Very Cute; But Can they Think?

Only 9% of OECD Youth Can Interpret What They Read

They are cute. They have lots of self esteem. But they can’t read a complex narrative and interpret the ideas. They cannot “distinguish between fact and opinion.”

In the US, 13.5% of 15-year-olds can distinguish between fact and opinion when trying to interpret a complex reading task. In the UK, it’s just 11.5%.

Those results are both better than the OECD average of 9%, according to the latest results of PISA, or the Programme for International Student Assessment, an international test of math, science, and reading which is administered by the OECD every three years.

“The world continues to change but education systems have a hard time keeping up,” said Andreas Schleicher, head of the OECD’s education unit. __

This is going to be a problem in the future, when far greater thinking demands will be placed upon citizens and workers.

Looking at the list of future skills needed in the expanding workplace of 2022, we see that critical thinking, analytical thinking, active learning, reasoning, and systems analysis and evaluation will all be expected as a matter of course.

Is it Already Too Late for These Happy Cuties?

If workplaces are forced to put 90% of workers — even college graduates — through extensive remedial training, their productivity is likely to suffer. But to be realistic, even with years of remedial training it is unlikely that much over half of today’s mal-educated youth will eventually be capable of what is to be required.

Here is the problem that was revealed from the latest results of the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) test:

There are six levels of reading proficiency, and students who scored at the fifth level or above are considered to be able to separate fact from opinion, “based on implicit cues pertaining to the content or source of the information,” according to the report. This is key to the process of “reflecting on content and form,” describing proficiency like this:

Readers can establish distinctions between content and purpose, and between fact and opinion as applied to complex or abstract statements. They can assess neutrality and bias based on explicit or implicit cues pertaining to both the content and/or source of the information. They can also draw conclusions regarding the reliability of the claims or conclusions offered in a piece of text.


Ideally, young children will learn to read independently and make their own judgments of what they have read by the age of 10. From that age forward, they should be capable of self-teaching and self-learning.

But judging by test scores, most conventionally educated children in the advanced western countries cannot achieve self-teaching and self-learning even at age 15. If similar tests were given at age 20, it is doubtful whether very much improvement would be seen. If these skills are not learned early, they will probably never be learned.

What this means is that today’s youth are vulnerable to being manipulated by shameless teachers, professors, journalists, and other content providers. They cannot think for themselves, nor can they judge reliable from unreliable claims or conclusions. This is not a good thing — unless you are a crusader looking for a loyal constituency of dupes.

You may say that every generation is skeptical of the next generation to come along, and in general that is true. Yet there are many reasons to believe that through education, popular media, and government/activist means, modern societies have been turned away from habits of rigorous thinking. A less rational and more emotional style of feely/touchy pseudo-thought has managed to twitter its way into the popular thought-stream.

Consider the possibilities and the problems this presents to someone who wants to get things done.

Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst. Remember that Dangerous Children © are meant as “backup assets” for society, in case things go south. They are trained to form islands of competence around which future competent and moral societies can form, in case of societal failure. You may be thinking that it would be best to take proactive measures before that happens, and you are right.

Consider your options.

More on the PISA test

When assessing the PISA scores of nations that are racially heterogeneous, it can be helpful to stratify the scores by race. This can give a more meaningful comparison, reducing the possible confounding effect of racial differences.

Countries participating in PISA

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