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 by Jennie S. Bev

In a global world that will judge us on our intellect, the United States is falling behind.

The Mountain House Branch Library allows every member to check out 50 items at a time. But according to Susan Jacoby, in her highly acclaimed book, The Age of American Unreason, the attention of span of today’s children and teenagers has decreased considerably, thanks to MTV, video games and the Internet.

The United States might need to swallow a bitter pill in terms of cultural literacy and education, which is reflected in low reading and handwriting skills. Moreover, without mindful awareness of the seeming shrinking capacity of our youngsters’ minds, it might be hard for America to compete in a highly globalized world. We might no longer be the superpower country when our kindergartners sit in high school classrooms.

Asian countries, like China and India, are on a meteoric rise to economic and intellectual stardom. In 2005, there were 600,000 engineers produced in China and 500,000 in India, while there are a mere 70,000 new engineers annually in the United States. Of course, there are arguments that American education is better than anywhere else. We might have a better educational system and facilities, which would highly influence the quality of college graduates. Still, a graduate’s quality is also affected by personal character and attitude.

It is common knowledge that today’s youth prefer beautifying their profiles to reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby or Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss. Too boring, they probably would say, with those pearly white iPod earphones in their ears. It is no surprise, and it’s reflected in their low reading skills.

According to a recent Progress in International Reading Literacy study released by Boston College, fourth-grade students from 10 countries, including Russia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Italy, Sweden and Canada, showed better reading skills than American kids. In 2001, however, it was much better, as there were only three countries that did better the United States. Look at the bright side: Our kids love “Harry Potter,” which is good enough to start a back-to-reading movement.

Handwriting, of course, is also on a dwindling path into mere typing. While most high school students have their own MySpace sites and blogs, handwriting might feel “so 1990s.” Nobody really writes anymore. Some parents even think that teaching handwriting is an obsolete concept and a waste of time and resources. As long as the kids can type a gazillion words per minute, it doesn’t matter how they write a “d” or a “b,” and which direction the letter faces is also not that important.

Whoa. A country full of people who don’t know how to write by hand is pretty scary.

The beautiful art of handwriting and the adventurous journey into an author’s mind through books might have been replaced by a laptop, a BlackBerry or even an iTouch, but we should not cease educating and motivating our youth to appreciate culture and intellect. After all, culture is what the world is made of, and intellect is how we will be judged in a highly globalized world.

Sometimes, being an American is enough to make us proud, but oftentimes it is a hollow sentiment. Without good judgments about what the future needs from Americans, something that will depend on our cultural and intellectual influences, we might need to swallow the bitter pill for being an empty holler. The key is to acknowledge healthy competition with people from other nations and to begin the change, one person at a time, starting with ourselves.[]

Tracy Press, April 15, 2008

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