Failing by accident -- we did not know, the lights changed fast -- we skidded on ice -may be excused; failing on purpose -- the psychologists associate it with some form of death wish -- failing through ignorance in an Age of Information and Machines -- remain one of the most convenient explanations. What combination of these is causing our nation to have tens of millions of citizens who cannot read and write? We have the National Assessment of Educational Progress (Archie E. Lapointe, Executive Director) and former Secretary of Education, William J. Bennett, finding that “four out of five young adults cannot satisfactorily perform such elemental tasks as using a bus schedule to select correct departures and arrivals,” with less than 40% of that population understanding a “somewhat difficult” newspaper article and less than 10% interpreting a four-line poem.
So it goes -- more than 90% could balance a checkbook but less than 40% could calculate change! Now the issue today is that these conditions are no longer unknown. But since the report of The National Commission on Excellence in Education “A Nation At Risk …,” the findings of certain State areas such as the New Jersey assessment of basic skills begun in 1978, and scores of confirming studies and surveys, we do know we are gaining ignorance. Most recently in “A World of Differences” where international assessment of mathematics and science shows America's 13 year olds rank at the bottom of over 12 country evaluation, we know that failure to act is from resolve and not ignorance alone. Likewise, the consequences of inaction now embodied in every version of loss in international competition embodied in every version of loss international competition and economic and social situations were outlined in detail in a report presented to the President in June of 1983, from the Business/Higher Education Forum following by two months that presentation of “A Nation At Risk...” That one, called “America's Competitive Challenge,” forecast the consequences of incompetency in our working force. Other hosts of findings, best embodied in the Independent National Council for Competitiveness, have sharply affirmed these results of failure.
Of course, corrective action has begun. This is happening in hundreds of forms, in 16 thousand independent school boards of the nation, in industries, institutions, the associations and unions of the education system and to some limited extent in the minds and hearts of the American people. But the latter is where the big lapse still holds and this time we report one action for now and for many years ahead. It is to rally the education systems of the nation from pre-K to 12th grade to post-grad with a learning book a that will start our youth and our citizens overall on the way to understand and to enjoy the knowledge of our Age -- which is the knowledge of mathematics, numeracy, science, and technology in the form of literacy. This is what the world and living in it are all about. And thus we can augment the great prior waves of civilization -- religion, land cultivation, exploration, and settlement, manufacture and machines, and most especially the vast mantle of humanism shown in the arts and literature from which in turn and in truth kindness and gentleness derive.
But now we might think that mathematics and science is a strange origin for all of this when so many thought that it was a remote and mysterious realm, for engineering, medicine, and others to exercise recondite skills.
But now we are saying it is the essence of Age passed which is the knowledge of our age -- which is the knowledge of mathematics numerouscy, science and technology in the form of literacy. This is what the world and living in it are about, and thus we can augment the great prior waves of civilization -- religion, cultivation, exploration and settlement, manufacture and machines and most especially the vast matter of humanism shown in the arts and literature from which in turn and in true. kindness and gentleness derive.
But now we are saying it is the essence of our present lives and the strength of our democracy and freedoms. And we are suggesting that in “Science For All Americans,” properly injected in our renewed commitment toward learning and literacy, we can move forward into the next Century with vigor and ability worth of all our people.
This commitment does not mean some radical shift in the ideals and beliefs in the United States. We already have a providential and dominant belief in learning and knowledge. For among some 244 millions of our people, there are more than 46 million already in elementary and secondary school, about 12 1/2 million in secondary study with a teaching staff overall of 3.35 million and a support staff of 3.5 million leading to a total activity in 83 thousand public and elementary schools situated in 16 thousand districts along with 28 thousand privately operated schools and more than 3,400 colleges and universities and 9,000 other post-secondary sites for training. Hence, more than 65,300,000 of our people are already directly involved in education processes with a considerable fraction of our work force of 120 million having in addition job training whose cost currently alone exceeds the figure of about 205 billion a year of public investment in all pre-college education. In combination, the spending is more than 7% of our gross national product so all we need are talent and insight and creativity; we have already acquired the habit.
This does not mean we do not know what to do, but by no means are we doing it. But certain other things such are brought out in the sobering study “A World of Differences” show us the way. Industry cannot be sustained by the present capabilities of the work force that is in prospect for the next decade and beyond. Our democracy cannot be sustained by the inequalities in minority, gender, ethic, and other consequences of education and opportunity. Why not bring these together while at the same time deriving from learning about nature and the useful arts new and good meanings of human life and living together? “Science For All Americans” offers a step toward that goal.
W. 0. Baker