Let me offend you once again fellow educators!
The attached article by Timothy Egan tells me noting that I did not already know. (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/26/opinion/the-dumbed-down-democracy.html?src=me) For the past 28 years as a bad teacher educator I have been teaching and talking and writing about the problem of thoughtlessness and ignorance and its consequences for a society that had the opportunity to become a truly democratic one. It takes smart people to participate in the decision making process that is at the heart of a democracy. And the problem has relatively little to do with the capacity of people, the whole of the general public, to be smart enough for democracy.
What it does have to do with are the institutions that teach people to be dumb, dumb enough to be taken in by bullshit, the bullshit that drives capitalism in its present form and the bullshit that one has to accept in order to be a good member of whatever church it is to which he or she belongs. And too, the bullshit of nationalism (‘I love America but I couldn’t begin to tell you what it means to be an American of the kind the writers of Declaration of Independence were hoping would emerge to carry out the plan’), made bullshit when one does not know for what the nation should stand, for what it actually does stand at a given moment in time, and what a citizen of the nation is obligated to do when for what it stands has little to do with what it actually is.
At this point I need to say that I believe that it is really all education’s fault. When the society turns away from intellectualism and follows those who celebrate the common dumbness (“I love the uneducated”) and scorn those who work hard to understand what is really going on in the world and what it means, those who pursue truth as a vocation or avocation, the only force in the society that can do much of anything to turn things around is the educational system.
Tragically, in the United States of America, the educational system does not serve the cause of helping the American public to be smart. The reason for this is that it does not, has not for a long time, existed to serve the cause of informed citizenship. It has, for a long time served religion better than the development of critical minds. It has for a long time served the cause of blind nationalism, its curriculum scraped clean of truth in order to insure that the reason for wars and poverty and blight are never discussed honestly. Honesty would turn up lies, yes, but worse, patterns of deceit that not only turn truth upside down, but the public upside down on its head via television, movies, and other forms of entertainment that provide the people with most of what they know. And the schools do hardly anything at all to provide an antidote to the poison.
Poison! A very strong word, I know, but it is poison that causes people to ignore what is real and accept what is not as real because whatever it is they are being served makes for fun and a soothing kind of ignorance that they have been led to believe is what the good life is really about. Schools, colleges and universities included, help the process of intellectual decay and they do this because they need the money and the big money is in that hands of those who are the deceivers, those who benefit from an ignorant and not too thoughtful public.
I have said all this many times before and not many have listened. I quit a university job because the university and the college in which I worked, a college of education consistently asked, demanded that I get along better with those who count, those in power, those who donate to make up for what the state does not contribute to the project of education. I was to get along better with people who run the state, too, teach to their agenda and never use what my own studies led me to understand to be their illegitimate approach to education.
Even when their ridiculous tests of student achievement would come back showing that students weren’t learning what officials demanded students learn, the changes made to improve things were always for dumbing down and hardly ever for amping up, for making school the place where people go to grow their intellects, to become smart enough to understand what life in a democratic nation should offer them and how to go about doing what is necessary to make sure that the system operates in such a manner that all get what human beings need and deserve.
But students who wanted to argue that reality TV were not be criticized, nor those who spend a good part of their lives watching it. If it was their desire to pay more attention to to football games than the news of the world, they had a right to choose such for themselves and, when the works of intellectual astute human beings were assigned to be read and students complained that the ideas were too hard for them to understand, I was expected to find was to accommodate their special needs. I was expected to respect their opinions the words were stupid and boring as good excuses for not reading the stupid stuff and I was asked to find ways to make sure that my teaching was receptive to the realities of the modern day student.
I was teaching teachers, English teachers. I wanted to teach my students how to teach others to become astute readers of the world. I wanted them to grow as intellectuals, knowledgable people who could determine what should stand as good knowledge and what should be dismissed as bullshit. I wanted them to know what it meant to know and how to go about coming to knowledge through a rigorous critical thinking process. I wanted them to be able to teach for citizenship, for effective citizenship and Coke and Pokeman were winning out, understood to be the real things, the rest crap that a few in the society wanted others to believe had value when it really did not, that is, if one wanted to be successful.
Success defined by those who had made it in a society that had become crass and stupid but crass and stupid for a purpose, to serve an economy that thrived when people purchased things, not because they needed them or because they were truly good things to have, but because of the bullshit they were being fed by corporations and their merchandizers, the advertising agencies, the military and its bolsters, the schools and their owners, those same corporate entities that fed them reality TV, anti-intellectualism, authority in celebrity, and then Donald Trump.
My own example! But consider it in relation to what Timothy has to say: