The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

About a week ago as I was going to the supermarket to do some grocery shopping, I was greeted by a very tall young boy whom I took to be in his early teens and several of his teammates who were wearing their school’s baseball uniforms.  They were soliciting donations to buy some new equipment.  Accompanying them and sitting at a table that the store had allowed them to set up was a man in his early 40’s whom I guessed was either the father of one of the team members or perhaps one of their coaches.

The young man was very polite and explained that they were trying to raise money for their team.  I gave him credit for taking his time on a weekend in order to solicit us shoppers for something that was a purpose in which he believed.  So I was certainly willing to contribute to the cause.  However, I was curious about his level of scholastic achievement and so I decided to offer him a little test and, if he answered correctly, told him I would donate to help him in his efforts to purchase new equipment.

I am not quite sure why I decided on this particular question but I asked him if he knew what the capital of Chile was.  I could see a blank stare come over his face – as though Chile was not so much a location as it was something you ate.  The coach at the table tried to help him out – “It begins with an ‘S’.”  No help.  “The last letter is ‘O’.”  Still nothing.  I admonished the coach for these helpful hints – but they proved to be of no value.  The young man simply had no idea.

In a very early post I explained both my interest in and how I learned a great deal of the geography that I know.

If you read that earlier post you will realize that one of the things that helped me learn about different countries was in collecting the stamps of those countries.  I seriously wonder if anyone under the age of 30 has ever actually written a letter or sent a Christmas card that wasn’t done through electronic means.  Perhaps that is part of the problem in our technological age.  But the other part may be the curricula in our schools.  So I asked, “Don’t they teach geography in school anymore?”  He answered, “We get a little of that ‘World Stuff’ but not much.”

I had never heard geography phrased as “World Stuff” but I guess that’s the new normal.  Perhaps it is for that reason that a fair number of younger folk think that Afghanistan is somewhere left of Mexico and just right of Hawaii.  In the olden days, we might not have been terribly concerned about what was happening in Niger or India or Australia – but at least we knew where they were.

So I decided to offer this young man a second opportunity to raise money for his team.  I got away from the “World Stuff” and brought things as close to home as possible by asking him if he knew what the capital of Nevada was.  I told him that I would give him two chances and he should consult with his younger teammates before giving me his choices.  A gleam of hope shone on his face and I thought that he was going to give me the correct answer.

Without consulting his teammates he blurted out, “Las Vegas.”  I presume that if you’re relying on pure guess work, picking the largest city in the state is not an unreasonable choice – but, of course, it is incorrect.  That left only about four cities of any size from which to select and he chose the second largest one, Reno.  Also incorrect – though only about twenty-five miles from the actual capital, Carson City.

So, although he didn’t get my donation, which I had hoped to provide him, I decided to use the opportunity to turn this into a life lesson.  So I said, “I’m sorry that you will not be getting a donation from me today.  I really would have liked to help you and your teammates out.  But there is a lesson to be learned here – which is that the only things in life that are free are generally things that we don’t want.  We have to work to earn the rest.  The next time I see you, I’m going to ask you another geography question and I hope that you’ll study up on the subject so that you can give me the correct answer and I can give you my donation.”

This is not to say that this young man falls into the category of folks we used to categorize as “Dumb jocks” or in any way impugn his intelligence.  He seemed very bright and eager.  But that is not enough if the raw materials for learning are not being provided by our schools and further fostered in our homes.  And that is a pity in a society which views our world as a “Global Village.”

Sadly, in this Global Village, I’m not sure that this youngster would be able to find either the kitchen or the bathroom.  And in all honesty, I wonder if his teachers would do any better.



  1. Wow. Maybe the young man should be encouraged to pursue athletics. Maybe it’s his only hope. Or maybe he’s a math geek and doesn’t spend much time with a globe. So quick to judge….

    • Our schools already encourage our kids in athletics programs – because they are big fund raisers for most institutions. Listen to a few NBA player interviews to see the product you get from a college “edjumication.” I’ve known a few math geeks in my time and to be honest, I’ve never known any of them to have an interest in sports. As to judgment – I don’t fault the young man for not knowing what he isn’t being taught. And therein lies the tragedy …

  2. Reblogged this on Oyia Brown.

  3. I’ve known a few math geeks who were into sports, Keena Turner a few years ago comes to mind, pro center linebacker and academic all-american in civil engineering at Purdue, not quite as rare as hen’s teeth, but close. And, in truth, math geeks need to do sports just to learn how to be on a team. But your point is valid, and far too often we do blame kids for not knowing what they haven’t been taught.

    • They obviously exist – hence the Rhodes Scholarships. And I applaud those who have both intellectual and athletic skills. But, as you said, they are rare. And the output from colleges that for the most part go on to play pro sports – well, if I were a member of the alumnae at many of the schools from which they graduated – I would be embarassed to admit it.

      • I agree with all of your points, a few, and Purdue is often at least among them do insist on an education but far too few.

        In truth, with all of his problems that was the thing with Bobby Knight, his athletes got an education and even more they graduated, because “the Coach” led. And that and the alumni are the problem. If they’re farm teams, say so, if they’re student athletes, make it so. Quit lying to them and to us.

      • I couldn’t agree with you more.

      • We seem to be on the same page today, which makes me think I’m smarter than I normally am 🙂

      • I think we usually are.

      • We do tend to be, at that. I’ve missed you, by the way.

      • Likewise. I’m just preparing to cull through my emails and see what you and Oyia have been up to during the last five months. I always find something stimulating in your posts.

      • both been busy, and some is still relavant.

      • Looking forward to reading them. I’m culling out the junk first – which leaves me with only 6250 to go.

      • I know, I was down a week or so, and it is scary how much accumulates, in a short time, if my business ever takes off I’m going to have to cut back or I’ll be constantly a month behind.

  4. Yes there are some who are blissfully ignorant about other cultures and where people live in the extended world. My daughter was doing her nursing in California and a group of them were heading to LA for the weekend by car. One of the group asked my daughter where she lived and she said Singapore. Then came the unbelievable question, “Will we be dropping you off on the way?”

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