My friend Dr. Lora Friedrich, Professor Emeritus of Simpson College, observed, “Students these days DECIDE what is true rather than DISCOVER what is true. This is what’s basically wrong with the American Educational system.” What Lora and many other educators have found is that students nowadays think they have the right to make all the decisions about what they do in school and what they are entitled to get out of it. And institutions have yielded to this commercial pressure.
However, the cause is deeper than student entitlement. It is cultural, as mentioned in a famous critique by Isaac Asimov: “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge’.”
It is unnecessary to belabor the notion that we have reached the point where the balance may have tipped in the USA away from education, science, and knowledge toward options, entitlement and protection. Nobody is saying that ignorance is good. Not in so many words. The words being used sound more like common sense. I hear people saying, “There is no such thing as scientific facts because there are only theories that will be disproven sooner or later.” “There is a conspiracy by liberals to impose immoral values on the public.” “There is a conspiracy by conservatives to impose Christianity as a political system.” “Every family should have the right to say what their children learn.” There are tropes on-line for every point of view, including, “I have the right to be protected from offensive ideas.” “In order to defend our liberties and our religious convictions we need the right to at least ignore opposing systems of thought.”
Education is being bent to conform to this post-modern skepticism about the motivations of those who press for comparative studies. More and more educational systems are adopting single points of view curricula. Students are not taught how to assess knowledge but only what is right. Time is valuable. Life is short. Young minds are vulnerable. Tell the new generation what they need to know to function in our culture and then give them skills to fill roles that are needed.
Here I feel I should post a caveat. A better educational system does not pose conflicting points of view merely to show how flawed one of them is. The purpose of comparative religion courses, for example, is neither to show how one religion is obviously superior nor to show that all religions are basically the same. Nor does a valid educational system waste time and resources suggesting specious and indefensible propositions just to “be fair”. There is no point to spend much time on a flat earth theory, or that the Nazi Holocaust is just a hypothesis, or that vaccination for diseases is a conspiracy by pharmaceutical companies, or that people (being deported) are “not people, they’re animals”. A better educational system teaches people how to think, how to subject ideas to critical review, and how to prove and dispute arguments based on verifiable evidence and logic.
Much has been said about how expensive such an educational system is. What I want to suggest is how expensive it is to be without a consensus that such a system is preferable. A blog essay needs to be short enough to fit on a page and a half, so I will just give 3 examples of what our anti-intellectual bias is costing.
Consider the cost of climate change denial, which is essentially US government policy for the time being. This has caused the USA to be a pariah among nations, which are going ahead without us. Meanwhile, fossil fuel costs are rising and resources are dwindling while better and cheaper power sources are being subjected to obstacles other nations have avoided.
Consider the cost of wholly privatized health care, which is how it is working out as a result of political deals made by the US Congress. US health care in this system has slipped out of the ranks for developed nations. The number of personal bankruptcies due to unmet medical costs has skyrocketed. And the cost of medicine is higher than anywhere on earth.
Consider the cost of limited access to justice, which results from irrational and inconsistent application of sentences. A high percentage of legal cases and imprisonment comes from prosecution for drug offences, which are treated as medical cases in enlightened countries that are not trying to suppress populations. The cost of incarceration is far greater than the cost of treatment for the condition, and the results of incarceration are far less positive.
This I think is the bottom line: the cost of our devaluation of valid education is that the USA is being relegated to the second tier among nations. We have lost the moral authority to be an advocate for international cooperation and mutual welfare, much less the mentor for democracy. We have jeopardized the financial safety of a third of our population now and the entire generation to come.
And we are not even getting short-term benefits such as living wages for laborers, value for cost for government services, or better neighborhood environments. We are producing the first generation in American history that will not have it better than their parents
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.