Clichés are often echoed for what they are: overused statements that are usually untrue. But clichés do not spring out from nowhere. They have a foundation for their existence, and whether they get distorted along the course of their lifespan is a separate matter. Point is: clichés have some basis for being true.
When I say that Americans are dumb, I do mean it in the most sincere way. It is inexcusable and it is embarrassing. But the sort of institutionalized stupidity which can be seen all across America is not down to cultural factors, or the pervasion of television. Ultimately, it comes down to the messed up educational system in the country, and here’s why:
Firstly, the American education system is built around math and science subjects and getting good scores on multiple choice exams. This is a big one. The schools tend to ignore subjects like history, politics, and the languages (including English) which require essays for assessment, instead of things that can be worked out on a paper, like math problems. If someone is good at writing, or knows a lot of history, he is generally considered to be “smart”. But, if someone else gets an A in science or math classes, he is considered a “genius,” “a prodigy,” “the next Einstein,” etc. and a whole bunch of other accolades. This goes to show how much more important the mathematics and sciences are in the American education system than the humanities.
Secondly, the structure of the American education system is based on the idea that knowledge is a skill-set, and that it is best acquired by way of doing homework. I won’t discuss the way the science and math courses are taught, because they are evidently superior to other countries’ (allegedly), so I will focus on the humanities. Under the American system, being well-versed in history does not mean one has the ability to debate or write about it. It means knowing that the capital city of the Incan Empire was Cusco, and that the Second Sino-Japanese War started in 1937. So, it’s about how many facts you know, as opposed to understanding what happened and being able to debate about it with other people. Debates aren’t just considered “unimportant,” but they are actively discouraged by teachers who think they are a waste of time, which could be more “valuably” spent by feeding the students with more list of facts. I am not exaggerating when I say this. In a typical American classroom, when there is an opportunity for an open discussion, teachers have a tendency to cut it short so that they can “teach” more. Instead, under the current system, students are expected to learn by doing the assigned homework, memorizing facts, so that they are prepared for the multiple choice exams. The problem with this method is that: a) it actually hampers learning and b) students do not learn to become independent because they are trained to do what they are told, instead of figuring things out on their own.
Thirdly, the American system is a narcissistic system that discourages independent thought. I do not say this lightly. It almost sounds totalitarian, but it isn’t. Totalitarianism is based on bad intentions, but the one I am referring to is based on sheer ignorance. I will expand on what I mean by this. In American schools, when writing essays, students are not “encouraged” to refer to outside material, and are required to stick to the material they learned in class. So, in an English class where students are writing an essay about Orwell’s “1984,” students are not “encouraged” to talk to about his other work, or mention contemporary political topics (like Iraq & North Korea), or historical examples (like Stalin), because history is deemed to be a separate subject from literature. When I say “discouraged,” I mean it in the most ironic way, because if students discuss outside material in their essays, they usually get points off from their essays, instead of being rewarded. An outsider looking at this problem would be bemused by such a limited system, but students in the United States do not complain because they are so used to the system, and they grew up in a system where “punching above one’s weight” and doing more than what is required are actively disparaged: do the assigned work, and you are good, because then you would be rewarded with good grades. Hence, students are not encouraged to do more than what is required because they don’t get more points for that.
And lastly (though I could go on), the American education system has a tendency to be snobbish, in that it does not teach students about contemporary things relevant to today’s society because they are not as “cool” as the old historical stuff. So, even within the realm of the humanities under the umbrella of the American education system, there are deep-rooted problems. In history classes, students do not learn about contemporary history. In literature classes, students do not learn about contemporary literature. In political science classes, students do not learn about contemporary politics. What they do learn is stuff that happened at least 50 years ago, because somehow what happened a long time ago is more important than what is happening now. This is why Americans are excruciatingly uninformed about politics. It would actually be very hard-pressed to find someone (especially in California where I live) who, for instance, knows that the United States did not intervene (or knows what that word means) in Iraq in 2003 (and not in 2001) because of the 9/11 attacks, or that it wasn’t Obama who deliberately created ISIS, or let alone know what ISIS is. I’ve come across many people who have never heard of the NSA, or Edward Snowden, and who don’t know who the Vice President of the United States is, and who think that Martin Luther was black, and that most French and British people are deeply religious (I heard Donald Trump say this). I could go on with this, but I don’t need to because it is a well-known fact that Americans are notorious for being so out of touch with today’s society.
I will depart with an anecdote. Once my friend and I thought it would be amusing to test some of these people’s intelligence. He asked at least 10 people if they knew what people from Denmark were called. None of them said Danish, but uttered some variations of “Denmarkian” or “Denmarkan”. Ok, a bit harsh on them we thought (after all, Denmark is not a well-known country, right?) so we asked if they knew what the people from England were called. Again, none of them got it right (surprise, surprise). The most popular answers were Englandian and Englesian.
And with that, I rest my case.