September 10, 2004

its the stupid, stupid

When you are a schoolboy, you do not necessarily stop and think about the education you are receiving in any structured way. Like you, my gentle suffering blog readers, I learned to think critically as a part of the process of learning. This is a most normal and natural thing.

I did not give it a thought that is until my Sophomore year in High School when I began tutoring. What stunned me in my experiences as a tutor was the discovery that most of my students were actually extremely bright and though obviously intellectually capable, they amazingly, had never learned how to think deductively. This was stunning because I never gave much thought to such matters. Stunning because the lack of these basic intellectual tools substantially impaired my student’s abilities to comprehend anything that required more thought than simple memorization. Suddenly it was brought into clear focus for me how poorly our schools were serving the majority of it’s students.

This whole experience jarred me in a profound way.

So, from a very early time in my life, it has seemed blindingly obvious to me that there is little in this world of greater importance than the proper education of our youth. It did not take any special insight then or now to see that a citizenry that does not possess even the most fundamental tools for critical thought dooms its nation to ultimate failure. How is a citizen who must exert themselves strenuously in order to make the simplest of deductions, if they are capable of even that much thought, to be expected to cast an intelligent vote? How can they be expected to hold any but the most menial of jobs? They obviously can not and the social ramifications of the resulting mass stupidity are of empire destroying proportions.

Sadly, very few Americans are concerned about the state of American stupidity. A bit of Googling unearthed an interesting summary of polling information about the priorities of voters that can be found here. What is clear both from my personal experience and this data is that though education may be on the list of the concerns of Americans, it is down there among the list of “other” things that people worry about in addition to the “big” problems.

Education is not a problem. Education is the problem.

It may in fact be reasonable to question my assertion that education is the most critical problem facing our society. Issues such as Global Terrorism and the Healthcare System meltdown have a rightful place at the center of our attention. But the present state of American stupidity is such that it exacerbates the pressing issues that typically top priority lists and therefore education assumes a position of greater significance than the politically minded might suggest.

A superficial examination of current events demonstrates the centrality of the role of stupidity in our current affairs. An America whose citizens reasoned well would have better understood the Middle Eastern powder keg and taken action long before the fuse was lit. If We The People were equipped by our schools to think critically, we would understand that not proactively fixing our healthcare system is inviting disaster. Eschewing substantive analysis, the people instead passionately respond to the sound bites that invoke symbols such as Patriotism and Socialism.

The undeniable passion of the people’s response can sometimes be so overwhelming that you can almost lose sight of the fact that there is no real content buttressing the convictions.

The political elite have learned to play this game well. A stupid America consistently elects politicians with no concern about any future which might exist past the next election. Politicians do not need to concern themselves with the Future because stupid Americans do not hold them accountable in a serious analytical sense of accountability. Rather, the political elite only need to concern themselves as to how effectively they can “spin” the outcomes when experience demonstrates their sweeping rhetorical flourishes to be nothing more than salesmanship.

That the word “spin” has become so much a part of our language that I could have properly omitted the quotation marks in the previous sentence speaks volumes regarding our intellectual devolution.

It is clear then that ranking education among the other issues confronting our society is dangerous and short sighted. While it is true that the incremental cost of additional stupidity is low, when you take the longer view there is nothing so certain to produce our downfall than a poorly educated electorate.

This process of destruction is in full swing already-just look around you. Or better yet, watch the upcoming Presidential debates. It will be sobering if you understand that the presentations, which are only nominally debates, are packaged for the level of education which is actually out there in our formerly great nation.

Once you understand the state of stupidity in our land, it is better for your mental health if you avoid the next step of logical deduction. Better to not realize how irrelevant you have become to our political process.

Far better to not grasp that swaying the stupid people is all that matters.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have stated several things correctly however you do not suggest any corrective actions. The state of our education in this country started it's demise when it became fashionable to sue the school because Johnny/Jane had to be deciplined. Now there is no such thing as decipline in schools, teachers are afraid to teach anything other than to test scores. Our universities are even worse. This country is so tied up in everyone getting a "college education" that a lot of good young people are being given a grave disservice. Yes we do need a lot of college trained people but when a college grad cannot even write a good sentece what has been accomplished? Not only can they not deduct what is going on but they want more of nothing. Today's high schools offer to many alternative classes and not enough true education in the basics.

A good way to see a lot of this is to talk to those that have been educated elsewhere such as foreign countries. Most of these folks just laugh at our education because theirs is so much better.

You are right in that education is a very big problem but NO ONE wants to own up to it becuase we will hurt the kids life. Well there are a lot of people out there that were educated when there were a lot less choices and they seem to be doing very well. Most of them can even balance a check book or know their limits on their credit cards.

This can go on and on so these are my 2 cents worth at this time

David Thompson

12:48 PM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...


I purposely stopped this blog short because I am planning to write at least one more blog post on ideas about fixing the mess. I'm just trying to keep the issues sorted.

When you point out that there was a time when children had less options and still did OK, you are right on target. I think often of my Grandmother with an 8th Grade education from a one room school house in a very backward part of the world. I'll put that education up against the bulk of high school graduates today. The rest of my Grandparents had 12th Grade educations and I won't waste time comparing their educations with the modern ones: they flat out don't compare.

Which leads to the question, if these extremely poor people in the Ozarks in the early 20th Century can accomplish that in a one room school house that wouldn't pass for a privy today, why can't we get it done now? We could, but we have lost our resolve.

1:29 PM  
Blogger Common Good said...


Another way to look at it is the world is one very messed up place... and ignorance is bliss. :) Are you a happier person sitting in your cubicle cranking out code because you are more enlightened... or would you be a more content cubicle dweller if you dumbed it down a little (like some of David T's jokes). :) You could improve the education of citizens in the US, and the US would still be run by the moneyed elite. When I think of education needs in the US, I divide it into two seperate needs 1) economic... get a job, earn a living, live within your means 2) general human enlightenment... citizen skills, aquire a taste for continual learning. Is your point about education mainly about #1 or #2 or both? IMO, "get a job" education" has to match our economy job needs ... I'm not much of a believer that more graduating scientist creates more scientist jobs. I think the bigger issue there is adapting education to a more volatile job market (i.e. careers threatend over night due to such things as outsourcing). Labor is at the mercy of the jobs available in our economy... I doubt we can educate ourselves into a different economy. Now on the second education category (#2), that's a pretty broad area to debate. I would contend "what we have become as a society" is more a product of our human nature than any lack of education. I believe reason is the only challenger to human nature, so further/better education would only improve our society if the result was better COLLECTIVE reasoning by the citizens. IMO, that would be a noble goal, but I think you would be fighing a losing battle.... but man would I like to be proven wrong on that.

As usual... a very fine blog Mr. Plank. Thanks for trying to keep that "reasoning" thing alive.

"Now the worst part of the punishment is that he who refuses to rule is liable to be ruled by one who is worse than himself".

Plato - The Republic

Common Good

5:17 PM  
Blogger David R said...

I'd have to agree that the stupidity factor underlies many, if not all, of our most pressing problems. I am constantly amazed at inability of most of the electorate to accomplish something as elementary as distinguishing fact from opinion, or to take it one step further, truth from lies.

In reading Common Good's post where he describes two purposes for or kinds of education, I was struck with the thought that what has happened to us is that our education system has become totally concerned with purpose #1, economic, get a job, learn a skill education. I'm thinking this is why we have a public that almost completely lacks the ability for critical thinking, or the desire to seek truth and knowledge for it's own sake. If there's no economic gain involved, it's just not worth our time in today's America.

The ability to think critically, analytically, and logically, is something that must be gained by one's own devices. Either you have parents that see the value in this and pass it along to you, or you are born with the kind of inate curiosity that develops these skills as a natural consequence of living. Our educational system is not geared to teaching this, or even encouraging it.

Looking forward to Curmudgeon's follow-up, my suggestion is that we must look for ways and means to educate our youth for the sake of knowledge and understanding itself. Especially at the younger ages. "Practical" education can be had anytime, the properly educated, knowledge-loving person can learn a new skill or educate himself to qualify for a new job at pretty much any age, and as many times as necessary. This is not where the focus of childhood education should be.

David R

6:45 PM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...

I think the "get a job" education has a place. But it isn't till kids are pretty old. I like the old 8th Grade education threshold...By 8th Grade, you should graduate with the basics...i.e. the three RRRs. At that point a student should be able to move on into a college bound program or switch to a more vocational program. And, they should be able to switch between college bound and vocational tracks as long as they do appropriate remedial work.

But DavidR has it right-if you learn critical thinking skills, you can learn the job skills anytime. More fundamental to the issue is creating some kind of safety net for workers in transition. That is a difficult and stick proposition, but something we have to take a look at if we are to maintain social cohesion at some level.

4:37 PM  
Blogger Common Good said...

Tony ... David...

So you both blew right past the "get a job needs" and think we need to concentrate on the "more enlightened human" education. I think we are heading to an ecnomomy where that will not hold up... i.e. adults will have to scramble more in the future to earn a living than in the past. That said... I challenge the premise that "more enlightened folks that can reason" necessarily makes for a better or happier society. I was much happier when I didn't have a clue what is going on. :) I think Tony's Curmudgeon level is directly proportional to his enlightenment... the more you know the more you realize this place is really %&^%&% up. I would have to be convinced we would improve as a society .... more so on our social front than the economic front ... to be convinced a net positive would result.

Convince me I'm wrong. :)

5:07 PM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...

How do you figure that I "blew right past" your point when my last post addressed it directly?

In any event, what perhaps I am not getting across to you is that "get a job" requires someone to be able to think. I don't think most people have an appreciation for how incredibly poor equiped the average person is that comes out of our public schools. Functional illiteracy rates are alarming.

I'm not suggesting a diet of Plato and Chaucer, but rather just a good basic education like the olden days.

5:12 PM  
Blogger David R said...

Common Good,

Frankly I find your cause and effect argument that "enlightenment = unhappiness" to be pretty absurd. My opinion is that you are less happy because you don't agree with what is going on now, for whatever reasons. It has little to do with whether you "have a clue" what's really going on. If a truly socially conscious Democrat (are there any out there?) were to become President, you would be instantly happier I guess, while a large portion of the population would suddenly become decidedly unhappy. Will this be because at that moment you will become stupid again while the other half of America suddenly comes to it's senses?

An economy that forces it's workforce to be quick to adjust, or "scramble more" as you put it, to make a living, only argues for changing our childhood educational model to give people the skills necessary for making these transitions later in life. This seems so self-evident to me that I'm not sure how to go about convincing you of this. For one thing, how do you decide what kind of "get a job" classes should be taught to a 6th grader when you can't even begin to predict what kind of jobs there will be when he's 25, much less 45?

The type of education you are advocating is what people our age need, not our children. Clearly we need an educational system that supports adults in a changing economy as well as children who are just developing the ability (or not) to think clearly. The needs of the two groups are decidedly different. I think Curmudgeon and I are mainly focused on the failure to properly educate our children, is perhaps the point you're missing here. Try to at least expand your mind to consider solutions that may benefit society as a whole, rather than only focusing on what would work best for you personally at this moment in time.

Finally, in terms of overall societal benefit from a more thinking population, you are truly missing the point. We're talking about societal change and societal benefit, not your personal happiness or unhappiness. Is that really the only gauge by which you can measure whether something adds to the "common good"?

The very reason things are so screwed up is that nobody has "a clue what is going on". If you lapse from your supposedly enlightened state back into your previous state that you now perceive to be ignorance, I grant that you personally may be "happier". Are you really arguing that society as a whole is better off if everyone remains ignorant?

This country, the ideals it represents, and our children cannot truly prosper as a society of replaceable happy drones who are educated such that they can perform useful services for the corporate monolith, but are otherwise incapable of governing themselves. It is sadly the path we appear to be on, and it is a recipe for disaster.

9:05 PM  
Blogger Common Good said...


Wow... I think you misunderstood me a bit and ran off the tracks. Let me clarify a couple of things.

About all of have ranted about for the last year or so is "our society" and my opinion that we should be more "collective" in our thinking in the US (i.e. take care of the poor.... universal health care should come before lake homes, yada yada yada... you get the picture). Mr. Plank can certainly vouch for that .... I don't really remember much comment from me about "what would be good for ME". So you are way, way off base with that line of accusation.

Tony's premise is we would fix our society's problems if we were just educated better. I don't buy it... I think we are what we are because of human nature. Our society is filled with brilliant conservatives (heck, their education may even meet Mr. Plank's approval)... and many of them were for the Iraq war, and for the wealthy getting better education and healthcare. There reasoning is working just fine... it's their soul that is broken. Tony acts as if we were all just able to reason a little better we wouldn't do stuff like the Iraq war. That logic doesn't hold up... many "reasoning allstars" were for the Iraq war... many have no problem leaving 44 million without healthcare. And we want to assign the root cause of that to be "lack of education and ability to reason by the masses". Get a grip... most folks are basically in this for themselves. Our great founders recognized this and built a constitution around it. I hate to break it to you and Tony... the verdict is in and human nature wins... reasoning was never a real contender. This is where my "ignorance is bliss" comment comes from... not from self-interest but from accepting reality. If you and Tony still have the spirit to change the world through education... good for you. I think the fix is in... and the more you know about it, the more it ruins your day. :) I don't think "WE/human nature" are fixable... in fact I don't think fix is even the right word. "Fix" assumes we had it right at one point and broke it. That would be a hard case to make.

Let's assume I'm all wrong about human nature... our society can really rally together to make WE THE PEOPLE thing work if we just ramp up on reasoning. I would say in order for that to be possible, the increased citizen reasoning would have to lead to changing our democracy. Here is a simple example. 70% of the population believes the assault weapon (guns) ban that just sunsetted should have remained in effect. Almost three quarters of us are reasoning just fine... and yet the one with the $ (NRA) made the only vote that mattered. So the citizen enlightment was just fine... and didn't amount to squat.

Jeeze... I truly am more Curmudgeon than the Curmudgeon. :(

You said:

"The very reason things are so screwed up is that nobody has "a clue what is going on"."

David... if that were only so. The majority of human beings wake up in the morning and do exactly what you accused me of... "thinking about their personal needs and their personal happiness". We built a democracy and economic system around that... by all of us doing our own personal greedy thing it was suppose to all work out. Well it didn't IMO. I use my reasoning ability (granted, very limited :) and come to the conclusion that we have built a society with the most inequality than any other industrialized nation. Someone with equal reasoning ability reaches a different conclusion and says laissez-faire in America is serving all and it's just wonderful. Here is a question for you and Tony... do we reach a point of "reasoning nirvana" where we no longer disagree with each other. If not, don't we just have similar society problems, argued on a higher plane? :)))))


If you bitch-slap Common, he will bite back.:)

Common Good

10:20 PM  
Blogger Common Good said...


At the top of the page... Drones on the right

10:23 PM  
Blogger Common Good said...

Where did everyone go? This could be an interesting debate. If man only followed his true human nature, we would all be constantly screwing each other over. We choose (collectively) to compromise human nature in our society ONLY (and ironically) because it's in each of our self-interest to set some rules, laws and covenants. So, IMO, you can only defend the premise that "better reasoning skills will lead to better social\society decisions" if you can add proof that better reasoning by the masses would counter some of the current reasoning of those running our government. For example... you will will find no lack of reasoning at the conservative think tanks (Hoover, Heritage, American Enterprise Institute, CATO). If the theory that better reasoning led to better social decisions held... these conservative think tanks should be the show ponies of elevated social thought and policy. I know opinions vary, but I would say they represent the opposite.

Come on... I'm trying to pick a fight here. :)

4:34 PM  

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