Lc&Cs: The Sad State of Education in America

“Civilization is in a race between education and catastrophe.”

—H.G. Wells


Salon, 28 Oct 21: Dumbass nation: Our biggest national security problem is America’s “vast and militant ignorance”, subtitled, “Millions of Americans embrace vapid lies and conspiracy theories — and the proudly moronic leader who spreads them.”

It is the root cause of our problems with China. It’s why some people don’t want to get vaccinated. It’s why some people still gleefully follow Donald Trump. It explains why Congress can’t get together in a bipartisan fashion to deal with infrastructure, health care and gun control. It’s why we have problems understanding climate change. It explains voter suppression. It’s why “critical race theory” has become controversial, why elements of our population on the left and right are at war with each other and why some believe the earth is flat and the Holocaust didn’t occur. It’s why some of us believe we’re still the “No. 1” nation in the world when — other than having the largest military — we clearly lag behind other major nations in many critical factors. More than anything else it explains why we fail.

The United States is a nation of militantly ignorant people, arrogant in their beliefs, unable to change their minds and unwilling to try. We lack education.

You see this in the lack of education in civics, the way the US government works, about which even our former president seems clueless. You see this in how many US citizens could not pass the immigration test. You see this in those YouTube videos that show interviewers, sometimes late-night comedy show hosts, asking ordinary questions of people on the street, and hearing their dumb answers (“How many states in the United States?” “Um…”) And you hear this when most folk are confronted with the difference between a star and a planet, a comet and meteor, a galaxy and the universe.

I coached high school football for many years. I can tell you firsthand that the quality of education of the “average” student today would have been below the level of a remedial education when I was in high school. There are scores of students who are functionally illiterate as well as scientifically and mathematically illiterate, and have no idea how government works or what their responsibilities in a democracy are. Many scream about “rights.” Fewer understand responsibility.

I’ve also seen this occasionally in school exams from 100 years ago, which were much more difficult than anything seen in high schools today. Of course the subjects have changed; perhaps the subject then were so limited they could afford extensive examination of them. No high schooler has to learn Latin any more.

And in the ’90s two bestselling books attempted to attack the relativism creeping into education, suggesting that there was a core of knowledge that every citizen should be award of. (Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind and E.D. Hirsch, Cultural Literacy, both 1987. Of course one could argue that Hirsch’s “literacy” was specifically about Anglo-Saxon culture, from the Bible through Shakespeare and so on, and that other cultures exist, and the combined influences of those literary works form a dead weight on contemporary society that inhibits progress along certain lines.)

We have to do better. The reasons are clear. Biden is correct: Without a competitive education, we sentence our progeny to industrial servitude while those who are educated amass power and wealth. Look around. We’re in a new space race with China. We’re behind in hypersonic technology. Our scientists say we must have a nuclear rocket to beat the Chinese to Mars, but millions of people believe that Clorox might treat the coronavirus. Some even tried it.

And recently, Merrick Garland, the current Attorney General, got flack from Republicans over a bill to protect teachers from assaults by parents. Why? Apparently some parents *want* to be able to assault teachers over their teaching of controversial topics like American history and critical race theory (which isn’t actually taught below university level, but the protestors seem not to understand that).

MSNBC, 28 Oct 21: The problem with Republicans calling on Merrick Garland to resign, subtitled, “The more Republicans call on Attorney General Merrick Garland to resign, the harder it is to take their made-up controversy seriously.”

And years ago there was something called Common Core, an effort to set up standards for education, regardless of state or local standards, for students in the entire country. This was greatly opposed. Partly perhaps because some religious parents didn’t want their children exposed to secular knowledge (the main motivation for home-schooling, I gather), but also because of the peculiar complaint that students in some rural states couldn’t be expected to meet the standards of students in coastal urban states. Why not? I never saw a rationale. It’s almost as if many parents don’t *want* their children to be educated, to 20th/21st century standards.

One issue that baffles me is the utter certitude with which so many speak of things that can’t possibly be true. How do they know? They don’t; they’ve concocted something that seems plausible to them, on some level, and the idea that ideas should be supported by evidence and reason doesn’t occur to them. It’s like religion. They *know.*

As evidence for this, I see a certain number of posts from “wingnuts” on Facebook, described by one of my Fb friends, Don D’A, who apparently has the fortitude to browse ring-wing sites and take screen shots of especially egregious paranoid claims. (So I see his screenshots, I never view or link to such sites myself.) With absolute certitude, these sites claim that Hillary Clinton has been executed, that Joe Biden is being played by a double, that Donald Trump is actually back in the White House running things, and that hundreds of airlines pilots are dying of the Covid vaccine while in flight. (Funny we haven’t heard any of the latter on the news. But then, if you doubt such conspiracy thinking, you’re part of the conspiracy.)

I have another line of evidence, albeit also from Facebook. Years I ago I subscribed to a Facebook newsgroup about Apple Valley, California, where I grew up as a child and have visited over the years, as described elsewhere on this site. One thing that has stricken me is how the members of this newsgroups treat it like, posting news about local car accidents and home break-ins. But more recently, there are posts about locations of protests against those evil mandates, and about those governmental overreaches from Sacramento (always a theme) and using jails to house anti-vaxxers.

It also strikes as peculiar that there are so many Americans who so adamant about their kids *not* being educated. Thus the protests in school board meetings about things not to be taught; thus banned books; thus home schooling. One example:

The Week, 27 Oct 21: The forgotten history of Republican book banning


At the same time, people often act in ways aside from their actual beliefs. That’s why, as I’ve said, don’t get your values or beliefs from organizations who work in crowds — mobs, political rallies, church congregations, sports events.

They will overwhelm your own sense of reason and you will submit to mob mentality.

Salon, Amanda Marcotte, 28 Oct 21: Do GOP voters actually believe Trump’s Big Lie about “rigged” elections? They don’t act like they do, subtitled, “Republican conspiracy theories are best understood as a collective agreement to tell lies in the name of Trumpism.”

I’ve always thought this was the attraction of religion, politics, and sports: you don’t have to think. You just have to find a team to join, and the team does the thinking for you.

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