The United States is no stranger to stupidity and ignorance.
A significant portion of the population doesn’t know basic science facts like that the Earth revolves around the sun.
We only learn history and geography by going to war or drone striking countries usually filled with brown people.
And when it comes to basic math and English, just read the poorly spelled placards at our political conventions calling for more trickle down economics.
Heck! We’re the country that elected C-student George W. Bush President!
And lest you think that was a fluke, Donald Trump, a xenophobic reality TV star with zero political experience, is the presumptive Republican candidate for the same office RIGHT NOW!
Yet whenever so-called intelligent people bring up these and countless other examples of American idiocy, they invariably simplify the blame.
We’re a country of more than 320 million people made up of various cultures, nationalities, ideologies, economic brackets and living in a wide range of geographic areas and circumstances. Yet we think the cause of our national ignorance somehow isn’t complex and multifaceted.
No. That would be too much for us to understand. Instead, we take the easy way out and put the blame squarely in one solitary place – public schools.
It’s always the school’s fault. That and those lazy, complacent teachers.
Some folks think the moon landing was a hoax. So apparently the schools aren’t doing their jobs.
Other people can’t tell you the month and year of the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Therefore, bad teachers.
If you need a legal warning that your McDonald’s coffee is hot, there’s not much your third grade teacher could have done to help.
If you think the solution to gun violence is strapping bullet proof backpacks to kindergarten children while arming their teachers, there’s little that could have been accomplished by further academic study.
Anti-intellectualism is in the very air we breathe in this country.
No one wants to appear smart. We want to be the jocks, not the nerds. But when we feel guilty for our ignorance who do we attack? The smart people! The teachers! The schools!
Sadly, it’s often really intelligent people doing it.
Yes, in America that is somehow still debatable.
And Dr. Tyson was understandably upset. “I don’t mind that people don’t know things,” he said in a Huffington Post interview. “But if you don’t know and you have the power of influence over others, that’s dangerous.”
Agreed, but then he became guilty of his own criticism by pointing his finger solely at the schools. “I blame the education system that can graduate someone into adulthood who cannot tell the difference between what is and is not true about this world,” he said.
Maybe this would be a more effective criticism if B. o. B. were an actual high school graduate and hadn’t, in fact, dropped out in 9th grade. Tyson has a masters in astronomy and a doctorate in astrophysics, but he couldn’t tell what is true about this world in relation to one rather famous rapper’s education. Therefore his alma maters of Princeton and Columbia must be pretty shitty schools?
Perhaps the problem isn’t that B. o. B. is ignorant, but that too many people are willing to accept him as an expert on the shape of the Earth instead of someone like Dr. Tyson. But that’s not a fault of the public school system. It’s because of our attitude toward schooling, knowledge and expertise. An attitude that Dr. Tyson perhaps unconsciously helped foster.
I don’t mean to pile on Dr. Tyson. He’s one of my heroes. I’m just disappointed that in this case he’s being so intellectually lazy.
He’s not the only one.
Unfairly blaming schools also came from columnist Andy Borowitz when describing the dangers of Trump’s candidacy.
“Stopping Trump is a short term solution,” he said. “The long term solution, and it will be more difficult, is fixing the education system that has created so many people ignorant enough to vote for Trump.”
To be fair, almost everything Borowitz says publicly is satirical, uttered with tongue buried deeply in cheek. But it still feeds into this scapegoating of public schools. The public schools didn’t create ignorance. They fight it and in some cases fail. I wonder why?
Whatever the reason, Trump, himself, isn’t decrying it. He’s celebrating it.
When he won the Nevada GOP primary, he made a point to thank all the dumb people who voted for him. “We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated,” Trump told a crowd to huge cheers.
Strangely he didn’t then go on to laud what a great job public schools are doing by providing him with so many brain dead supporters.
So what exactly is the problem? Isn’t it troubling that so many American’s hold stupid beliefs? And isn’t this at least partially the fault of our public schools?
The answer is yes and yes.
We live in an anti-intellectual age. And that is troublesome.
And yes, our public schools are struggling to adequately educate everyone.
First of all, much of our modern ignorance is fueled by toxic mass media. Most of us aren’t in school anymore. Unless you’re younger than 21 or 18, you probably get most of your facts from the news, TV, movies, video games and/or the Internet – not textbooks or school teachers.
We used to have an independent press that could investigate stories and report the truth. Now almost all of our major news sources are owned by a handful of giant corporations.
We don’t get news anymore. We get corporate public relations. The reason most people believe this crap is because it’s reported as if it were truth.
The rise of Fox News has a lot to do with it, but that is not the only culprit. Even traditionally revered sources such as the Associated Press are guilty of corporate collusion and bad, bad reporting.
They have no problem conflating an anonymous poll of superdelegates with actual votes as if they were the same thing even if doing so unduly influences the election in favor of one candidate. They have no problem broadcasting a Playboy Playmate’s vaccination advice every day of the week while mostly ignoring what research scientists have to say on the subject.
Second, constantly ragging on public schools doesn’t help make them better.
It’s not as if doing so actually resulted in addressing the real problems we have with our school system. Instead it reinforces the idea that they can’t be saved. We should just give up on public schools.
If we actually focused on the real problems with schools instead of constant innuendo, defamation and vitriol, we might be able to enact real solutions. For instance, more than half of our public school students live below the poverty line. They go to schools that aren’t funded adequately. We’ve allowed them to be resegregated based on class so its easier to ensure rich kids get a Cadillac education and poor kids get the scraps.
Moreover, we’ve let corporate interest take precedence over the needs of children. Instead of letting the experts in the field make education policy, we’ve left that up to the businesses that profit off of it. Instead of letting teachers and professors decide what are best academic standards, we’ve let think tanks create and impose shoddy, untested and developmentally inappropriate Common Core Standards. Instead of letting students be evaluated based on data gathered in the classroom by teachers who are there day-in, day-out, we’ve insisted schools be judged based on crappy high-stakes standardized tests. Instead of giving educators respect for the difficulty of their jobs and providing them with the autonomy necessary to help kids, we’ve denigrated the profession and chipped away at union protections, pay and benefits.
These are some of the real problems with public schools. When people throw shade at our education system, they are never so specific. It’s the schools that are “failing.” It’s never that they’re under-resourced. It’s the teachers who aren’t doing their jobs. It’s never that they’re being forced to teach to the tests. In fact, the people responsible for eroding our public schools often do so with the same rallying cry – our public schools are failing so let us enact these terrible policies that will actually make them worse!
It’s time we stop the lazy practice of criticizing public schools without also educating ourselves about what’s actually wrong with them.
Dr. Tyson, I love you, but don’t just blame schools. Blame Common Core and toxic testing. Andy, it’s not our schools that produce ignorant citizens. It’s the unfair funding formulas that don’t provide poor children with new books and a broad curriculum.
Public schools in general – and public school teachers specifically – have become our easy scapegoats, our whipping boys.
It’s about time we realized that such criticisms aren’t helping. In fact, they’re being used by the same people who are destroying our schools as an excuse to destroy them further.
The so-called failure of public schools has been used to justify massive school closures especially in neighborhoods of color. It’s been used to create more privately run charter schools. It’s been used to excuse cutting school funding, and making it even less palatable to be a teacher.
Too many of us believe these are good ideas.
Americans believe a lot of stupid things, but perhaps THESE are the dumbest of them all!