After this latest round of AP calc and teacher bashing, I hate to interject a note of optimism but I feel I must.
We try to educate everyone in an honest fashion. Sometimes we fail. However, if our teaching and educational system is so bad, why are we doing (relatively) so well? Certainly our political system has something to do with this. We bash that too, but I still recall Mr. Honda on an internationally televised program years ago when asked "What is the up and coming country of the future to make investments and expansion in" and the moderator mentioned Brazil and some others. Without a moments hesitation Mr. Honda said "the USA". When pressed why, he said something to the affect that it was our open attitude about change and innovation, which the current discussion certainly reflects.
I know we have some bad teachers. However, having been closely associated with the public school system for more than 40 years, My gut feeling is that somewhere close to 95% of our teachers do an OUTSTANDING job given the tasks they have. At one point I was hired by a fairly large county in NC to evaluate math teaching. After a year I had found one bad (6th grade) teacher. Pretty doggone impressive in my opinion.
I don't want to bash anyone and rarely do, however I would like to relate one incident which fits into this discussion. A friend of mine recently returned from a lengthy educational assignment in England. He waxed eloquent about their educational system, which I have no personal experience with and which I am sure is very good. However, on one occasion he carried on about our pitiful engineering program and how we could significantly improve things if we would convert to the English way of doing things. My only comment was "you would model our engineering program after a country whose claim to fame is the Jaguar, the Sterling, etc.?" You should read Consumer's Reports.
Now that I have offended everyone in England, I will end by saying that everything needs to be kept in perspective. We have in fact done rather well in many areas with our educational system. We are in the process of making some dramatic changes with testing and rating courses. This will, I can assure you, have a dramatic effect. For example, in NC emphasis on reading and math has caused serious deterioration in the teaching of science and other subjects which we are now trying to correct.
Are things that bad? I don't think so. Should we be cautious? Something is responsible for our successes.