An Educated Public?
The underlying premise of a democracy is that government follows the will of an educated and informed public. We will come back to ‘informed’ and just look at ‘educated’ here. It is acknowledged that education in the U.S. is poor in general, and abysmal in the poorer school districts. Although enormous sums of money are spent on education through secondary schools, the U.S. ranks very low compared to other industrial nations. There are many reasons for this, but a few warrant more scrutiny because they may not be as obvious as others:
- The stated and/or implied objective of many secondary school administrations is to try to get all students to college. Can we not teach all of the basic required skills and information in 13 years? Back when America was Great (assuming that that was before the 1970s), a high school education was considered to be adequate. It is not a more demanding curriculum since it’s still ‘reading, writing and arithmetic,’ and the educational bar seems lower than then. College cannot be essential for everyone, but that means that a high school education should be sufficient for all work that doesn’t require advanced knowledge or skills.
- Today’s educational system can be contrasted to the secondary school systems typical in the 1960s in the U.S., where most school districts had at least one vocational high school. Vocational training is now considered to be a component of community colleges, not high schools, implying that high school students are not ready for vocational training or that high school curricula are now so full that there is no time to teach vocational skills and preparedness for students who won’t go to college directly from high school. Both are false assumptions.
- Math skills are considered to be accessible only to a few ‘gifted’ nerds, and can be safely ignored by the rest of us. Part of this is due to the difficulty of using our system of fractions and the myriad units that all require odd conversion factors (see Metrication below). However, this mindset is also related to the poor image (and pay) of teachers in society, along with simple laziness.
- Metrication. The U.S. is the only nation in the world that has not adopted the metric system and that still uses fractions in measurement and construction. This fact is the equivalent of tying one hand behind the back of every student in the U.S. compared to the curricula elsewhere.
- The underlying tenant of science is that it provides facts that have been proven. Science can be contrasted to opinion, which are beliefs that cannot be proven, even though held dearly by some. It is difficult, if not impossible, to apply science to religion, and, conversely, religion cannot be applied directly to science. Although the Constitution of the U.S. explicitly requires the separation of church and state, this distinction has become blurred. There are schools in the U.S. that assert that the earth may be less than 5000 years old based on a misreading of the Christian bible, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. This allows arbitrary opinions to be confused with facts, and wishful thinking to be mistaken for logic.
- The Scientific Method was once taught as a means for individuals to learn critical thinking and how to separate truth from opinion. Through the 1960s, every student could describe the method, where one devises a theory and then develops a test that could prove or disprove the theory. By 1990, instead of “trial and error” there was “guess and test.” In other words, the idea of working from a theory to a trial had shifted to starting out with a guess, one opinion being equal to another. Without understanding how to think critically, one can only be led, which is fatal poison to a democracy.
- The High Self Esteem theory of education and child rearing came into prevalence in the 1980s, and unfortunately has been with us since. Every player on the ball team gets a trophy, regardless of how well they played or even tried. Aside from the trivialization of personal effort and the concept of awards, this has had a devastating effect on learning, growth and individual motivation. No one really believes this system because it is nearly impossible to avoid the fact that everyone is not equal in everything. However, the fiction confuses reality and obfuscates one’s objective assessment of their own strengths and weaknesses. Worse yet, it leads directly to a sense of entitlement.
- Probably the most difficult obstacle to #Make America Great is the false sense of entitlement that underlies so much of American’s thinking. We hold on to prejudices, biases and similar lies so that we can feel proud and aloof, instead of basing our self worth on our personal achievements. The result is that we can see neither ourselves nor others clearly.
- Finally, acceptance of the myth of our high personal sense of esteem that is not based on fact leads directly to the conclusion that our belief must dominate all others. We have lost the ability to compromise because of our refusal to accept a world that includes others who may not see it as we do. Dysfunction is a direct consequence. Democracy can survive many adverse conditions, but not an unwillingness to compromise.
It should be noted that the real world is complex and includes an extremely wide range of cultures and belief systems. Where the willingness to compromise and find middle ground is lost, the resulting polarization only benefits those who calculatingly manipulate each side to gain a result that otherwise would not be possible. Obviously, not only can a democracy not work under these conditions, but the result is enslavement.