America suffers from an education crisis. Unless it is addressed honestly, forthrightly and courageously, we are doomed to permanent economic decline and the erosion of our civic democracy. A country is only as good as its people -- especially its young people, who form the backbone of the next generation.
By this standard, we are sliding not only into mediocrity but into decay. Our schools have become infested with drugs, sexual promiscuity, out-of-wedlock teenage births and violence. On international tests on subjects such as math, science and reading, American students from kindergarten through 12th grade consistently rank near or at the bottom. Nations such as Finland, Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Russia have surpassed us in intellectual rigor and academic achievement. We are losing the educational race -- and with it, our dominant global economic position.
Rather than tackle this, President Obama sought to use his nationwide speech to students on Tuesday as a propaganda vehicle to further his cult of personality. Before the talk, the administration sent out a lesson plan proposing that teachers ask students to write a paper on how to "help the president."
"As the father of four children, I am appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama's socialist ideology," said Jim Greer, chairman of Florida's Republican Party. "President Obama has turned to America's children to spread his liberal lies, indoctrinating America's youngest children before they have a chance to decide for themselves."
Mr. Greer was right. Indoctrinating the youth to give advice to the Dear Leader is a common feature of Stalinist regimes, like Kim Jong-il's North Korea or Fidel Castro's Cuba. It is repugnant and has no place in a self-governing constitutional republic -- even in Mr. Obama's Amerika. The White House rightly dropped the proposal following the public firestorm.
Mr. Greer and other anti-Obama critics miss the larger point. Our public schools are not only colossal failures; they have been transformed by liberal elites into ideological re-education camps where taxpayer dollars are being used to spread multicultural socialism. Hence, Mr. Obama doesn't need to do it. The teachers unions are doing a fine job on their own.
Public schools routinely denigrate patriotism and religion. Man-made global warming and environmentalism are taught as the new secular gospel. America is regularly depicted in textbooks as having been founded upon slavery, conquest and the genocide of Indians. All cultures are presented as equal; the unique heritage and singular greatness of Western civilization is denied. Political correctness reigns supreme. Students come out knowing one thing: The worst thought crimes are racial insensitivity and "homophobia."
In the 1960s, the revolutionary left began its long march through the institutions. Education was the key to capturing cultural and, eventually, political power. Whoever controls the classroom and the formation of young minds controls the future. This is why radicals, such as William Ayers, went into education policy. Their goal: to create "social justice" classrooms, seeking to convert students into progressive activists.
In the 2008 presidential election, the youth vote went overwhelmingly for Mr. Obama. Even nearly 30 percent of young evangelicals -- the children of the Christian right -- voted for Mr. Obama because of his green agenda. In large numbers, high school and college students support gay marriage, abortion rights, the legalization of drugs, nationalized health care, cap-and-trade and amnesty for illegal immigrants. In other words, they are the foot soldiers for Mr. Obama's socialist revolution.
For decades, America's public education system has done everything but teach the basics: Forget reading, writing and math; what matters is fostering self-esteem, personal liberation and the erosion of moral and intellectual standards. Merit has become unearned; everyone is entitled to high grades. Hierarchy and excellence have been discarded in favor of a leveling mediocrity. Students may have a bare knowledge of algebra or geography, but they are all taught how to use a condom or where to go for an abortion.
If Mr. Obama were serious about helping our nation's kids -- especially, minority students, many of them trapped in the public system -- he would do the one thing he refuses to do: Break the stranglehold of the National Education Association (NEA), the country's largest teachers union. The NEA is a powerful Democratic constituency that puts the interests of its members above children. It staunchly opposes every sensible reform -- school choice, charter schools, firing bad teachers and high academic standards.
In his address, Mr. Obama spoke about the importance of taking personal responsibility for one's education. In particular, he urged young people to persevere through difficult times.
"And even when you're struggling, even when you're discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you -- don't ever give up on yourself," Mr. Obama said.
That is good advice. But students don't need a glorified pep talk. They need a leader who is willing to smash the sclerotic status quo.
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute, a Washington-based think tank.