It seems that there was more going on this past Fourth of July than one nutty American Tory wearing a London T-shirt. I’ve read the results of a poll taken that day of celebrants of all ages, races and genders: 26% of them did not know whom we were fighting in 1776. Some guessed Mexico. One guessed China! In addition, nearly 50% of those polled could not name the general who led the Continental Army in the Revolution. One strange person thought it was Winston Churchill. (Find this poll at http://www.mediaite.com)
Now, I don’t really put a whole lot of stock in polls. The results can be skewed depending on the results desired. But having had many frustrating conversations with appallingly ignorant people over the years, I’m afraid I believe this poll is near the truth. I used to hope that the idiots interviewed for “Jay Walk” on the Tonight Show were aberrations. But I’m afraid they are more representative of America than one would like to believe. Most Americans today are so poorly educated, I don’t know how we manage to function as a nation anymore.
It doesn’t seem to matter how much education a person has on paper. My husband once had quite a time convincing a man who has a masters degree that Great Britain is part of the United Kingdom. He had to use a map, a globe, and an on-line dictionary to get the guy to understand. He once watched three FBI agents examine evidence taken from a suspected terrorist; they were studying a suspicious poster the girl had put in her luggage. Rich wondered what clues or codes they were looking for on it, so he stuck around to watch. Pictured on the poster were Stalin, Lenin, Mao, and Che. After spending a good ten minutes studying this important piece of evidence, one of the FBI agents said: “I think this one is Stalin. I don’t know who the other guys are.” I know a young man who is just about to graduate from college. He not only could not name the date of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, or even the year–he was not even certain of the correct century! He has a good job all lined up for when he graduates–with the government! I once tried, and failed, to convince another young man that the classical pianist he was listening to on his computer was not, in fact, Beethoven himself playing his own work.
Even more frightening is the attitude people take concerning their own ignorance. They act as if it is unreasonable of anyone to expect them to know such trivia. After all, they could always look such information up on-line if they really needed to know it. And it’s true, they could, and they do. And then they promptly forget the facts they gleaned as soon as they’ve made use of them. And why not? They could always google the information again if they needed to. And yet, I’ll be willing to bet that these same people, who cannot list their own sitting congressmen, could rattle off the names of “American Idol” winners without straining a bit.
They cannot seem to understand that a basic, working knowledge of history, science, math, and literature are essential to understanding our world today. They are content to let the elite few who actually enjoy knowing things run the country and leave them free to enjoy. . . . whatever it is that they enjoy. I can’t really guess what that might be.
But, however much this lack of factual knowledge makes one want to dig one’s hands into one’s hair and pull hard, it is not the most worrisome aspect of our dismal educational deficit in America. Americans today do not know how to THINK. They cannot think out a problem logically. They cannot pursue a line of reasoning to its probable outcome. They cannot construct a valid syllogism, or even understand what a syllogism is. They cannot write well enough to make themselves understood. Americans today think with their emotions almost exclusively. Read the comments on any online news item, or listen to people on talk radio or TV interview shows. They will tell you what they feel, or they will react emotionally. But they cannot respond with intelligent thought. And so, here is my point: Americans are not being taught logic in schools anymore, and haven’t been for at least half a century. This has led the downward spiral in all education generally. After all, only reasonable people can understand the importance of knowledge.
But there is hope, and I have seen it. I have seen groups of young adults engaging in intelligent conversation, pursuing real knowledge, and enjoying such intellectual pursuits as reading, visiting museums, going to symphonies, and browsing through book stores. These young people can write well, crafting sentences and paragraphs with both proper grammar and proper reasoning skills. Most of these young people were homeschooled. Those who were not had parents who were passionately involved in their educations. The antidote to poor education in America is parents taking responsibility for their own children’s upbringing. It means sacrifice and lots of hard work. It sometimes means organizing tutorials and volunteering one’s time to help one another. It sometimes means throwing out all available curricula and writing one’s own. But the end results are worth it: well-educated young people able to function intelligently in today’s world.