Education And Democracy
Observing the dynamics of American society, its impulses, the ideas we develop, and the reaction of citizens to events affecting us all, I see, with no uncertainty, that the maintenance of a vibrant democracy and the quality of my own life is absolutely dependent upon a well educated population. And, while not an educator nor an expert in education theory, attempting to live my secularist ethics along with the responsibility I have to my democracy, underscores, for me, the importance of education in supporting our freedoms, unchaining the expression of our best impulses. So why this entry?
I am concerned that a vital aspect of any good education, critical thought, is being submerged under a wave of mechanistic, business-oriented, stultifying, training. No one disagrees that a facility in the mechanics of arithmetic, reading and writing must be effectively taught and monitored. An ability for more sophisticated learning and analysis is contingent upon such literacy. Perhaps it is pessimistic, but I do not see a growth of discriminating thought. Why?
- There are more people in America doubting the fact of Evolution and The Theory of Natural Selection than in any other first-world nation. How sad that people are swayed by superstition and blind speculation rather than factual observation and a testable model.
- I see an increasingly gullible populace easily manipulated by sophisticated commercial advertisement. Rather than being skeptical of transparently mercantile appeals, such people revel in being sheep-like “consumers” rather than educated customers.
- It is easy to observe that most of Americans are fearful of low probability threats such as terrorism but ignore greater, everyday, threats to our safety, freedom and economic health. How else to explain the imbecility of believing our president, who manufactures fictional crises then claims the ability to rescue us from the conditions he has created.
- I’m not even going to touch the kindergarten religiosity practiced by most believers. Thomas Paine has plowed that ground far too well.
- Then there is the slack-jawed unquestioned acceptance of a poisonous world-view vomited by right-wing commentators and conservative think-tanks that do not have the best interests of their audience in mind.
Examples abound, but I don’t have all of 2005 to enumerate them. I am not the first to believe that an inability to think rationally has a corrosive effect upon democracy. But, aside from speculation, one need only consider those nations with a population either ill educated or educated solely for the goal of serving industry. Naive populations in Saudi Arabia, Iran, China or Singapore, among many, submit to restrictions upon their liberty and free will by leaders cynically contemptuous of the people they rule. They are object lessons for America.
My hope is that this nation will exert the effort and recommit to our democratic ideals by supporting a liberal education that is not entirely a corporate conveyor belt. I believe that learning the art of sifting ideas, comparing them against common observation, safeguards our democracy by arming us with the best offense against an ignorance that would be used to shackle our hopes.