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American's knowledge deficit | W. David Phillips

American’s knowledge deficit

With this post I begin a series on the impact education, knowledge and cultural trends should have on communication and spiritual formation in the church. In this post, I talk about the knowledge deficit in American, especially in young adults.

In early 2011, at the height of the unrest in Wisconsin over their teacher’s right to collectively bargain over benefits, a startling statistic was revealed. Two-thirds of the eighth graders in Wisconsin public schools cannot read proficiently according to the U.S. Department of Education, despite the fact that Wisconsin spends more per pupil in its public schools than any other state in the Midwest.

In the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests administered by the U.S. Department of Education in 2009–the latest year available–only 32 percent of Wisconsin public-school eighth graders earned a “proficient” rating while another 2 percent earned an “advanced” rating. The other 66 percent of Wisconsin public-school eighth graders earned ratings below “proficient,” including 44 percent who earned a rating of “basic” and 22 percent who earned a rating of “below basic.”

The test also showed that the reading abilities of Wisconsin public-school eighth graders had not improved at all between 1998 and 2009 despite a significant inflation-adjusted increase in the amount of money Wisconsin public schools spent per pupil each year.

But it is not just Wisconsin that has problems with reading. Nationwide, only 30 percent of public school eighth graders earned a rating of “proficient” or better in reading, and the average reading score on the NAEP test was 262 out of 500. [1]

When we look at literacy in other parts of the US, we can see similarly disturbing information. 47 percent of Detroiters are ”functionally illiterate.” This means they are unable to fill out basic forms for getting a job. They cannot read a prescription including what’s on the bottle, how many you should take, etc.[2]

American has a knowledge deficit.

Young adults have much more access and education than their parents did, but in the 2007 Pew survey on “What Americans Know: 1989-2007, 56% of 18-29 year olds possessed low knowledge levels, while only 22% of 50-64-year olds did. The advantages young adults have in access (including time) and education do not result in greater knowledge or intellectual outcomes.[3]

Younger Americans are very adept with technology and are great multi-taskers (or so it appears. The brain actually cannot multi-task.) They care much about what is cool and are heavily conversant with pop culture. But they do not read or write or add or divide very well.

Is it education’s fault? In some cases it is. There are teachers who cannot teach and students suffer for it. However, these issues do not always originate in the classroom. “They stem from the home, social, and leisure lives of young Americans”.

This knowledge deficit and its causes should impact the communication and formation practices of the church. But unfortunately it has not. At least one generation has left the building and 18-24 year olds are leaving the church in droves. If the church continues to miss what is happening, this generation will continue to flee as well as those who come behind it.

[1] www.cnsnews.com/news/article/two-thirds-wisconsin-public-school-8th-g
[2] detroit.cbslocal.com/2011/05/04/report-nearly-half-of-detroiters-cant-read/
[3] The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future(Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30)

David has been a systems thinker most of his life. He has started three businesses as well as designed and developed systems and processes in existing organizations. He has a Doctorate in Leadership and has also done additional post-graduate work in communications.

He has also pastored 3 churches and loves to think about, write about and podcast about scripture, theology, and leadership.

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