The high school education my mother and father received 100 years ago is equivalent to a PHD today!
What they teach in todays high school wouldn’t be adequate to pass the 6th grade when I went to school!
I teach science in a suburban high school, and my husband and I have two sons aged 17 and 20. What I see makes me very concerned about our future. If the average IQ has dropped, I would love to see the distribution. Perhaps the shape of the curve is changing.
The intelligent, intrinsically motivated young people are still among us. If they have decent parents and good schools, they are doing very well. If anything, some of them are being pushed too hard in pursuit of AP courses and things that look good on a transcript at the expense of a well-rounded life. Our sons have been exposed to books, technology, Scouting, travel, and high-quality classrooms. They have many peers.
In contrast with the intelligent and high-performing youngsters, I am seeing far too many who seem dull and dumbed down. Some of them are truly unintelligent. There have always been very low-IQ people among us, but today we insist on mainstreaming them into regular schools and pretending that they can do all the same things that brighter kids do. Many can't and it can cause frustration and disruption.
Finally, there is the great middle - the typical kids who grow up to hold most of the jobs and raise most of the next generation. Our society and our educational system are failing these kids in huge numbers. I am seeing low levels of literacy and numeracy. Many of them can't read well enough to extract meaning from their textbooks or understand what I think of as 4th grade math. They may be able to add or subtract, but don't know when to use which function. If I hand back a test with 40/80 on it, many of these kids can't figure out the percentage and ask what it means. Much of the problem is lack of work ethic. They've been raised with massive social promotion, 'group work' with little individual accountability, and schools where they are not permitted to fail. I am not permitted to give quarter grades below 60% - and this is in a parochial school. Most of these kids are smart enough to do much better, but by the time they're in high school, they have lived with institutionalized laziness, falling standards, and muddled leadership for most of their lives. It's hard to hold them to a high standard, but some of us try. These are the kids who go on to fill the lower-tier colleges and universities. It's easy to see why colleges are finding it necessary to place more and more incoming freshmen into remedial classes before they can handle college-level work.
Holding these average kids to a higher standard is something we used to do better. We can do it again, but it requires schools and parents to acquire some backbone and collectively act like adults. The early elementary grades are absolutely critical. We are failing to develop in these kids a strong academic foundation and failing to instill a proper work ethic (let alone basic courtesy and decorum). Small wonder they can't keep up with higher-level work, act up in class, and come across as know-nothings. Many know little and lack basic tools for living.