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At ages 13 and 14 our boys attended their first day of school today. It wasn’t their first day of reading and math, but it was their first day of school as most of us think of school. Rows of desks. A teacher at the chalkboard. Rooms full of fellow prisoners longing for the sound of a bell.

Until our arrival in Costa Rica, except for a brief quarter in Key West’s Home School High School, our boys have been schooled by me, their old man, in our home. My goals in educating them have generally been humble. I hoped to avoid having them drugged into a stupor and to equip them with the tools to get along in life as something other than gardeners for Chinese industrialists.

After a month of unrelenting togetherness during the move, and with the increasingly pressing need for their parents to earn some kind of living, something had to give. Fortunately, our choices for educating the boys here in Costa Rica are numerous and appealing.

The boys now attend the European School on a beautiful campus in the suburbs above San Jose. The school is owned and run by a woman dedicated to the humanities. She reminds me of the fictional Jean Brody. She is a French polyglot, dedicated, opinionated, educated, charming, certain of the righteousness of her mission. Math and science are not her priorities. Our boys will have to drop back a year or two in math to catch up in Greek mythology and Latin. It’s a trade off I can live with.

What finally clinched the deal was that lunch was included in the tuition. We could break even with what we save on peanut butter and orange juice alone.

Most students at the European School are Costa Rican. Even though most of the students are native speakers of Spanish the entire high school curriculum is in English. All students must demonstrate fluency in both Spanish and English to graduate.

There are so many children in Costa Rica that the public schools have to teach them in shifts. The San Jose phone book contains hundreds of listings for private schools of all kinds. The Ticos have a respect for education that borders on reverence.

It is a respect that we were hard pressed to find in the states. There we had to choose between the chaos and absurdly low standards of the public schools or the emphasis on safety that ignored curriculum at the private schools. Of course, we want our boys to feel good about themselves. But there is nothing like genuine accomplishment to boost self esteem.

The decline of education in America is reversing the global pattern of colonial times. In those days British aristocrats and American engineers spread across the world and made half hearted efforts to raise the heathens out of their ignorance. We didn’t expect much of them, they being little brown people for the most part and not suited to much beyond hole digging and hedge trimming.

But the ignorant little brown people weren’t paying much attention to what we thought. They studied hard while we relaxed. They are now doing calculus in their heads. They don’t know any better. We now import them to do the intellectual heavy lifting as America rushes to become a third world country.

Need unscientific evidence?

Take a look the names in the faculty directory of any University Engineering Department. Names like Chen, Wang, and Suryanarayana appear in numbers all out of proportion with their appearance in a phone book.

They belong to Asian immigrants who were educated in India, China and Japan. It’s as though we Americans are deliberately dumbing ourselves down, and doing it on money we borrow from Asians. As Asians get smarter we are preparing our children for careers as their houseboys and nannys.

Need more evidence? Even our college grads are largely as dumb as stumps. The National Assessment of Adult Literacy, which came out at the end of 2005 had this to say.

“Only 41 percent of graduate students tested in 2003 could be classified as ‘proficient’ in prose—reading and understanding information in short texts—down 10 percentage points since 1992. Of college graduates, only 31 percent were classified as proficient—compared with 40 percent in 1992.”

They aren’t talking about third graders. These are sheepskin bearing adults. And they’re not talking about plowing through Kierkegaard and Kant. The short texts were more along the lines of the "Adventures of Dick and Jane."

Yeah, maybe the research includes some of the underachievers who were passed along without regard to their work, but we are all supposed to be able to read before we leave elementary school.

Costa Rican 5th graders can read English as well as an American college grad.

The authors of the study were puzzled to explain the decline in American reading skills. But, ever willing to suggest the unpopular, I’ll explain it. American reading skills are declining because American schools are run by underachieving feminist social engineers who are infinitely more interested in maintaining order than in imparting a liberal education. Reading has declined because American children are no longer taught how to read systematically with phonetics. This is in no small part because the illiterate are more compliant. Anyone can teach a child to read phonically in a few months. Wasting 10, 12 or 16 years in a series of institutions requires the skill of a true educational

I hope the European School will allow me to skip coaching my boys on the finer points of using shovels and mops. There may be other opportunities as well for illiterate Americans to serve their Asian employers — house cleaning, doing laundry and cab driving come to mind. I hope schooling outside the U.S. will allow my sons to remain unfamiliar with them all.