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Thursday, April 20, 2017

A Nation of Dummies

I recently read a frightening article about the dumbing down of America, what the author calls "the cult of ignorance."

In an article on psychologytoday.com, Ray Williams wrote, "There is a growing and disturbing trend of anti-intellectual elitism in American culture. It's the dismissal of science, the arts, and humanities and their replacement by entertainment, self-righteousness, ignorance, and deliberate gullibility." 

The really frightening thing is that this article was published in 2014, a couple of years before the Trump administration started its efforts to slash or eliminate funding for a variety of federal agencies that support science, the arts and the humanities. 

His budget proposal eliminates funds for, among others, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The budget would cut funding for the Environmental Protection agency by more than 31 percent, and eliminate funding for climate change efforts in developing countries, as well as for the Global Climate Change Initiative. The Department of Education faces a reduction of 13.5 percent. The big budget winner is, no surprise, the Department of Defense.

The statistics presented in this article (https://www.sott.net/article/313177-The-cult-of-ignorance-in-the-United-States-Anti-intellectualism-and-the-dumbing-down-of-America) are truly frightening. As one example, more than 40 percent of Americans under age 44 did not read even one book -- fiction or non-fiction -- during a one-year period. Or how about this: 25 percent of public high school biology teachers believe that humans and dinosaurs inhabited the Earth at the same time! 

I have seen television reporters ask college students which side won the Civil War, and most students couldn't correctly answer the question. And forget about Americans' knowledge of geography. How many people do you think can locate France or Iraq on a world map? Sadly, the percentage is very small. Many cannot even locate New York state on a map of the United States! Or consider this: Michael Reagan, a writer for westernjournalism.com, reported that a young, white Southern California businessman he met on the golf course couldn’t imagine why there would be an American military cemetery in Normandy, France. Both Trump and his secretary of state recently stated that the US was sending an "armada" of ships toward North Korea, when in reality the ships were heading away from that troublesome nation. Trump appeared to be unaware that there have been three North Korean rulers with the last name of Kim (a common Korean surname) and referred only to "the gentleman" heading the country. 

Williams points out that current trends have created a world of dummies that uses personal attacks, confrontation and repetition to assail anyone who dares to disagree with them. This was blatantly clear during last year's presidential election, with anyone who dared to question or disagree with Trump and his policies being called a 'libtard' or equally repulsive name. Intelligent, high-achieving students are referred to as dweebs, nerds or geeks, while the jocks (star athletes), professional athletes, singers and movie stars are held up as role models. It appears that beauty and athleticism, not brains, are most important.

As a personal example of the dumbing of America, I note the apparent inability of many Americans to speak proper English. And the quality of written English is even worse.

Consider these examples:
  • One of the stars of the American Pickers television show frequently says "I seen" something.
  • A candidate for mayor of a small town in Missouri noted that "People want a major who care" about them.
  • A reporter on the Albuquerque NBC affiliate repeatedly talked about 'osteoporisis' in a story about osteoporosis.
  • DJs on a local radio station repeatedly state that an 'extra long music set' is "comin' up." I heard lots of Texans drop the final g in words when I lived in Houston, but as far as I can tell, the DJs at this station aren't from Texas.
  • A contestant on a TV cooking show, after losing the competition, noted that: "I didn't win no money, but ..." 
  • A local meteorologist reported that the weather would soon be "more muggier." 

These are people whose native language is English. I would never criticize the English skills of someone for whom English is a second language. But those who have spoken English since childhood certainly should do better, particularly when they are supposedly professional communicators on the radio or on television. And I realize that even the most eloquent of speakers occasionally makes a mistake. But sadly, the examples above are not isolated occurrences.

What are we to do to increase the level of literacy and general knowledge in our country when the American president himself doesn't read, apparently is unable to read, and is barely literate and unable to speak in complete, coherent, well-put-together sentences? Where will we find the bright scientific and technical minds like those that have powered our nation's history of innovation and technology development? Where would we be without the brilliance of the people behind Apple, Microsoft, Intel and other technology powerhouses?

Our public education system has failed, and failed miserably, to teach our young people the importance of proper English, critical thinking skills and the necessity in our interconnected world of knowing about the history and geography of not only our country, but of the rest of the world as well. A recent ranking of the best education systems lists the US at number 20, behind such countries as Finland (number 1), Russia, Portugal and Singapore. A study by the Pew Research Center found that American students are in the middle of the pack, and behind those in many other advanced industrialized countries, in academic achievement.

I am lucky that when I went to school, science, history, geography, economics and civics were required courses, as was being able to read and write cursive writing. Young people today are so used to seeing printed words on their phones or computers that they find it difficult, if not impossible, to read cursive.  

I guess I am considered a nerd or a geek, as I place great value on education. I enjoy testing my knowledge in a variety of subjects. I continue to learn by reading (I love my Kindle!) and traveling, which opens my mind to different countries and cultures. I watch a variety of television programs about historical events and archaeological discoveries. I listen to BBC Radio to hear about the world from a non-US perspective. I read a daily newspaper.

I worry about a nation that is governed by uneducated, narrow-minded people. When enough of those people vote, as in the most recent presidential election, we end up with a president, cabinet and advisors patently unprepared and unfit to govern. And that should scare all of us.