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ETpro's avatar

Can Americans shift back to reality-based rule?

Asked by ETpro (34208 points ) December 20th, 2010

From its birth in 1776 up through the 1960s, the US population grew constantly better educated. The USA pioneered public education and it proved fabulously successful in lifting the population to a high level of literacy and rationalism. But the social unrest and lunacy of the 1960s seemed to tear the wheels of the school bus. We revised college curricula, dumbing down degree requirements. Touchy feely and Political Correctness often overruled reading, writing and arithmetic as degree requirements. Public schools slowly eroded to the deplorable state they are in today.

The infotainment industry grew in depth, width and breadth. Today, infotainment is a 24-hour-per-day, massive, corporate-managed industry. Reading is at an all time low. What remains of print media is largely owned by the Infotainment corporatists. There is no longer an independent free press outside the Internet. In fact, literacy skills are so low that a disturbing percentage of adult Americans are now functionally illiterate. On the Internet, we have access to the truth, but we must possess the critical thinking skills to filter it out from the tidal wave of misinformation and disinformation that is also available there.

Recent polls have highlighted the problem. Forty percent of Americans now believe that God created humans within the past 10,000 years. This despite huge collections of stone-age artifacts and bones known to date back 50,000 years and skeletal remains of humans 500,000 year old and human-like species dating back as far as 3.2 million years. As critical as understanding our history and civics is to the survival of democracy in America, we are increasingly ill informed on how government works, what the Constitution requires of it, and prohibits it from doing. Polls show that 26% of Americans did not know their nation achieved its independence in a war with Great Britain. You can read the other depressing results in the linked article. Americans are responsive to cries against judicial activism, and increasingly think that unelected judges should not “make decisions” about law. This is demonstrative of a complete lack of understanding of the basic thinking of our Founders, who recognized the need for an independent, unelected judiciary to protect the rights of minorities from the potential tyranny of the majority.

In the glow of President Bush’s first-term election win, Karl Rove, showing clear contempt for “elitist” scholars and intellectuals, typified the losers as people who “believe that solutions emerge from judicious study of discernible reality.” In Rove’s eyes, the Faith-Based community had finally and rightly supplanted the Reality-Based Community.

Fortunately, times do change. In 2008, sick of the ill-advised debacle of the Iraq war and the largely ignored war we had actually needed to win in Afghanistan, and unregulated casino capitalism run amok; Americans began to realize that faith may be a reasonable basis for religious commitment, but it is a lousy substitute for reality when it comes to drafting foreign policy and managing domestic economics.

Is this the beginning of a sea change, or just another ripple in the receding tide of the enlightenment? Can we recover our commitment to the age of reason that gave birth to the American experiment in democracy? How should we work to support that goal?

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14 Answers

Pandora's avatar

I think your over simplifying the problems of our education system. Its true that many of the things you stated are causes, but poverty, ignorance, prejudice, young mothers, fatherless children, welfare, laziness, drugs, alcohol, and many other things contribute to a poor education.

wundayatta's avatar

You think it is possible that people who have a better understanding of reality will come into power? Well, look at how quickly the voters have forgiven the Republicans. We can forget any progressive, reality-based legislation from here until the end of the next two years.

JLeslie's avatar

Well those statistics are pretty fucking scary. I think we are at a disadvantage whe we are compared to the rest of the world, because we have so much immigration to our country. I assume it has some negative impact on some of our scores? Not that I think immigrants are less intelligent, just that they may test poorly, be ESL etc.

History was my worst subject, but I am pretty good in most other topics. A quiz about history would not do justice for my knowledge in science, medicine, math, geography, etc. I did find it interesting that the Northeast did so much better on the link you provided. I always feel like the northeast is more education oriented, maybe there are other factors at play. Maybe religion is part of that? The northeast is probably more secular than any other region of the US? I don’t have stats on that though.

Dumbing down at the college level is awful in my opinion. If a kid cannot handle college level courses, then maybe that path is not meant for him. Also, I am completely against lower GPA requirements for minority students. In America we have this line of how everyone should get a college degree, but that is unrealistic, and now we have rinky dink colleges that are probably not anywhere close to the level college they should be at.

Meanwhile, your points about religion are very frustrating to me too. I just don’t get it. Don’t get how people can believe something that flies in the face of science. I am not talking about believing in God, go ahead believe in God, but believing the earth is only 10,000 years old does not make any sense to me, and so I have no answer how to combat that way of thinking, because it is so foreign to me. Parts of the bible belt are also ok with corporal punishment in school, and all sorts of crazy shit. They don’t want to listen to how it can be done differently. I blame religion for that also.

The only thing that gives me hope is many wealthy people right now are focusing on education. There are also pockets around our country that have very good school systems. I don’t think we are going to get all of our students up to par, let alone exceeding par, but I think we can get a large percentage up there if we focus on it. I think a very large obstacle is that education is run on a local level, puts many children at a disadvantage.

In defense of education, I do think quite a lot is taught, the kids are just not absorbing it.

ETpro's avatar

@wundayatta Erm… “I think your[sic] over simplifying…” should be *I think you’er over simplifying…” Ordinarily I wouldn’t play grammar Nazi, but that sort of gaffe makes my point. Of all the things you list, the only one arguably new to the environment is drugs. Mind you, opium, marijuana and magic mushrooms have been around for ages. But the proliferation and availability of truly devastating drugs is new. Thanks for bringing that into the equation. Can you offer any solutions?

@wundayatta Yes, that is true and seriously depressing. It’s a result of the economy being in the tank, but the voters have already forgotten who drove it in there.

@JLeslie I am sure ESL drives down literacy scores, but we have had heavy immigration for well over a century. Immigration was unrestricted for much of the time when our statistics were rising and not falling as they are now. So that doesn’t wash as a recent cause. I also note that all the dunderheads I know, and most we see on Jaywalking are born in the good old USA.

As to the Northeast excelling on tests, yeah, we poor, stupid libbies up here in the Northeast. How un-Americana of us to get a decent education and play host to such dens of iniquity as Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Yale, Dartmouth, Cornell, and.Brown Universities.

I think most American children when born have the intellectual capacity to get a college degree. An IQ of 100 should do, and by definition, 50% of the population is born with that. Certainly, 50% are on the low side of the bell curve, and they can serve a useful place in society without going to college. But it is a loss every time a child born with average or above IQ drops out of high school or graduates unable to really read, write coherently, or do simple math. It is a loss every time a kid capable of college work can’t or won’t complete it.

The only way people can believe in young Earth creationism is to either utterly reject any facts that conflict with their rigid beliefs, or be completely ignorant of those facts. I am not sure which the prevalent cause is, but I fear it is hypothesis myopia. And I express fear in that because it is the most difficult to cure. It is hard to show the truth to one who refuses to open their eyes.

JLeslie's avatar

@ETpro All good points. When I was in college 20 years ago one of my profs asked a bunch of questions on the first day of class. We all wrote down our answers and handed in our papers anonymously. There was about 30 some students in the class. Two people knew there were 50 states in the USA, I was one of them. That stuck with me. This is Michigan State University; not Harvard, but not the bottom of the barrel either. My parents-in-law took an ESL class when they arrived here 12–13 years ago, and they were taught there is 52 states. WTF?! Forget knowing the 5th president. The expression the contiguous 48 plus Alaska and Hawaii is used all of the time, you can count the stars on the flag, etc. Meanwhile, I feel confident almost every primary school in America teaches there is 50 states. I just can’t explain things like that.

I think it is hard to fix, because people who are educated and knowledgable can’t grasp what the heck is going on with these people who are totally clueless.

Some religious people on fluther, and others I know in real life, lol, have said they believe public school is brainwashing children to be liberals. They really see it as an aggressive plan by liberals and government to bend the minds of our youth.

On facebook today I was on a thread about Christmas and this chick, who I do not know, chimes in talking about how, “Jesus is why we have our calendar, and yes I mean the US calendar.” Total dingbat, right? The US invented the Gregorian calendar? Again, religious bullshit. The irony is a Pope was the one who tweaked the Julian calendar if I remember it correctly, Pope Gregory. But, then, I doubt that girl is Catholic, just to go with one of my own prejudices. I corrected her, to try to give her a little knowledge, no reply. surprise.

I guess I am babbling. I can go on forever with examples of ignorance and narrow mindedness. I know it is just preaching to the choir saying it to you (pun intended :)).

ETpro's avatar

@JLeslie You didn’t know the US invented the Georgian Calendar? What part of American exceptionalism did your school forget to teach you? :-)

I hear you. It is frustrating and confounding. If I didn’t love this country so much, I would just figure I’m old enough to leave it alone and die peacefully before it flushes itself down the toilet. But I leave behind 2 surviving kids (one dead) and 11 grandchildren so far. The great grandchildren will probably be on the deck before they fly the ship’s flag at half mast for me. So dammit, I do care. I can’t help but care. And as I care, I despair.

If I had the answer, I would not have asked the question.

BarnacleBill's avatar

@ETpro, I think every generation in this country has felt that it was going to hell in a handbasket. Non-thinking, anti-education people have always been with us. It’s only mass communication that’s given them an outlet and visibility. Case in point: prohibition movement.

incendiary_dan's avatar

Note: The highest rate of literacy in the U.S. was right before public schooling was instituted. The same goes for the highest per capita number of independently published newspapers.

One of the great things I’ve learned by reading and listening to John Taylor Gatto was that the public school system isn’t designed to educate or enlighten the masses, and likely never was intended to do so. It’s the producer of industrial workers, now service workers, having more to do with turning children into obedient drones who are dependent on the industrial system rather than functional adults capable of any shred of independence.

So if we really want to talk about education, looking to public schools might be barking up the wrong tree.

JLeslie's avatar

@incendiary_dan Name for me an industrialized, educated, prosperous country that doesn’t have a decent public education system. I always ask this to people who want to pull away from public education, and I have never had an answer. If conservatives are supposed to stick with tried and true policies, it seems they should be supporting public education. The “conservatives” around me just don’t want to pay to educate children they think are a lost cause, and they don’t want to shell out any money for anyone else’s kids.They have their children in private school, they can’t see paying for any education through taxes at all. So, I question your motive, but maybe I am mixing you in with the people I live near, which might be unfair.

Many countries in Asia seem to be doing better than us in educating their population, and if we go with some of what I have read and experienced, they are very obedient, and in some countries all children are expected to be on level. (I could not open your link for obedient drones).

@ETpro I care. I don’t have children, but I care about the country continuing. I care Judaism lasts another 5,000 years also, if religion is going to be part of this worlds schtick. I sometimes get the feeling the country is really making a bad turn, and it freaks me out. The latest is this tax deal Obama made. I am so pissed! But, I don’t want to start down that tangent on your education thread.

Sorry to hear about your child who passed away.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@JLeslie You indeed are confusing me with others. Please don’t. A quick look at my profile would have been enough to make it quite clear that I am no conservative (radical green anarchist/indigenist).

And while we’re at it, would anyone reading this please stop associating anyone who doesn’t instantly agree with dependency on the state with conservatives and tea-partiers. On top of being annoying, it’s just unbecoming in terms of discourse.

All writers are propagandists, and the way you’ve framed your question itself attempts to guide any answers your way. It implies success and positive outcome being associated with growing economies and higher GDP (did you know the GDP was invented as a way to pay off war debt?). Yet all of economics is fiction, a series of numerical abstractions, and the constant growth economy is something that SHOULD be self-evidently absurd (as should any economy based on using more resources than are available in a given area), and would be were it not for a schooling system that teaches no critical thinking skills.

So if your goals are to “grow the economy”, as I hear thrown around so much, then go ahead and spend money on schools. I don’t want to grow the economy, I want communities of intelligent, free thinking people, so I’d much rather spend resources on public libraries. I prefer intact, local, sustainable economies, and unfortunately global extractive economies based on non-renewable resources are necessarily at odds with that (but that’s another conversation). Community based control of education is one of the components necessary for the sort of society I’d like to see.

Also, are you using Internet Explorer? I am at my work community, and it redirected me to this page. It’s an article by Gatto called the Six Lesson Schoolteacher, which is a famous one of his.

JLeslie's avatar

@incendiary_dan Relax. I openly stated to you what is in my head, so you would have the opportunity to respond about your thoughts. Conservative to me is not a dirty word. The right wing uses the word incorectly in my opinion, that is why I put it in quotes. The people I describe around me are sucked in by the rights bullshit, not to be confused with legitimate arguments from conservatives.

I actually do not focus on growing the economy, but of course I want the country to have a stable one. I think the focus on growing the economy creates the bullshit false bubbles we continue to create and can observe in American history. Again, being critical of politicans, I think growing the economy is code word for if America is richer, more taxes will be paid in without having to raise the tax rate.

I want free thinking individuals also. But, at minimum I want some basic knowledge, even if it is through memorization and practice.

I have to run out, I will read your link when I return. Thank you for posting it again, it does open for me now.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@JLeslie You know what else is poor discourse? Inferring tone. Luckily, I don’t get easily bothered, mostly because I am, as you suggested, relaxed. :)

ETpro's avatar

!@BarnacleBill That is not so. I am old enough to remember when every generation of Americans was expected to be better and brighter than their forebears. We had nearly no middle class before the Great Depression. Through public education and use of the GI bill by troops returning from WWII we created the stro9ngest, best educated middle class in the world. During the Kennedy Administration, the nation was inspired to embrace science to the point we believed we could go to the moon, and we did. Kennedy surrounded himself with intellectuals, and the eggheads who knew something about specific topics such as economics, history and foreign policy suddenly found themselves welcomed in the halls of power instead of being vilified as elitists. I know what we have lost. I remember..

@incendiary_dan Conservative liberal or none of the above, elimination of public education is a darling of the American right wing, and particularly the religious right, who want their children schooled in anti-science and taught to shun evidence-based thinking. Before I would even give your suggestions a fair hearing, I would like to see some documentation proving that Americans were better educated before public schools were established in Seven of the 14 states in 1791 had public education systems in place as the father of American public education, Thomas Jefferson, pushed for a national system.. Every US history I have ever read notes the situation exactly opposite of your claim. I searched Google and can find no evidence to support your claim. I second @JLeslie‘s concern that there is no model to point to suggesting that elimination of public education improves a nation’s literacy and scientific and math skills. My attitude is the Conservative one—never tear down a fence till you are sure you know what it was erected to keep out.

John Taylor Gatto is an interesting reference, as he saw the problems in today’s school from the vantage point of a teacher. I don’t disagree with him that by the 1990s, many schools were letting children down. That was my original point. I further agree that there are fewer newspapers today than in the past. That was also part of my opening premise. Where I need more info before going is when Gatto concludes that because the public schools are ill today, we should just kill them.

ETpro's avatar

BTW, I just ran across this, which seemed to capture the essence of this rant:

“Sometimes, when I am particularly depressed, I ascribe our behavior to stupidity — the stupidity of our leadership, the stupidity of our culture. Three decades ago, we suffered defeat in an unwinnable war against tribalism, the most fanatic of political emotions, fighting against a country about which we knew nothing and in which we had no vital interests. Vietnam was hopeless enough, but to repeat the same arrogant folly 30 years later in Iraq is unforgivable. The Swedish statesman Axel Oxenstierna famously said, ‘Behold, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed.’ ”

“A nation informed by a vivid understanding of the ironies of history is, I believe, best equipped to manage the tragic temptations of military power. Let us not bully our way through life, but let a growing sensitivity to history temper and civilize our use of power. In the meantime, let a thousand historical flowers bloom. History is never a closed book or a final verdict. It is forever in the making. Let historians never forsake the quest for knowledge in the interests of an ideology, a religion, a race, a nation.

“The great strength of history in a free society is its capacity for self-correction. This is the endless excitement of historical writing — the search to reconstruct what went before, a quest illuminated by those ever-changing prisms that continually place old questions in a new light.

“History is a doomed enterprise that we happily pursue because of the thrill of the hunt, because exploring the past is such fun, because of the intellectual challenges involved, because a nation needs to know its own history. Or so we historians insist. Because in the end, a nation’s history must be both the guide and the domain not so much of its historians as its citizens.”

Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.

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