(Page 2 of 2)
Notwithstanding all the horror stories about American kids underperforming on standardized tests compared to Asian kids raised by Tiger moms, things are worse in India and China. India’s literacy rate is 66 percent. China puts its at 93 percent—but between 2000 and 2005, China’s illiterate population grew by 30 million. The same may happen in India, thanks to last year’s Right to Education Act whose regulations will cripple India’s private school market. The fundamental problem is that both countries put their resources into educating elite kids—and ignoring the rest.
College education in both countries, especially in engineering, is also vastly overrated. Harvard researcher Vivek Wadhwa has shown that, contrary to conventional wisdom, not only does America graduate comparable number of engineers to India and China—American engineers are vastly superior.
But unless more Indian and Chinese kids get access to a quality education, their countries won’t be able to actualize their human potential, precisely what America does so well.
America Doesn’t Have a Culture of Hype
An important reason why the gloom-and-doom about America is unjustified is precisely that there is so much gloom-and-doom. Indians and Chinese, by contrast, have drunk their own Kool Aid. Their moribund economies have barely kicked into action and they are entertaining dreams of becoming the next global superpower. This bespeaks a profound megalomania—not to mention lopsided priorities. There is not a culture of hope in these countries, as Giridhardas told Jon Stewart. There is a culture of hype.
By contrast, Americans are their own worst critics—always looking for lessons to improve what is working and fix what’s not. Alexis de Tocqueville observed that although Americans were the freest and most enlightened men placed in the happiest of conditions, “a sort of cloud habitually covered their features.” Why? Because “they were constantly tormented by a vague fear of not having chosen the shortest route that can lead to...their wellbeing."
Indeed, Americans have a grab-the-bull-by-its-horns quality so that they simply don’t hang around hoping for things to get better on their own. If the public school monopoly is failing kids, by golly, then they’ll homeschool them themselves. (Public schools are dysfunctional virtually everywhere, but which other country has spawned anything equivalent to America’s homeschooling movement?) The government responds ineffectually to the recession, modest by historic standards, and Americans go into panic mode. Grass-roots movements such as the Tea Party emerge to rein in the government. Pay Pal founder Peter Theil has even given close to a million dollars to the Seasteading Institute to establish new countries on the sea to experiment with new forms of government. This might be wacky but it puts an outside limit on how out-of-whack Americans will let their institutions get before they start fixing them.
This American spirit, ultimately, is the biggest reason to believe that the American dream is and will stay alive—in America.
Shikha Dalmia is a senior analyst at Reason Foundation and a columnist at The Daily, America’s first iPad newspaper, where a version of this column originally appeared.