Are Americans dumb? No, it’s the inequality, stupid

Sadhbh Walshe asks: Are Americans dumb? This is a question that has been debated by philosophers, begrudging foreigners and late night TV talk show hosts for decades. Anyone who has ever watched the Tonight Show’s “Jaywalking” segment in which host Jay Leno stops random passersby and asks them rudimentary questions like “What is Julius Caesar famous for?” (Answer: “Um, is it the salad?”) might already have made their minds up on this issue. But for those of you who prefer to reserve judgement until definitive proof is on hand, then I’m afraid I have some depressing news. America does indeed have a problem in the smarts department and it appears to be getting worse, not better.

On Tuesday, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released the results of a two-year study in which thousands of adults in 23 countries were tested for their skills in literacy, basic math and technology. The US fared badly in all three fields, ranking somewhere in the middle for literacy but way down at the bottom for technology and math.

This shouldn’t be all that surprising as there is a well documented pattern of American school kids failing to keep up with their tiger cub counterparts in other countries. But these results are the first concrete proof that this skill gap is extending well beyond school and into adulthood. The question is, do the study’s results imply, as the New York Post so delicately put it, that “US adults are dumber than your average human“? Hardly, but it does suggest that many Americans may not be putting the smarts they have to good use, or, more likely, that they are not getting the opportunity to do so. Put another way: it’s inequality, stupid. [Continue reading…]

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