Bruce Deitrick Price
September 19, 2016
An unfurnished mind is a terrible place to live
By Bruce Deitrick Price

Thomas Jefferson made the gloomy prediction that we can be ignorant or free, not both. Given how ignorant the country has become, our prospects are sinking.

If you're not acquainted with how bad things have gotten, there is a quick way to find out. YouTube has dozens of videos where people are asked easy questions, but they don't know the answers.

Jay Leno, former host of the Tonight Show, used to go "Jaywalking" and talk to Americans who didn't know what body of water is to the west of California. Another person, asked who won the Civil War, answered: "Germany?"

Fox News now sends reporter Jesse Watters out on the streets to ascertain what average Americans know. Not much, apparently. One young woman, when asked who we fought against in World War II, answered: "The South?"

Mark Dice, a media analyst who conducts man-in-the-street interviews, concluded that "Americans don't know why we celebrate the Fourth of July," the name of one of his videos.

Please, if you're not familiar with how ignorant the country has become, watch some of these easy-to-find videos. For complementary articles, go to Google and enter: Americans don't know much.

The trend toward dumbing-down goes back almost a century. John Dewey and his Progressive educators didn't want too much emphasis on memorization, isolated facts, names, and dates – all the stuff that academic education had always doted on.

Bizarre as it sounds, Americans can now reach college and not know who the first president was, what country we fought against in the Revolutionary War, what 78 is, or where Spain is on a map.

The Education Establishment assures us that factoids are not important. These days, we are told, students should spend their time learning 21st century skills, collaboration, digital literacies, etc. All information is available on the Internet, so why should anybody know any particular fact?

The claim that a person who knows nothing can engage in Critical Thinking is a curious fantasy preached by our professional educators. In reality, we first learn facts A, B and C. Then we can play them off against each other. That's when we experience insights and sparks of creativity.

The point is, as Americans know less and less, their minds begin to resemble an empty house. What sort of work can you do there? What kind of thoughts can you have there? What sort of life can you live there?

Which brings us back to Thomas Jefferson. If you are ignorant, you will be oblivious to everything going on around you. At some point you won't appreciate the blessings you have and you won't know how to defend them. So you inevitably become a slave, according to Jefferson.

This dumbing-down process is not an accident. It's the operational doctrine of public schools in the US. The Education Establishment has interlocking sophistries in defense of teaching less. We are told that some information is obsolete or irrelevant; some information is too difficult; some information is not multicultural. In general, we are told that teachers should not teach anymore, students must teach themselves (this is called Constructivism).

Even sadder, many schools undermine not just the goal of gaining knowledge, but the discipline and work required to do so. If children don't try hard, if they don't turn in their homework, if they're sloppy and hardly bother, teachers make excuses for them. (My local schools have waged a long debate about whether 50 should be the lowest grade a student can get on a test or paper.)

The doctrine of self-esteem says any approach that makes any child feel bad must be avoided. Think about that. If your child can spell Mississippi and my child can't, my child will feel bad. That cannot be allowed. Therefore, your child must not be taught to spell Mississippi.

Everyone, individually and as a society, should resist these trends. Make sure all children learn to read in first grade, and that there are books and maps in every house. Ignore the self-appointed experts. Facts are fun. Knowledge is power. The brain is designed to learn information and is happiest when doing so. I believe that schools could teach far more than they do, and at less cost.

If the schools won't teach, every adult should teach, using the Internet, books, magazines, television, museums, and movies.

Our schools have become comfortable with a culture of empty-headedness. We need to go in the opposite direction.

(This article was first published in VEER, Norfolk, Va., a classy publication but print only. This is its first appearance on the Internet. For a broader statement of the main thesis, see "The Crusade Against Knowledge.")

© Bruce Deitrick Price

 

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Bruce Deitrick Price

Bruce Deitrick Price is the author of six books, an artist, a poet, and an education reformer. He was born in Norfolk, Virginia, earned Honors in English Literature from Princeton, served two years in the Army, and then lived many years in Manhattan.

Price explains educational theories and methods on his ed site Improve-Education.org (founded in 2005). He has 400 education articles and videos on the Internet. More forcefully than most, Price argues that the public schools are mediocre because our Education Establishment wants them that way.

Price's literary site is Lit4u.com .

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