GRANADA HILLS, Calif. -- In 1921, Lincoln Steffens, among the greatest of American journalists, visited the new Soviet Union and came back to the United States to say, "I have seen the future and it works."
He was of course, quite wrong. I may be, too, after chronicling the triumphs of Granada Hills Charter High School here in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. For the second straight year, it has won the National Academic Decathlon. Here are the names of the winners and the languages they speak at home:
Lev Tauz from Uzbekistan speaks Russian and English; Sean Wejebe, half-Mexican and half-Filipino, speaks Spanish and English; Hamidah Mahmud speaks Bangla and English; Christian Koguchi grew up in Peru and speaks Spanish, Japanese and English; Priscilla Liu speaks Indonesian and English; Kimberly Ly speaks Vietnamese, Cambodian and English; Stella Lee speaks Korean and English; Jimmy Wu speaks Chinese and English; Julia Wall, half-Mexican and half-American, speaks English and Spanish.
They are America's future, and I suspect they'll work as hard as they studied for a year to defeat 60 high schools from around the country in the 30th national decathlon, held last week in Albuquerque, N.M. This country was built by immigrants, and it looks like that will continue.
The overall subject for the two-day "Super Quiz" this year was "The Age of Empire." Here are a couple of sample multiple-choice questions:
-- "Regarding the anti-slavery movement in Europe, it would be MOST accurate to say the humanist intellectual climate of the Enlightenment:
"a. tended to be evenly split on the issue of slavery
"b. provided intellectual justification for slavery
"c. had little or no impact on the debate on slavery
"d. strengthened arguments for the abolition of slavery
"e. weakened the abolitionist movement overall"
-- "The MOST accurate interpretation of Rudyard Kipling's poem 'The White Man's Burden' in regards to its view of colonialism would be:
"a. cynical and pessimistic
"b. positive and uplifting
"c. naive and unrealistic
"d. negative and condemnatory
"e. neutral and uncaring"
Then came the essay questions. Here are two:
-- "Many historians find the distinction between 'settlement colonization' and 'exploitation colonization' as a distinction without a difference. Provide examples of both 'settlement colonization' and 'exploitation colonization.'"
-- "Explore how 'the historiography of colonization' has shaped the public perception of the pursuit of empire. Which voices have been emphasized and which have been largely ignored in historical studies? To what effect?"
In case you are wondering, Granada Hills Charter -- funded by the Los Angeles Unified School District, but with a great deal more autonomy than non-charter schools -- is no nest of nerds. Its alumni include John Elway of the Denver Broncos and Ryan Braun, the Most Valuable Player in the National League last year.
So even in cash-strapped Los Angeles, there are good things going on out there in high schools.
And there will be good things going on in America as long as we keep attracting the best and the brightest of immigrants.