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July 25, 1996

ED072596b: Dumb And Dumber

By

A certain Mr. Wade Miller of New Mexico recently called Atlanta's Olympic committee to buy tickets for the Summer Olympics.

"I'm sorry, sir," the voice on the other line replied. "I can't sell tickets to someone outside the United States."

Yep -- you heard correctly. The sales office of the U.S. Olympic Committee didn't know that "New Mexico" isn't part of old Mexico. Though he tried, Mr. Miller could convince neither the operator -- nor her supervisor! -- that New Mexico is one of the 50 United States of America. The supervisor, getting on the line when Mr. Miller insisted, told him (you can just hear her tone), "Sir, new Mexico, old Mexico -- it doesn't matter. You still have to go through your country's Olympic Committee."

When reporters from a Santa Fe newspaper asked for tickets, they were told -- once again -- to contact the Mexican consulate.

When I hear stories like this, I don't know whether to laugh or cry. At first, of course, I laugh -- I mean, it is funny after all. But then I start thinking about why it's funny. And then, I become a little more pensive. If people with so little basic knowledge are able to get jobs with the U.S. Olympic Committee -- as supervisors no less! -- it makes me wonder how many other people like this there are out there, and where they work. A nuclear reactor, maybe?

The reason we laugh, of course, is because something we all secretly know has been exposed without warning, in all its irony: Our "education system" is now so bad it no longer transmits even the most basic knowledge to a great many people. And those people are becoming such a large proportion of the population that they now show up as employees of organizations as prestigious as the U.S. Olympic Committee.

I'm not exaggerating or overreacting here. I have a friend who used to be a television news reporter, who once took his camera and crew to the University of Maryland. He wanted to ask university students simple, basic knowledge questions in categories like geography, history, math and science to see whether they knew things anyone at that educational level ought to know. Some of the answers he got will make a believer out of anyone.

Two female students tried for a full minute to come up with the formula for finding the area of a rectangle, and finally gave up with embarrassed giggles. One young man couldn't say what part of the world Poland is in. Another simply walked away when asked what, for him, was apparently the stump question: Who was president of the United States during the Civil War?

"What three powers did we fight against in World War II?" was one question. To be fair, my friend says a few came up with the correct answer, with a few hints along the way: Germany, Italy and Japan. Then there was the young man who said, in a confident tone (my friend tells me this is a direct quote): "Well, the first one, I know, is Russia. The second one is Korea. And the third one, I understand, is Pearl Harbor."

Pearl Harbor? What on earth is going on here?

A student at a major U.S. university, and he not only can't answer a simple history question every American should be able to answer -- he doesn't even understand what is said to him? Pearl Harbor isn't a "power." It's a little country in the middle of the Atlantic; everybody knows that!

You have to wonder who signed a certificate of graduation from high school for this young man. What "educator" admitted him to a university? And how did he stay there, after he got there?

The answer is simple, and not funny: He's a product of the same politically correct, "socially conscious" educators who have presided over the decline in American education during the past three decades. The reason they have resisted all change in their approach to education is also their great secret: they see this decline as a positive good. After all, academic excellence is just a form of elitism. It will be a great stride forward for social equality when everyone is on the same, dumbed down intellectual level.

What I want to know is: Who should District of Columbia residents call to get tickets to the Olympics? Atlanta -- or Bogota?

Note: Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. is president of The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public policy research institute.

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