Jewish World Review Oct. 29,1999 /19 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760
Success concealing failure
AMONG THE MANY clever and misleading defenses of our failing educational
system is the assertion that our universities are among the highest rated in
the world and Americans consistently win a disproportionate number of Nobel
Prizes. Both these claims are accurate -- and irrelevant.
While Americans won the lion's share of Nobel Prizes again this year, not
one of these winners was actually born in the United States. If people born
and raised elsewhere choose to come here and use their talents, fine. But do
not claim their achievements as some vindication of the American educational
On the contrary, the painful question must be faced: Why were a quarter of
a billion native-born Americans unable to win a single Nobel Prize this
year, when a relative handful of naturalized Americans won so many? This is
not a vindication but an indictment of our educational system.
The top-rated American universities owe much to the generosity of American
donors and the largess of the American government, which enable them to
attract top scholars from around the world. It is research, rather than
teaching, which determines world rankings, and our well-financed
Ph.D.-granting universities are unquestionably among the best at research.
However, when you look at who gets degrees in what, again the picture is
very disturbing as regards the track record of the schools and colleges that
prepare students to enter these top-rated institutions.
Less than half the Ph.D.s in engineering and mathematics awarded by
American universities are received by Americans.
Even more revealing, there is a systematic relationship between the
difficulty of the subject and the percentage of American doctorates which go
In a mushy and undemanding field like education, more than four out of five
of the doctorates go to Americans. It is when you start getting into the
physical sciences that the proportion drops to barely half and when you get
into engineering and math that Americans become a minority among American
Foreign graduate students predominate so heavily in difficult subjects that
a common complaint across the country is that undergraduate math courses are
being taught by people whose English is hard to understand, quite aside from
the difficulty of learning the subject itself.
Yes, our top universities are the cream of the crop. They are so good that
people educated in American schools and colleges cannot hold their own with
foreign students who go there.
The period during which American public schools have had declining test
scores has coincided with the period during which Americans were
increasingly displaced by foreigners in the graduate programs of some of our
top universities. In every field surveyed by the Council of Graduate
Schools, the proportion of graduate degrees in the United States going to
Americans has declined over a period of two decades, with the worst declines
being in the more demanding subjects.
A closer look at those Americans who do still hold their own in difficult
fields is also revealing. Nearly 22 percent of all Ph.D.s in engineering
received by Americans are received by Asian Americans. Here is the group
that is most out of step with the prevailing easy-going education, with its
emphasis on "self-esteem" and other mushy fads. Again, this is not a
vindication but an indictment of what is being done in our public schools.
Ironically, people who go ballistic when minorities are
"under-represented," relative to their percentage of the population, whether
among college degree recipients or in various professions, remain strangely
silent when the whole American population is under-represented among those
receiving postgraduate degrees in science, math and engineering in their own
Such under-representation might be understandable if the United States were
some Third World country just entering the world of modern science and
technology. It is staggering in a country whose people led the world in such
things in the recent past. Clearly something has gone very wrong in our
Our current world leadership in science and technology, like our leadership
in Nobel Prizes, owes much to people who never went through the dumbed-down
education in American schools and colleges. Many come from countries which
spend far less per pupil than we do but get far better results for their
Thomas Sowell Archives
©1999, Creators Syndicate