Is it true? No, I do not even remotely think that it's true. Once I moved away from home, I started encountering other cultures and other ideas, especially as a graduate student. I often refer to my grad school years as the greatest years for me in terms of expanding my mind. There are many ways in which I expanded my mind, one of which was to study physics and learn what it means to be a scientist. But I also paid more attention to world events, talked with people who had different views than my own, and I generally became a more open-minded person.
Through all of this, I realized that America is no longer the greatest country in the world. Not even close! Granted, this "grand awakening" of mine came during the Bush era... not exactly America's finest years. However, even looking towards the past, I started to learn about how maybe we have never really been the greatest country in the world, at least not by the criteria of morality. But I'll actually address that particular point in a future post.
In the remaining lines of this post, I want to point out some numbers which show where we fall in the world in terms of education and health. Let's start with a video. While this is from a fictional TV show, The Newsroom, the actual numbers that I have had a chance to look up are not too far off, as I'll address next.
Warning: Adult Language
So, let's do some fact checking. For the sake of brevity, I won't check every stat that Jeff Daniels' character mentioned, but here are a few.
From the Rankings Table on this site, in 2010, we were in fact 49th in life expectancy. From this same website (which provides citations and sources), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment, ranked the US 31 of 74 in mathematics and 23 of 74 in science, numbers that are roughly consistent with the above video. This site (from the US Department of Education) has somewhat different numbers, though still relatively low.
Of course, these rankings depend on how exactly the studies were conducted. So the numbers shouldn't be taken as gospel; one could spend all day searching the internet and finding different studies with different numbers. And I do encourage you to do some fact checking of yourself - I would love to be proven wrong on some of these numbers.
But given this information, my point is this: for a first world country that has done some of the most amazing feats in history (going to the Moon comes to mind...), we are now awfully low in our numbers for educational and health rankings.
If we want to remain competitive on the international stage, we have some serious serious work to do. As Jeff Daniels put it, "the first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one." Let's acknowledge that the US has problems, let's vote competent politicians into office, and let's get these problems fixed!