No Primate Left Behind

The stories ran side by side on the front page of my local newspaper – each disturbing, but together they packed a simian wallop. Generally, a day without Iraq or Anna Nicole Smith leading the news is a good one. Not this morning, however. One headline despaired “High School Students are Learning Less,” and the other screamed “Chimpanzees Observed Making Deadly Spears to Hunt, Kill Prey.”

There it is in black and white, my fellow Americans: we’re getting dumber and dumber, and the so-called lesser primates are overachieving. Want more bad news? Guess what these rowdy Chimps are mercilessly skewering with their sharpened sticks? Bush babies! If anyone out there knows where Vice President Dick Cheney’s undisclosed lair is, please clue him in about this evolving threat from hirsute knuckle-draggers. Alert his right-to-life posse while you’re at it.

On the equally terrifying education front, a recent study shows that during the past two decades Harry and Harriet High School are getting better grades (GPA of 2.98, essentially a B average), are taking more advanced courses, and are racking up more credits than their predecessors. Yet for all that, these teen savants basically don’t know diddly. For example, fewer than 25 percent of 12th graders qualified as “proficient” in the national math test in 2005. Reading scores have been dropping since 1992. Our educational performance lags well behind that of most industrialized nations.

I don’t mean pick on the children. Our president, a notorious gentleman-C, party-hearty student at Yale University, has proclaimed that he doesn’t read newspapers, as if this was a character recommendation. He apparently has been reading more lately [2008] — for example, Alistair Horne's history of France’s disastrous war against a Muslim insurgency in Algeria. It seems a shame that this opus, published in 1977, wasn’t on his summer reading list five years ago. Dick Cheney, Bush’s White House mentor, preceded him at Yale, but couldn’t even hack a C-average, returning to Wyoming without finishing his sophomore year. He went on to Casper Community College and the University of Wyoming.

Meanwhile, back in the jungle (actually the savannas of West Africa), our not-so-distant relatives are doing just fine, thank you very much. In addition to fashioning WMDBB (weapons of mass destruction of bush babies), Bonzo and the boys fish for termites by poking leaf blades or sticks into their mounds, drink water from tree hollows by using crumpled leaves as sponges, and toss rocks about just for kicks. It should be noted (pay attention, John McCain) that the “lady” chimps are the spear makers and do most of the skewering.

Further south, in the rain forests of central Africa, the Bonobo, or Pigmy Chimpanzees, have developed a matriarchal, egalitarian society in which sexual activity plays a prominent role. These hairy, swinging hippies are lovers not fighters, and they often settle conflicts by trysting the night away in the treetops. Who cares what their SAT scores are?

Back in the States, no one would accuse our current leaders of acting like a bunch of Bonobos. They wallow in conflicts. We’re involved in more dustups than you can shake a sharpened stick at: Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iran, Korea, Russia, China – just throw a dart at the map of the world to find a locale we’re having issues with. We barely get along with the few purported allies we have left.

Heck, if we don’t have a war or two per decade, we don’t know what to do with ourselves. We boast the biggest military on earth by far, but it’s still not big enough. There are plans afoot to make it larger in the years to come. We are threatened on all sides, we are told repeatedly by those two scholars-in-residence at the White House. Each day is allegedly scarier than the preceding one.

Initially we like the wars our leaders start, but as time passes we favor the mayhem, and the people who talked us into it, less and less.

You could argue that we, not our children, are the slow learners.