Once again I am called upon to defend the honor of Southern brainpower against those fancy statisticians who try to measure smartness by the numbers and thus put the South near the bottom in everything.


The latest attempt at dumbing down the South comes from Education Week, a news and research publication with an obvious bias toward Yankees.


It places Massachusetts at the top and Mississippi (of course) at the bottom when it comes to the quality of public schools.


It proclaims that Mississippi is the only state in the country to receive an F in the magazine’s K-12 achievement category. Its high-school students were the least likely to score a 3 or above on advanced-placement tests.


Louisiana, West Virginia and Alabama were crowding it for a spot in the bottom five. New Mexico sneaked in at third from the bottom, just to add some geographical diversity.


But perhaps the biggest insult was handed to my own state, South Carolina. Although the Palmetto State was tied with Alaska for sixth worst schools, the magazine noted that it received the highest grade in the nation for efforts to improve teaching. Nevertheless, South Carolina students continued to show small gains in achievement, and in some cases math and reading scores got worse. What this seems to imply is that South Carolina kids are just too dumb to learn, even when they’re getting the best teachers money can buy.


The flaw in these statistics, of course, is that they measure the achievements of students who are in school. They don’t take into consideration the ones who drop out. And they measure their achievement by whether they can read or write. They don’t stop to consider that in the NFL, where many of our students aspire to earn their livings, the only thing they need to read is pass patterns and quarterback signals. And the only math they need is multiples of three. They have to know that a touchdown and two extra points is greater than two field goals. And that when you score 35 points and the other team scores 36, you lose. I know their salaries reach into the ranks of higher math, but there are agents with college degrees who can take care of those details.


Our student dropouts are usually smarter than Yankee Ph.Ds. If your battery goes dead in a Wal-Mart parking lot, who would you want to come to your aid: a Yankee with a Ph.D. in psychology from Harvard, or a redneck dropout with a jumper cable from Advance Auto?


Education Week tried to head off criticism from the South by ranking Florida seventh from the top – as if Florida were a true Southern state. Go down to Miami or St. Petersburg and count the number of people there who say “y’all.”


Virginia made it to the top 10 on a technicality, tying with Colorado for 10th place. The Old Dominion may take over undisputed possession of 10th next year if Colorado opts to get its Rocky Mountain high from legalized pot while Virginians continue to imbibe their wisdom from Mason jars filled with Pappy’s corn squeezins.


But Virginia’s ingenuity is constantly being diluted by an overflow of government types from the D.C. area. I remember a couple of Virginia politicos who were late for a meeting because their car had a flat on the Interstate and they had to call AAA to fix it. Right quick, how many rednecks would it take to change a tire, and how fast could they get it dne? If you’re unsure, drop in and watch during a pit stop at Darlington.


Some folks would encourage us Southerners to raise our taxes to pay for better schools and decrease our dropout rates. That’s plumb foolish. That’s why we have lotteries. The more dropouts we have, the more people who will prefer winning the multimillion-dollar jackpot to wasting 50K a year on a college education and paying off student loans for the rest of their lives.


It’s low taxes that make life worth living in the South. Look at the high taxes they pay Up North and ask yourself what they get for it. For the annual taxes Yankees pay on their row houses you could make the payments on a doublewide plus a four-wheel-drive Ram 1500. And you can meet the payments, including principal, taxes and interests, on a four-bedroom, three-bath McMansion with an in-ground pool for what you’d pay monthly on a one-bedroom Manhattan apartment. For the price of a permanent parking space in DC, you can have a subsidized two-bedroom apartment in just about any town Down South.


The top five states in Education Week’s line-up were Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Vermont. Count the number of national football championships all those states have won. Multiply it by 100. They still haven’t matched Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama or Louisiana, each of whom is well represented on the national scene through their institutions of higher education.


To me, the most accurate indication of intelligence can be found online, where you can find various tests to find out what your best qualities are.


On the intelligence test, the most common IQs among my friends were between 124 and 134, which meant that we were smarter than 95 percent of the nation. My friends are a duke’s mixture of lintheads, rednecks, journalists, writers, computer nerds and bluecollar technicians – in other words, a cross-section of Southerners.


My question: If we’re smarter than 95 percent of Americans, where are the dumbest Americans to be found?


See what you can make of those statistics, Education Week.


Gene Owens is a retired newspaper editor and columnist who graduated from Graniteville High School and now lives in Anderson. Readers may email Gene Owens at WadesDixieco@aol.com or visit his website at www.wadesdixieco.com.