I've lived most of my life in the southern United States. I'm proud of being a southerner with an accent that speaks to my heritage. Grits are a favorite for breakfast (not instant nor grit cakes), and cornbread and sweet tea are welcome anytime.
One southern tradition that I hate, however, is our tendency to play the stupid card. In some ways we've earned this reputation, but the pandering stereotypes get old. Can you think of a movie character portraying a southerner who is intelligent? Most are acted out as dimwitted, ignorant rednecks such as in, Oh Brother Where Art Thou, Smokey and the Bandit, etc. etc. Of course, there are some really smart people living in the south, and similar negative characitures have been socially banned for other demographic groups. Does the South deserve such treatment?
“Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.”
― George Carlin
Jordan Weissmann's recent article in The Atlantic, The South is America's Dropout Factory, brutally illustrates the reality of these stereotypes. This map from the article graphically presents the issue, with the darker regions showing the highest percentage of high school diplomas. Obviously the South has the largest concentration of people without having earned this basic level of education. (As usual, Florida is in the South but not of the South.)
If the test results from the southern states are removed from the data, the US education system compares much better to other countries.
In this information economy, where speed and depth of learning is a critical competitive advantage, those living below the Mason-Dixon Line are in trouble! Those communities, towns, cities, and states will struggle to attract the best jobs and leadership going forward, leaving them to suffer in greater levels of poverty.
"Stupid is as stupid does"
Lots of my southern brethern became mighty agitated at the A&E television channel because of the censorship of Phil Robertson regarding his theology. "But hey," at least those bearded rednecks from Louisiana have college degrees and have built a very profitable business. Why not refocus this energy on developing a sense of outrage and urgency about the pitiful education of southern families?
- Where is the education leadership in the South?
- Where is the plan from public school leaders and governors to address this glaring issue?
- Where is the voice from the large concentration of Christian schools and churches in the South to address this need?
- Where are the parents organizing to provide better leadership in their homes and communities?