America seems to be locked in a permanent back-and-forth with the world's other developed nations: we call them "poor and weak," and they call us "uneducated and, frankly, dumb." Also, "fat." Well, we may be fat, but look out world: we're much smarter than the Italians!
We're not going to sugarcoat this: America is not the greatest country in the world, math-and-literacy-wise. Not even close. But if you start with the assumption that America is, by and large, a land of halfwit slackjawed cable television-gazers, you may be pleasantly surprised to find the we're right around the middle of the pack in terms of learnin'.
There's a big new study out today of math and literacy skills in 23 different countries. No, we won't make you read that PDF. We'll give it to you straight: Finland and Japan are our superiors: "Roughly every fifth Finn and Japanese reads at high levels (Level 4 or 5 on the Survey of Adult Skills)."
But wait, haha, Italy and Spain are uneducated trash! Quick, draw attention to them in order to take the pressure off of us! "In Italy and Spain, for example, only 1 in 20 adults is proficient at the highest level of literacy (Level 4 or 5). Nearly 3 out of 10 adults in these countries performs at or below the lowest level of proficiency (Level 1) in both literacy and numeracy."
And as for the good old USA? We're 16th in literacy, which is... well below average. And we're also well below average in math skills, as well as in problem solving skills. Also, as the New York Times notes, "the American results were among the most polarized between high achievement and low," because of our rampant inequality. But I'd like to reiterate that we absolutely demolished the scores of the Italians—not to mention the Spanish! How about those losers, eh? We also beat France, which is all we were going for, to be honest.
In ass-kicking ability, American remains #1 with a big old bullet.