the signs of [a] crushing of America’s spirit of risk-taking are everywhere. I see it every time I take my children to a suburban playground. The dangerous metal slides, rickety merry-go-rounds and tall monkey bars are a thing of the past, a casualty of federal regulations and rapacious lawyers. The benefit is supposed to be fewer injuries, although the evidence of that is surprisingly thin. Those old playgrounds had [an escalating] danger to them that taught kids how to assess risk.
When you grow up thinking that every fall will be cushioned by safety mulch or fall height-rated rubber flooring, turns out you have trouble when it comes to real world rock-climbing. When everything is a safety crisis, nothing is. So it should be little surprise that older children are less likely to heed warnings against smoking, drinking and having, in the parlance of modern educators, “unsafe” sex.
Since 2000, Americans have won 21 of the 37 physics prizes, 18 of the 33 medicine prizes, 22 of the 33 chemistry prizes and an astonishing 27 of the 30 economics prizes. Pretty impressive considering our nonstop anxiety about failing schools, mediocre international test scores, undergrads not majoring in math or the sciences, and the rest. Singapore, South Korea and Finland may regularly produce the highest test scores among 15-year-olds, but something isn't translating: Nobody from Singapore has ever won a Nobel. Korea has one—for peace. The Finns last took a science prize in 1967.Stephens attributes America's Nobel success to three factors:
- an immigration culture that welcomed everyone.
- a mostly private, highly competitive, lavishly endowed university system, juiced by federal funding for fundamental research.
- a culture of individualism and an ingrained respect for against-the-grain thinking.
The achievement gap between black and white, rich and poor is not due to lack of money. It largely comes down to a vocabulary gap, which means a knowledge gap, because words name things. Perhaps you’ve heard of the 30 million-word gap? Many poor children have a massive vocabulary deficit that modern U.S. education simply does not overcome. (This is largely the fault of parents who put their child in front of the TV or iPad instead of reading him books, but teachers can overcome it.) It’s not the money, it’s the education.Better schools can make a huge difference, giving us a reason to celebrate. Unfortunately, the effort to dumb down education may be reaching even our Nobel-Prize-generating university system, says Pullmann:
The past several years have seen a deluge of demands that a high school diploma now qualify all bearers for non-remedial admission to college. The Obama administration has unilaterally required this of all states using No Child Left Behind waivers. This will . . . dilute college academics, because everyone is simply not suited for college.Let’s be optimistic; hopeful. Change begins with knowing the problem, then finding a real solution.