conditions or criminal records. In January 2014, the commander of the U.S. Army Recruiting Command estimated this figure at 77.5 percent, and in June 2014, the Department of Defense estimated this figure at 71 percent.”

These children have a family of some description, most of them attended 12 years of public or private schools, and some of them attend or have attended American colleges. Starting with the family, they should have learned proper respect for themselves, for others and for the rules of life, and during their education should have broadened their understanding of what life is all about, and how to be a good person and a responsible citizen.

Perhaps it is of some comfort that these youngsters have not achieved this humiliating level of unknowing all by themselves. Or, maybe not.

Without a blanket condemnation of all the nation’s schools, in some schools at all grade levels it is increasingly common for indoctrination to replace education, as teachers sometimes throw off their professional, ethical and moral responsibilities to present subject matter free of ideology, and leave political and ideological ideas in the safe confines of better judgment.

However, many a college campus now is the prisoner of political correctness and those who champion it. Trigger warnings are now required for “troubling” class material, and there are rules for microaggressions, safe spaces, free-speech zones, and the use of one of more than 30 gender pronouns that must be used as each transgender student prefers.

And we now are being told that using traditional, proper grammar is racist or produces social injustice.

A poster created by the director, staff and tutors of the Writing Center at the University of Washington, Tacoma, states flatly that “racism is the normal condition of things,” saying that rules, systems, expectations in courses, school and society are filled with it.

“Linguistic and writing research has shown clearly for many decades that there is no inherent ‘standard’ of English,” the writing center’s statement claims. “Language is constantly changing. These two facts make it very difficult to justify placing people in hierarchies or restricting opportunities and privileges because of the way people communicate in particular versions of English.”

The writing center will “listen and look carefully and compassionately for ways we may unintentionally perpetuate racism or social injustice, actively engaging in antiracist practices,” and will “emphasize the importance of rhetorical situations over grammatical ‘correctness’ in the production of texts,” and promises “to challenge conventional word choices and writing explanations.”

Apparently, it no longer matters at UW Tacoma if words are put together in functional constructions, or if unconventional words and phrases are used in written materials students submit for grades. Does this make acceptable any writing that is unintelligible?

If you aren’t going to teach or expect accepted grammar, what about correct spelling? Will there be any expectation of effective communication among college students at UW Tacoma in the future?

This is but one of practically countless examples of foolishness substituted for learning.

From their earliest days many American youth are not taught important aspects of being a productive, responsible person. And when they are old enough to go to school, too many of them are exposed to indoctrination guiding them away from established standards and traditions.

This, and similar crises, strike at the heart of America.

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