Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

A Second Look at Capitalism and the American Dream

  1. May 18, 2003 #1
    As a strong supporter of human equality, for many years I had supported the idea that all social welfare is good. However, recently I have come to discover obscure virtue in capitalism concerning the issue of equal opportunity in higher education. After reading about the educational systems in other major countries, I can tell you that America provides more equality and opportunity for advancement among the classes than anywhere else. Anyone in America can go to college no matter who they are or where they came from. I have come to realize that this situation is almost completely unique to our country.

    Many European countries boast about having a completely free university system. They claim that the high college tution costs in America create a situation where only the rich can afford to send their children to college while anyone in European countries can go to college. This could not be further from the truth. In Germany for instance, the government pays all college tuition costs. However, because the government is paying the bill, the government decides exactly who gets to go to college. They decide this based on the scholastic performance of children during grades 1 through 5. It is a fact that children of parents with higher education will perform better in elementary school than other children. Parents with higher education are often richer and will be able to afford such luxuries as private tutoring. Also, these parents will be more supportive of their children's academic efforts. So, what they have in Germany (and most other countries throughout the world) is clearly a situation of inequality. Not only does this situation damage the diversity of the culture, but it also damages the individual. Unlike American graduate students in the experimental sciences, German students do not build their own apparatus. Their universities actually hire technicians and laborers to complete such menial tasks that are beneath academic minds. This mentality damages the student because it gives him / her an unjust sense of superiority which only strengthens the idea that the rich should stay rich and the poor should stay poor.

    In eastern countries like China, the government has decided to not bother spending any money at all educating those who are not college bound. There is no high school for those who wish to learn a trade. Essentially, these people no education and must rely on finding an apprecticeship. This creates a situation where a person gets stuck in a class -- once a laborer, always a laborer. In America, a factory worker could suddenly decide to attend a university. Within months, he or she could be attending night classes at a junior college in order to prepare for university level studying. Then this person could take out low-interest, educational loans from the government so that he or she can pursue his or her dreams.

    Many critics of the American system, claim there has been a dumbing down of the higher educational system due to equal opportunity. This is bullsh:t. America has the best colleges in the world. More of the world's leading scientists attended American schools than the schools of any other country. The univeristies of America receive strong support from the general public because essentially they belong to the people. They are not perceived as sacred ivory towers whose doors are only open to a few elitests, as they are in other countries.

    This is not to say that the American system is perfect. Clearly, we need to push harder to ensure that people of all backgrounds are guarenteed the American Dream. However, I think it wouldn't hurt to take a moment and recognize that the capitalistic system of America not only provides individual freedom, but it also approaches true equality -- a dream that communistic and socialistic societies have never realized.

  2. jcsd
  3. May 18, 2003 #2


    User Avatar

    Actually... no.
    The major criticism is that while the US educational system creates various great scientists of higher levels than other nations, the general educational level is lower. In fact, that statement pretty much confirmed it - how is the number of elite leading scientists a refution of the idea that there are "ivory towers" amongst a rather mediocre landscape? The figures I have seen of the educational quality amongst the average student, not of the top x% in relation to the rest of the world, are certainly not reassuring. Rather than dumbing down as you suggest, the problem is that of a two tier system that hides the overall problem.
    EDIT: oops. Typo gave wrong impression.
    Last edited: May 18, 2003
  4. May 18, 2003 #3


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Greetings !

    Overall, I agree with what FZ+ said.
    But, I think there's a much bigger
    issue hiding here concerning the general
    public level. In a free country people
    can and should do and learn what they want.
    The fact that they can not know what's
    worth knowing before they know it is
    a different issue. So, although a lower general
    level educated society does pose a problem
    on the one hand, such a society is also,
    however, seemingly better equiped to invest
    in the true potential of each separate field.
    Since perfection and total knowledge are
    unattainable anyway - I personally think
    it may very well be better this way for
    the greater part. But, this is naturally
    very far from being a black & white issue
    and we all probably have our own subjective
    opinions about this.

    Live long and prosper.
  5. May 18, 2003 #4
    How is that even a complete thought? I never called anyone an ivory tower. I said that universities of America are NOT perceived by the public as ivory towers. What I mean is that the universities in America are open for everyone of ALL backgrounds. Whether you like it or not, this is a true statement. I am the son of a laborer. Based on statistics alone, I can assert that had I grown up in Germany, China or possibly England; my chances of attending college would have been lesser by far.

    The statistics you speak of are meaningless. For instance, you can't compare the highschool scores of Chinese students to those of American students because not everyone in China is even given the opportunity to attend highschool. In fact most people in China are illiterate, and I can assure you that these people are not included in the groups of tested students.

    In European countries, like Germany, not everyone is even given the opportunity to attend a college preparatory highschool. Students who are deemed non-theoretical thinkers at a young age are placed in trade-schools. Their futures are determined by state-appointed authorities before they even understand what is going to happen to them. Furthermore, these trade-school students are not included in the group of students who take these standardized tests you speak of. In America, we educate everyone--even people with learning disabilities--people whom other countries would not bother to waste educational funds on.

    We could possibly compare standardized scores of American college students to those of other countries, but we have to consider certain factors such as the fact that all colleges students in Germany receive the American equivalent of a Master's degree... they traditionally have no Bachelor's degree programs. In this case, we should only compare the scores of American Master's students against those of German Diploma students. Since you agree with me that the American graduate programs are superior to those of the rest of the world, I'm sure you would find that American students would have much higher scores.

    Anyway, I have diverged from my oringal point which was that the American system is much more forgiving. America is one of the few places where people really have true control over their own destinies. At anytime in a American's life, he or she can obtain education. We don't reserve education for an elite minority as other countries do.

  6. May 18, 2003 #5
    What strikes me as the most unfair thing about the US education system is that in many cases (at college level), more money = better education. Why should it cost more - possibly more than is affordable for some parents - to send their child to the best college they can get into?
  7. May 18, 2003 #6
    Yes, that is one drawback of the American system... but like I said, the American system isn't perfect, but it's still better than the others.

    Honestly, I want you to tell me what is better -- a system where higher education is available to everyone for a price or a system where it is only available to some for free.

  8. May 18, 2003 #7


    User Avatar

    Entropy: sorry... typo.

    What I meant was that the existence of leading scientists does not defeat the problem with general educational quality. I am saying that while universities in general are not perceived as ivory towers, there are select colleges or courses that are significantly divided from others. While all students are open to an university education, this does not mean they all get the same standard of education across the board. Rather, while the university system is not an ivory tower of intellectualism, it may be that certain groups act as ivory towers, isolated communities from the general system. I mean that when you say that generalising education has not affected the overall level of education, you cannot disprove that by focusing on the select groups at the top. While they are open for all, selectionism and elitism is still there.

    You see, this paragraph is in fact contradictory to:
    You are admitting in one that allowing everybody to enter school does in fact lower the level of education, whilst in the other you are strongly denying there is any decrease in the level of education. I don't disagree with the principle of equal opportunities, that all people have the same capacity for learning, but you seem to dispute that there...

    But that is a moot point. The most striking comparisons are not affected by these objections: (From The Demon Haunted World)
    1. the best fifth grade school in minneapolis is inferior to ALL 20 schools in Sendai, Japan, 19/20 schools in Taipei.
    2. a poll of US kids put 22% as disliking school, while only 8% of koreans did.
    3. 63% of american adults do not know that dinosaurs died out before the advent of man. 75% do not know antibiotics do not affect viruses. 57% do not know electrons are smaller than atoms. 4. In the school year, the US school year has 180 days, compared to 220 in South Korea, 230 in Germany, 240 in Japan.
    5. The total study time in Japan is 33 hr per week, compared to 20 hr in the US.
    6. Nations like japan, while having half the population, produce twice as many scientists.
    7. Japanese, French and German students spend twice as long studying science and maths than Americans.

    It is a very bad day if we are struggling for excuses with countries as backward as China.

    You see, no one disputes that the US produces a great elite of great scientists. Rather than while we have on the surface an idea of equal opportunities, we have too low a base level of education, into adulthood. While politically we do not deny education, the system naturally seperates out candidates, or deny in terms of financials. We cannot make the conclusion that Americans are genetically uneducatable, or that certain segments of society are unable to learn and hence drag down the score. Hence we must conclude that either the whole scheme is leading to dumbing down, or that the general scheme is good but we are missing other fundamental weaknesses in the way we are running the education system.
  9. May 18, 2003 #8


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    I must admit to having only skimmed the thread, but I think you guys miss an even bigger problem: the vast majority of college graduates in the US have utterly useless degrees. Most people get "liberal studies" or other BA degrees that really don't qualify you to do anything other than push papers back and forth in a cubicle. But the job requires a degree. Any degree.

    A few examples from my friends: I have on friend who has a BA in Journalism with a minor in marketing. His first job was in field, at a marketing company, but he hated it and he made crap anyway (<$20k). Now he works at the Camden Aquarium as a fish handler. Its fun and cool, but it pays very little. He made more as a temp doing data entry.

    Another friend of mine was an English major and she works as a low end paper pusher at a computer company. Pay is terrible and she isn't learning any useful skills (other than advanced paper pushing).

    Another friend got a liberal studies degree (after partying his way out of a music major). He worked for a while selling Aflack and at the same computer company as the girl in the last example (another friend got them the jobs - he doesn't have a degree but makes more than these three examples combined). Now he got himself a paralegal certificate and a job through that (a decent job). A 4 month certification course is worth more to him than his degree.

    It really seems to me like most people shy away from engineering and sciences because they are too hard. The attrition rate in Mech E for me was something like 30%. I don't think there IS an attrition rate for most BAs (it may even be negative because they pick up the engineers who quit).
    Last edited: May 18, 2003
  10. May 19, 2003 #9
    To me, there seems to be a basic part of American culture that is anti-intellectual, anti-education. Americans don't like or trust smart people, unless they can make money at being smart. I don't know about the way other countries run their schools, but in the schools I went to, even teh smartest children were only interested in education for teh purpose of getting a degree, getting a job. There is no fundamental interest, in either the students, parents, or many educators, to teach children how to think, how to integrate knowledge. All students learn is how to regurgitate information back to the teacher. There is very little learning for the sake of knowing, or for teh sake of widening horizons.

    This is why, even though the majority of Americans are 'educated', they don't know how to think rationally. We aren't stupid at all...like Michael Moore says, all you have to do is listen to a sports radio call-in show to know that Americans can remember things, and even make startling intuitive leaps. The problem is in applying that ability to worthy subjects.
  11. May 19, 2003 #10


    User Avatar

    That goes into another point I had - what do these people have grades in? While we can toute the number of courses, we leave out the type of courses these were.
  12. May 19, 2003 #11


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    I have no idea what youa re asking me. In any case, your comment about anecdotal evidence is well taken. But there are statistics on the number and type of degrees being handed out and the number and type of jobs (and salary) avaliable. I really doubt anyone would disagree with my opinion even though I haven't bothered to look up the stats.

    When was the last time your waiter was a degreed engineer?
  13. May 19, 2003 #12
    Dude, please tell me how those two paragraphs contradict each other let alone relate to one another?

    Seriously, has anyone else noticed that FZ+ seems to be in his own little world when it comes to the rules of logic and sentence structure?

    If you, FZ+, were in fact educated in America, I will gladly take back.... No... maybe it's the liquor talking... but I'm feeling too nice tonight to insult people on the internet. So, in the word's of the SNL depiction of Al Gore, Let's just agree to disagree.

    Last edited by a moderator: May 19, 2003
  14. May 19, 2003 #13
    I suppose that would be the last time I was in the Ukraine... and I suppose this would the same answer to the question, "when was the last time your hooker was a degreed engineer?"

  15. May 20, 2003 #14


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Maybe I should have clarified, but this discussion is about education in the US. Interesting point though.
  16. May 20, 2003 #15


    User Avatar

    No... let's clear this up.

    Here you are saying that no dumbing down of the educational system has occured due to allowing everybody into school. Fine. You can argue that.

    Here, you appear to be implying that the scores of students in China are unnaturally high because of selectionism. So, you are saying that by selecting specific people to educate, China's scores cannot be compared to that of the US fairly.

    So, it seems that on the one hand, you say that giving everyone an opportunity does not influence the quality of education. On the other hand, you say that the results in China are skewed due to there not being equal opportunity. It seems to me to a contradiction.

    Hell, (insert nod to various sollipsists) I might be living in my own world. Hell, I might even be drunk due to inhaling alcohol vapours or something. But you can at least point out where I am wrong before killing me... Please?
  17. May 21, 2003 #16
    I am saying that if you selectively tested only honor roll students in the US, you would find that the intelligence gap between the US and every other country is quite non-existant. You see, other countries don't have to selectively test students from a school because they have different schools for children of different levels of academic performance. Like I said before, in most European countries (and most likely Japan) the students are tracked from kindergarden through grade four. Their performance during these years determines how they will be terminally educated.

    In my opinion, the strength of America is diversity. Every other country produces replicants of what an educated person should be based on standards produced by the government... <sarcastic> yeah, 'cause the government never makes mistakes </sarcastic>. America leaves the door open for a certain undefined element of creativity. This is why we Americans rule the world... it's not just our big guns.

    Getting back to the original argument, it's not that the integrated classroom environment hurts the American educational system. It's that the standardized testing of American children at all academic-performance levels gives the appearance of bad educational system. Segration of the classroom is unnecessary and promotes classism (and in most cases racism). Besides, who says geniuses always emerge before they hit grade five. Let's not forget that Albert Einstein was perceived to be a dullard by his elementary school teachers.

  18. May 21, 2003 #17
    Actually, if you simply eliminate the schools where children have been re-segregated, we rank right up with the rest of the world...which should be a good enough hint that diversity in school is a good idea. When there is a good racial and economic mix, schools perform just fine.
  19. May 22, 2003 #18


    User Avatar

    I don't want to press this point, since I actually agree in equal opportunities, I think it would be a hell of a lot more equal if financial constraints are removed, and that there are other aspects that should be improved in education.

    But maybe I'm drunk or something, since this doesn't actually make sense in the light of your related comments.

    You see, the sort of selectionism you talk about here is in no way related to selective testing - China does not educate everyone and pick the highest results. The sort of selection seems to be in terms of class, and hence the fact that most people don't get education at all seems to be irrelevant in that regard. So I am just confused now? :smile:
  20. May 24, 2003 #19
    In China, the government decides which children get to continue being educated after grade four. I refuse to believe that a person is ready to make life-changing decisions (such as: should I study hard and play less so that I can go to college?) at such a young age. Obviously, a parent with education would be more inclined to push a young child to get better grades. Also, a parent with education better suited for providing a student with a comfortable learning environment than a parent without education. It seems to me that China has the problem of unequal opportunity more than any other country.

    It's a fact that people raised by working class parents are less likely to attend a reputable college than people raised by college-educated parents. The reason for this statistic isn't genetic. It is environmental. You see, parents who attended college are usually more supportive of their children's interest in education than parents who didn't. In my opinion, family support is the most important ingredient when it comes to finding success in school. I believe this is the main reason why the richer get richer and the poor get poorer. This inbalance is true in China, it's true in Europe, and it's true in America. Except, America seems to be the only country that is concerned enough about this problem to take some action.

  21. May 24, 2003 #20
    Don't forget the factor of local taxes paying for school, and richer parents being able to raise more private funds for schools. But, yeah, at least America TRIES to do something about it, even in teh face of those who would dismantle public schools for their sick agenda.
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?

Similar Discussions: A Second Look at Capitalism and the American Dream
  1. American Dream (Replies: 69)

  2. American Dream Over? (Replies: 56)