Four-fifths of Americans now are high school graduates, and one quarter have college degrees. Americans average 12.3 years of schooling, the highest average in the world. This is an astounding change from a couple of generations ago when only the rich from the upper class could have the leisure to pursue so much schooling. The typical American does not have to go to work out of high school, but can go on to college or some other training.
So with this signifcant change in the school experience of most Americans why don't we feel smarter and appreciate it more? This is the ongoing question from Gregg Easterbrook's book The Progress Paradox.
Perhaps the answer lies in the idea that it is not IQ and academic success that make people successful in life, but rather their EQ or emotional quotient. EQ has to do with empathy, self control and self discipline, and the ability to set goals for oneself and persist in their pursuit.
I also think that EQ has to do with the ability to think critically and systemically which is something that I find our school systems at all levels no longer teach or appreciate. In fact, I believe that schooling can be antithetical to one's education.
So, I would make a distinction between "schooling" and "education". They are not the same thing and in fact can be antithetical and contradictory. Years in school does not translate necessarily into education. There are lots of ways that people learn and get an education.
What is important to success in life is wisdom, good judgment, the ability to make good decisions, and develop and implement plans to improve the common welfare. Bureacracies and large institutions are not set up or structured to teach these things to their participants so I believe that our public schools' failure is endemic to their structure and organization.
So to ask whether we are the best schooled nation on earth or the best educated nation on earth is to ask two different questions.