Recently, Newsweek published its list of “The best countries in the world.”
Finland, Switzerland, Sweden, Australia, Luxembourg, Norway, Canada, Netherlands, Japan and Denmark occupied the top 10 spots, respectively.
The list was based on five categories: education, health, economic dynamism, quality of life and political environment.
Conspicuously absent was the U.S., where citizens tout their country as “the greatest nation on earth.”
Unfortunately, that expression is now less of a national treasure and more of a self-righteous, blindly nationalistic refrain. Canada, the victim of so many jokes, is, according to Newsweek, a better place to live than the U.S..
The same goes for Japan, an American military protectorate.
The most pertinent question is: How have we reached this point?
One of the categories that stands out in Newsweek’s article is education. If the United States is losing its place at the pinnacle of international society, surely education can serve as a clear foundation for the problem. In the past decade, the United States has increased funding to schools dramatically.
No Child Left Behind, a program created by the George W. Bush administration, simply threw money at the broken public school system.
Why, with so much money going to education, have we fallen short of producing measurably better student scores? With American high schools ranked ninth in terms of percentage of adults with a diploma, and college diploma ranking at seventh, our educational system is clearly in disarray.
Given the exorbitant amount of money we spend on this category, it is safe to say the system is inefficient.
Americans must become aware of the ugly truth. We cannot continue to blame teachers and principals for the current state of affairs.
Plenty of money has already been wasted trying to address these issues, despite a lack of conclusive evidence to support their existence.
Perhaps there is a larger problem, a much more fundamental, nearly unmentionable issue — a lack of student motivation.
In the U.S., our assumption has been that student motivation is the responsibility of teachers. This is a misconception, because teachers do not have that kind of control over their students. In reality, motivation is weak because students do not like school, do not work hard and as a result, do not do well.
It would be a stretch to blame the entire state of the nation on our educational system, terrible though it may be. Instead, student motivation is really just part of a larger problem — a breakdown in traditional values.
When I say traditional values, I am most certainly not talking about religious values, abstinence or anything remotely related to morality.
Instead, the breakdown has occurred in a different place — our work ethic.
For the past two decades, the American dream has changed from having a decent job, a family, health care and a semi-early retirement, to getting rich quickly no matter what rules must be broken or what senator has to be bought off.
And for the past two decades, the hill upon which Reagan’s “city” rests has slowly eroded.
In an early August speech, President Barack Obama said Americans “Won’t settle for No. 2.”
Can they settle for 11th? This is the reality of our nation’s place in the world. America is a nation that believes in gross wealth gained at the expense of the poor.
In a time where the government should be asking us to make sacrifices the “greatest generation” would have silently shouldered, we will vote for whichever candidate promises to make it easier for us. And who will pay for our ease? Young Americans with poorer education than the U.S. has ever had.
If we intend to conquer the great problems of our time, we must face them with the spirit of our grandparents and great-grandparents.
American pride was not given to them. It was earned in historic battles against racism, communism and radical nationalism. In order to prevail, America will have to give away its toys and greed for its future. We won the Cold War, a series of battles over values.
Can we win this war? Only with a great deal more sacrifice than we are currently willing to make.