Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, July 04, 2008

You're an ignorant idiot . . .

Says Rick Shenkman. Well, okay, maybe you're an exception, but most Americans ignorance of history, civics, and political issues is absolutely appalling. Shenkman doesn't get into other areas, such as science -- actually Europeans aren't all that scientifically literate either but at least more than half of them believe in evolution. I'm having a hard time getting used to the finding that 25% of Americans believe that the sun revolves around the earth, and that 35% believe that astrology is "sort of scientific" (whatever that means).

But as for civics, the best Shenkman can do for good news is "Encouragingly, today the number of Americans who can correctly identify and name the three branches of government is up to 40%." Most Americans do not know the names of their own Senators or Representative. Forty-nine percent think the President has the power to suspend the Constitution. Oh wait - it turns out that he does, at least under the current Congress. But I would be inclined to call that a self-fulfilling delusion.

While this is obviously depressing, it's also quite puzzling. We have universal literacy, universal public education, with the large majority making it through 12 years and the rest at least getting 10, and a very highly educated elite that controls the pervasive information environment. Twelve years in school ought to be enough to learn that the earth goes around the sun, there are three branches of government, and the name of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. But instead, our Republic is an idiocracy. Does the candidate say the pledge of allegiance? Does he go to church? Do I like his wife? Is he a manly man or a girly man? And of course, the worse thing he can possibly be is smarter than me. One of the current president's chief qualifications for the job, according to many voters, is that he is a dimwit who shares their basic ignorance of the world and their 12th Century belief system.

Saying all this does not make me an elitist. On the contrary, my point is that I want more people to be better educated, more knowledgeable, and more capable of critical thinking. But somehow we have managed to fail miserably as a society in that endeavor.

No comments: