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March 12, 2008


Gary E. Andrews

A young man worked for me who was illiterate.
"Don't worry about your grades!" he said his teachers and coach told him. "You just keep playing good basketball."
Come graduation time they were done with him. Out the door he goes, used and discarded to fend for himself, without receiving basic academic development despite attending 12 years of primary and secondary education.
A high school footballer earned high acclaim, and graduated illiterate. He became a minor criminal.
A man seeking work, handed me his high school diploma, and signed his name, saying, "Don't put me in anything where I have to read and write, because THAT'S all the reading and writing I can do."
A footballer was permanently brain damaged in a game. A lifetime lost for high school football.

These are all local stories in my narrow experience that must be repeated many times here and across America. If these are the ones I know, how many more don't I know?

There's the paraplegic woman living up a hollow in a log cabin who dragged herself outside to chop wood, her only energy source. The two women found by a stone quarry prospector living in a dirt floor shack, cooking on a fire outside. The prenatal care patient who was losing weight instead of gaining, who confessed there was no food at home and she was drinking from the creek. People are struggling to survive here in America.

American academic problems are not in calculus and trigonometry, but in basic academic skills. Large numbers are not empowered with the ability to translate data to and from graphic form. We fail to empower them in the 'learn-to-read' years, and leave them incompetent or impaired in the 'read-to-learn'years of higher education. Reading-to-learn is the mode of education for the 'lifetime-of-learning' demanded in 21st century life. Without it they are diverted from the plane of development, unable to market themselves as useful resources to commerce, limited as consumer resources for companies' commodities and services, limited as taxpayers, as citizens, limited in every role they play.

How is it that we are hundreds of years into the practice of education of human beings and still failing at the basics? It may be reflective of the predations of those who want your money and are willing to kill you to get it. They kill 435,000 Americans a year with tobacco (www.cdc.gov), year after year, depriving families of breadwinning parents, caregiver parents, leader and caregiver siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents. Alcohol creates madness, the most widely abused drug on planet Earth. The 250,000 annual American deaths are almost a relief to the consumer and the family, friends and community that suffered with them in life. Again, society is deprived of the positive contributions these people could have made had they not been exploited unto death.

Now Perdue Pharma heroin, oxycontin, (a.k.a. 'hillbilly heroin' as if the consumer is the problem) is turning your people into desperadoes, thieves and prostitutes. The prisons are full and still the predators who want your peoples' money and are willing to kill them to get it pump their drugs into our society. One clinic here put 1.5 million pills into our community.

They are dooming generations to come with a destiny weakened by loss of the most valuable of resources, human resources, sole-source suppliers of human competence. Horse competence is no substitute. Monkey competence won't do. Even machine and computer competence pale in comparison to what a human being can supply, if developed, nurtured, cared for, and not debilitated by predation and neglect.

But nothing substantial stands with the people against the predators. Not government, not medical professionals, not journalism. The only protection is you, to defend yourself and your family, your community. If they get you, then your family and community become more vulnerable targets, more likely to be victims, victims of other victims, perhaps to become victimizers as they respond to the necessities of living in a predatory society.

Now, the sun rises and it's time for the children to go to school. They come from homes of weakened strength, unfed, unwashed, mis-socialized, mis-cultured. They pass through war zones on the streets. They walk in school halls and sit in classrooms and go to restrooms where a weakened society perpetuates its madness and predation.

Learn to read? Read to learn? Study? Future? Career? No; they're struggling to survive, to find enough to eat and not be poisoned by the predator who sells volatile substances as food that cause diabetes, obesity, heart disease. They struggle to keep a roof over their head, a door to lock, despite the predator who fooled their parents into a mortgage that will 'balloon' out of their ability to pay it, with heating or cooling too expensive to afford and their health suffers because of it. They struggle to maintain transportation with gasoline $3.459 March 18, 2008. They struggle to survive medical services that put them on pills until they die. Medicaid and Medicare are not expensive because people use them but because unscrupulous companies, hospitals, doctors, dentists, clinics, and other predators submit fraudulent bills and government blindly pays, unable to police so many. They struggle to survive their governments' collusions with gambling interests who want to prey upon the suckers, often in the guise of the friendly government lottery that promises to put some of the lost money into the schools.

When your most valuable resource is seen by your society as something to use and, if your use debilitates it so it is of no further use to you or anyone else, including themselves, and that's o.k., then you've got problems at the foundation. Until the foundation is repaired, building on it is futile.

You need leaders to make predation unacceptable. They wield the power. If they don't stand against it, the individual is on his own. The numbers who will become willing participants in the predation will rival and surpass the numbers who resist. The numbers who prey will debilitate multiples of their own number. You need leaders studious enough to make high-quality leadership decisions. Misleadership got us here. These problems did not fall out of the sky like rain. They are the product of leaders' decisions. New leaders, if you can find and keep them, can make new decisions to get your people and your nation back on the developmental plane.


I live in a community which elevates sports above academics. Parents will make great sacrifices to make sure their children get to practices and games. Students often have to travel great distances to play against other schools, so there are days (school days) when they don't return home until close to midnight, making them too tired for the following day's academics. In the harshest of weather and the busiest times of the year, parents and students will go to amazing lengths in the name of sports (basketball, in our case). Teachers are even encouraged to cut down on homework during this time because of the basketball schedule.
On the flip-side, I've received some criticism over the years because of the technical nature of the courses I teach and the expectations I have for my students. I've tried to offer advanced elective courses that deal with engineering, but I have had difficulty finding students to give even a fraction of their time to an academic pursuit such as this (contrasted with sports). I've come to see that people (kids and adults) in my geographic area have a low threshold for "mental pain". They'll physically push themselves to exhaustion for the cause of sports, but very few push themselves to do anything hard in the academics or learning. If it requires thinking, many give up after only a minute of effort!
Your video (I've only seen segments) has been very interesting, and while there may be a few points I disagree with, overall I think you are right on. I've felt frustrated for some time, as a teacher, with regards to the lack of motivation and pride in academic achievement. When watching your video, part of me wanted to pick up and move to India, because I would love to be in an environment where students WANT TO LEARN what I have to offer them.
I wonder what the answer is to this problem... Our school is looking at how we can do things differently to make academics a top priority, but the culture of our area already feels our school is "elitist" because of our high expectations (which, compared to other countries or even other schools in our own nation, are not very high at all). Maybe it will require another depression or economic collapse to wake our nation from its slumber. Watching the news, we may not be that far from such a "wakeup call".
Thank you for your part in spreading the word. I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one that feels great concern for our youth.

william henry lewis

I will be viewing the full film eventually, but I have listened to the interviews and scanned the site. As a Black American who studied and worked against many odds to become a successful writer of literary fiction and who has taught at a range of American private and public universities, I must say I'm bothered to see an absence of Black people among your American "characters." I'm hoping the film does a better job of presenting a picture that looks like America, but from what your website presents, there are no students of color in America worth recognizing. I find that sad and insulting.


No insult was intended and Dr. Jackson, who appears throughout the film, is certainly an outstanding example of what African Americans are achieving academically. As a student, she earned a PhD in Physics from M.I.T. And as a professional, she has been an extraordinary leader in pushing for higher education standards for all Americans.

My next documentary, which will be released this fall, is entirely about African Americans and the unique challenges they face as entrepreneurs in the U.S.

No racial slight was intended by selecting two Caucasian students and not selecting African American, Hispanic, or other ethnic groups who are important contributors to the U.S. economy.



One of my colleagues watched your interview with Brian Lamb (CSPAN) about your documentary and it has caused interesting conversation amongst several educators in our school. As a high school guidance counselor, we see the entire spectrum of students – intellectuals, techies, artists (performing and visual) to their opposites and every student in-between. I agree with the perspective that I think that you are trying to address – the CULTURE of American education (and the United States in general?). What is our culture emphasizing? I’m finding that, in general, many do not want to work hard to get what they want – but IS that and SHOULD it be the American way? I showed your trailer to a student who was in my office who wasn’t surprised by the information (interesting but this student is a great kid, but isn’t taking a full-load of classes). I’ve talked to other colleagues about it and have asked for it to be ordered by our librarian to (hopefully) be used in classes as a topic of conversation. Our principal has seen it and he wondered if our school system is broken or if our society and its expectations are broken. Looking forward to the dialogue (and the “ripple effect” that hopefully it could have) in our community.

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