Questionable Motives

June 14, 2011

Why does knowledge of history matter?

Filed under: Canada,Education,History,Ignorance,United States — tildeb @ 8:46 pm

History, one of my favourite subjects when I was in school, is a dying subject. And this carries with it a cost played out in ignorance.

In the latest national testing in the States, Americans are losing knowledge of their history, which means their are losing their ability to understand how things were and why things came to be they way they are today. This failure to teach to proficiency in history for public school students is akin to setting them adrift into the world armed only by ignorance of their historical roots.  For example, over all, 20 percent of fourth graders, 17 percent of eighth graders and 12 percent of high school seniors demonstrated proficiency on the exam, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. This trend is revealing. Proficiency is one of three categories:  “basic” denotes partial mastery of a subject; “proficient” represents solid academic performance and a demonstration of competency over challenging subject matter; and “advanced” means superior performance. Shockingly, only 2 percent of 12th graders correctly answered a question concerning Brown v. Board of Education, probably the most important Supreme Court ruling ever made. I studied it in high school and later at university… in Canada! And to add a revelation of just how apathetic American students are – without blaming parents and school boards and the internet for this failure to educate, although obviously there is great deal here to go around – only9% of fourth-graders could identify the man on the five dollar bill as Abraham Lincoln. Who he was and why he was an important historical figure pales when one considers the fact that the most basic curiosity of why a picture of this guy is on the five dollar bill is lacking from the start.

And this is the country whose leadership keeps lying to the public that it can produce students who will compete successfully against those from the rest of the world… omitting from the proposition that ignorance – whether in history or science or math – is hardly a solid foundation upon which to build its shining future. Yet that is exactly what it is doing: producing students with little knowledge and even less curiosity. The situation reminds me of the wisdom of Edmund Burke (no, I won’t tell you… go look it up) who said, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”

That’s a bad thing, by the way.

June 1, 2011

Religious intolerance again: In with the Old, Out with New, or Why not stick to an anti-harassment policy for all students rather than include a new homophobia/heterosexism policy?

The short answer is that anti-harassment policies in schools don’t work, and this is being addressed in a Burnaby school district here in Canada. The public response surprisingly seems to be quite polarizing and the school trustees are trying to tread the political waters very carefully. But is it really a public response?

Burnaby, for those readers who may not know, is one of several multicultural and diverse cities making up the greater urban built-up area in the lower Fraser Valley commonly called ‘Vancouver’ (locally called ‘The Lower Mainland’ versus the somewhat confusing Vancouver Island urban population locally called ‘The Island,’ which happens to include the capital city of Victoria!). Greater Vancouver is a major city of about 4 million in Canada’s most western province, British Columbia, and is consistently rated as one of the best cities in the world to live… unless you’re a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered or questioning student, that is. And we know this because under anti-harassment school policies:

  • Three-quarters of LGBTQ students and 95% of transgender students felt unsafe at school, compared to one-fifth of straight students. Six-of-ten LGBTQ students reported being verbally harassed about their sexual orientation.
  • Three-quarters of all participating students reported hearing expressions such as “that’s so gay” every day in school. Half heard remarks like “faggot,” “queer,” “lezbo” and “dyke” daily.
  • Over a quarter of LGBTQ students and almost half of transgender students had skipped school because they felt unsafe, compared to less than a tenth of non-LGBTQ students. (Source)

Compared to heterosexual youths, LGBTQ youth going to school under current anti-harassment policies were more likely:

  • To have experienced physical and sexual abuse, harassment in school, and discrimination in the community
  • To have reported emotional stress, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts In addition:
    • LGB youth felt less cared about by parents and less connected to their families than heterosexual teens, and for lesbian and bisexual females less connected to school.
    • When bisexual youth reported high family and school connectedness, their probability of suicide attempts was much lower than for bisexual youth with lower connectedness, even when they had strong risk factors for suicide. (Source)

So why do school districts need to do anything about this at if it stirs up so much heated anti-policy local response which costs trustees their jobs?

The Auditor General of BC has ordered that:

“School districts should: Provide teachers with suitable guidance for encouraging tolerance and respect for students of same sex orientation.” (#9, page 62)

The BC School Trustees Association has stated that:

“the BCSTA encourages and supports school district policies that specifically address the safety concerns of, and prohibits discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans-identified students, as well as students who are harassed due to perceptions of their gender identity or sexual orientation; and has the Education committee draft a sample policy to aid school districts in this process.” (Source)

Perhaps most telling are the findings from the BC government’s Safe School Task Force:

“From our conversations with British Columbians all across the province, we have learned that bullying behaviour is often founded in discrimination based on perceived “differences” such as race, disability, gender or sexual orientation; that discrimination can have a negative impact upon student psychological and emotional health; and that bullying can contribute to decreased student participation in school and failure to graduate.”

“The Task Force members heard that even the perception of being homosexual or of being tolerant of homosexuality is enough to result in harassment and intimidation, including both emotional and physical abuse from those who choose to bully.”

“Presenters expressed concerned about the frequent use of homophobic language in schools. For example, the use of pejoratives such as “that’s so gay” have become common in the lexicon of students for describing negative events or as an insult to make students who are, or are perceived to be gay, uncomfortable.”

Against this background, Burnaby has completed a draft policy that states:

a) Teachers shall be encouraged to embed and integrate LGBTQ issues into existing curriculum in age-appropriate ways to help students acquire the skills and knowledge to understand the impacts of homophobia and transphobia upon society, and
b) School staffs shall be encouraged to support LGBTQ people by teaching about their positive contributions to society and modeling acceptance of diversity.

So what’s the big deal here? The school district has to do this and there’s lots of good evidence that something needs to change. But the interesting question is: Why is it that Burnaby – the 12th school district to formulate such a policy in BC – is suddenly faced with such stiff ‘public’ opposition where none existed for the other 11 school districts? Don’t you find that a bit… shall we say… suspicious?

A group known as Parents’ Voice has organized against this policy in Burnaby. They claim to be merely an ad hoc community group of concerned individuals, but when one digs a little deeper one finds that it is in everything but name a religious group. Why are we not surprised that a religious group would be behind some push to keep the old that doesn’t work and protest the new that does? Faith-based belief is immune (read ‘superior’) to contrary evidence, of course.

In their organization’s news release, we find the following comments… with a bit of bold added by me for emphasis, but of course no specific mention of their ad hoc community group’s major religious tie:

Growing numbers of students, parents and other tax-payers are concerned that the Board’s failure to provide full disclosure may be a deliberate attempt to hide the fact that there is a hidden political agenda—an agenda that doesn’t respect parental rights, student’s rights or the Charter-mandated equality rights of Canadians, but instead serves the political interests of activist teachers and their union. Parents’ Voice asks; “If the faith-based community is not considered an ally, does this Board of School Trustees consider them to be the enemy?

But the game of deceit – what we in the atheist community like to call Lying For Jesus – was exposed when about 100 protesters showed up at the trustee’s meeting and we found out that of the  nearly all were members of Burnaby’s Willingdon Church (and almost entirely of Asian descent), who crowded into the packed board room holding handmade signs that read “No to 5.45.” Is this group truly  representational of the public?  I don;t think so.

One of their spokespeople said “This policy places far too much importance and emphasis on an issue that impacts a few,” said Heather Leung, a local parent with three kids in the school system. “What is being recommended in this draft is a deliberate and systemic strategy to indoctrinate our children with a controversial moral teaching that should be left for families to decide on and wrestle through.” Leung also said the policy labels children and suggests they question their sexual orientation and sexual identity.

Another said ““The draft policy imposes on children the idea that their family is perpetrating negative stereotypes when parents educate their children with the values that are consistent with their moral beliefs,” says George Kovacic. Kovacic believes the anti-homophobia policy uses children as “pawns to promote a particular social agenda.”

So there’s another fine example of religiously inspired intolerance adduced from scripture brought into the public domain (by a tolerated – even celebrated – immigrant minority no less!) – into one of the most successful multicultural cities in the world – attempting to negatively affect needed policy change so that others currently subject to discrimination can perhaps one day be tolerated – even celebrated – by the public at large.

The irony is jaw-dropping.

April 29, 2011

Why is the NCSE wrong to accommodate creationism?

Russell Blackford quite reasonably points out that When it comes to science education, public school systems in the United States and other liberal democracies generally have the secular goal of teaching students well-established findings, those that are generally accepted by working scientists.

But this isn’t reasonable enough for the NCSE (National Center for Science Education) when it comes to evolutionary biology. Unlike its treatment of all other scientific topics, when it comes to evolution in public education, they feel we must deal more delicately with the religiously inclined. They feel we should be more respectful dealing with christians even though many hold different views about how creation has actually taken place. They feel it wise to avoid dealing with the fact that most of them are wrong, can be proven wrong, and should, at least implicitly, be demonstrated to be wrong. Holding to some form of creationism – it is merely a matter of degree and not kind between Young Earth Creationsim and theistic evolution – avoids the fact that nothing in biology makes sense in light of creationism.

If the Pooh Bahs over at the NCSE wish to respect the notion in policy that parts of the bible remain divinely written or inspired, then is a matter of honesty to admit that the organization, as Coyne argues, is taking itself out of the ambit of empiricism and reason. You’re making a purely subjective decision based on revelation.

This is why the issue is important for the integrity of science education as a whole and the National Center for Science Education in particular to realize that’s why science organizations that endorse some brands of theology, while decrying others, are making a serious mistake. As Jerry Coyne points out in his open letter to the NCSE (motivated by repeated negative articles posted at The Chronicle of Higher Education , let the science of evolution speak for itself.

When this policy is altered to accommodate the kind of theology that presumably (there is little evidence of efficacy) allows for some kind of wider public acceptance for some kind of evolution, then the NCSE is choosing to support a theology that is favourable and good to its aim. Note this is not done for geology and plate tectonics, vulcanism and geography in spite of providing strong evidence against the christian doctrine of a great Flood. No special allowance is made for those who believe the tenets of astrology in the curriculum for astronomy. Alchemists don’t get special consideration and accommodation in chemistry. The subject of physics is not enhanced by pretending that it doesn’t interfere with belief in immaterial things. Yet when it comes to creationism and evolutionary biology, suddenly the wise people at the NCSE think special consideration for christian religious beliefs is necessary and thus warranted. That’s bizarre and, I think, highly counter productive for an organization concerned about educating our youth about science. As Coyne quite rightly points out, who are they (the NCSE) to decide what is “good” theology? What they mean by “good”, of course, is not “theology that gives us a more accurate sense of the divine,” (as stated in their policy) but “theology that best comports with our desire to sell evolution to the public.”

And I think Coyne’s conclusion – supported directly as it is by such people as Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers and many other highly reputable scientists in evolutionary biology – is worth serious consideration because it raises an issue that I think many at the NCSE fail to understand:


First, your repeated and strong accusations that, by criticizing religion, atheists are alienating our pro-evolution allies (liberal Christians), has precisely the same alienating effect on your allies: scientists who are atheists. Second, your assertion that only you have the requisite communication skills to promote evolution is belied by the observation that you have, by your own ham-handed communications, alienated many people who are on the side of good science and evolution. You have lost your natural allies. And this is not just speculation, for those allies were us, and we’re telling you so.

April 16, 2011

Why is mainstream moderate religious belief poisonous (updated)?

From a previous thread come these comments:

From misunderstoodranter:

“I am not an atheist because ‘other’ people are atheists – I am an atheist because I decided I was.”

From Zero1Ghost comes this reply:

“this implies that believers are theists because they are engaged in group think. i think this notion is partially true. they are afraid not to believe in God yet they live their lives like there isn’t one and the “church” has no impact on their lives aside from where they get married, baptize their children, and where their funeral is held.”

This is a very typical characterization of the mainstream religious believer from those theists who do not see what pernicious and ongoing effect the tireless promotion of religious ideology has on their society… motivated solely by religious ideology. These same theists tend to individualize religious belief as if it were a simple choice made only on the personal level so take any criticism about religion per se as inconsequential and often misguided. From this attribution, these theists then generally fail to account for how their own preferences for empowering their personal religious beliefs in any public way support the insertion of religious ideology into the lives and business of everyone else. This is a purposeful disconnect done with the intention of deflecting criticism from the issue of religious motivation to an issue of individual actions that may or may not be considered misguided. In this way, these theists never have to deal with the growing problem religious ideology brings to the whole population as they stand idly by while this happens… but are sure to call atheists and others who complain too loudly names. Forget that these same theists offer their tacit support of the inserted religious ideology into the public domain while deflecting criticism to be too ‘militant’ and ‘strident’ and ‘fundamentalist’ to be accurate. No siree: complainers of religious insertion into the public domain are just as extreme as those other religious folk. And you don’t want to be one of those people! You’re too reasonable to be such an extremist. And yet the religiously motivated intrusion continues unabated seeking preferential treatment by means of law.

In the United States, for example, I wonder if most religious believers appreciate just how common, conniving, and downright underhanded are those who attempt to cross the state/church wall of separation to insert theology where it doesn’t belong: specifically in science class. I have trouble finding anyone who supports this insertion directly, who supports those who work against the First Amendment; instead I am overwhelmed by those who pretend such insertions are only attempted by religious extremists and fundamentalists and so we can safely trust governments to withstand their misguided assaults. They are wrong.

So let’s consider the facts: in 2011 we have seven states considering nine bills to do just this.

The National Center for Science Education offers us what they call the Antievolution Legislative Scorecard here. It lists each bill and quotes the bill’s aims. This is creationism in action. This is religious ideology actively being recruited to achieve a specific outcome. Its motivation is to undermine the teaching of evolution as if there were some other legitimate science theories kicking about in biology when there are none. This is pure religious belief common to most religious believers who assume the role of creator somewhere in humanity’s history masquerading as some kind of alternative science. And every year creationism rears its ugly little head and people work tirelessly to alter science textbooks, alter school curriculum, alter education legislation with one aim in mind: replace real science with religious belief in the public domain… or at least make room for religious beliefs about creationism in the curriculum. So can we blame only religious extremists? Well, it is not being carried out by religious extremists. It is not being carried out by fundamentalists. It is being done by politicians who stand to gain public favour by undermining the teaching of science in the name of religious belief.

There’s the rub.

It is the wider public made up of religious moderates and liberals, apologists and accommodationists, who are to blame for this travesty… including the NCSE itself that states “[t]he Bible is a record of one particular people’s developing moral relationship with God, and enshrines timeless ideals about the integrity of creation […]! Without the support of so many religious accommodationist of all stripes- tacit or actual – no politician would dare undermine the First and expect to curry public favour. For that to happen, the mainstream must accept the promotion of religious ideology in the public domain as legitimate.  And that’s why every religious believer must be challenged who dares to suggest that their religious beliefs beyond the merely personal are either innocuous or good. They’re not. They are just as likely to be poisonous.

April 12, 2011

What is Big History and why is it important?

In spite of never-ending creationist pushes into public education (the latest in Tennessee) to replace what is true and knowable with what is believed to be true and unknowable, Big History allows us to better understand how the universe operates and our place in it. Enjoy this TED talk from David Christian who wants everyone to know this story (it picks up speed at about the 4 minute mark).

March 13, 2011

Why is suffering a fatal flaw for belief in a benevolent creator?

Most of us know of Epicurus’ succinct summation evil causes belief in a benevolent god:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

The slippery term in this paradox for believers is ‘evil’. I think we can reveal the same fatal paradox without the metaphysical baggage that accompanies such a term by replacing it with the word ‘suffering’. I am certainly not the first to do so and I think it tears away the comforting veil of ignorance that infuses belief in a benevolent god when we look at how the world actually and factually operates.

Life and death on this planet has come about as we know it by the process of evolution, a system Lord Tennyson accurately describes as “red in tooth and claw.” Suffering by sentient beings is simply part and parcel of this mindless, unguided, undirected, indifferent biological mechanism. This is a problem for those who would prefer to believe in a benevolent creator. As blogger and ex Anglican priest, Eric MacDonald so eloquently describes the problem evolution creates for the believer this way:

If this is a consciously designed process (evolution by design as held by many notable people such as Francis Collins and those allied to the same notion endorsed by the rc church and many other denominations), as Christians must maintain — for, from the Christian point of view, god’s first priority is the creation of human beings and their redemption — then all the suffering is an intentional part of god’s purposes. And this is simply intolerable. It cannot stand a moment’s moral reflection, and certainly the doctrine of double effect won’t change the mind of a reasonable person on this matter, for you cannot not intend suffering if you create by means of natural selection.

From an academically and scientifically honest standpoint, evolution is fact that is fatal to the argument that a creator god is benevolent.

So what’s a believer in a benevolent creator to do? In England, an imam with the audacity to suggest evolution is compatible with islam if the Koran is interpreted just so, one must apologize and retract such a statement if one wishes to avoid being killed as an apostate. In the US, one must contend with repeated attempts by the religiously misguided to keep creationism from being inserted into the science classroom, spending untold millions  of taxpayer dollars to continue this separation intact. The latest attack against science is in Tennessee. The one is Kentucky has just died… for this session. The one is Texas is still going strong as it works its way towards approved legislation. Florida tries every year and this one is no different. Louisiana has already passed it’s anti-evolution bill as if this will magically improve the state’s dismal showing in student science knowledge. And so on, and so on, and so on, even after creationism has been soundly defeated in every federal court case brought against its insertion into the public school science curriculum. (The latest was in Dover in 2005.) Religious beliefs about a creator – no matter under what recent title it tries on for public acceptance – have no scientific credibility nor validity. This is not a preference or belief by people who would prefer this not to be so: it’s a fact… and a fact that far too many religious people seem unable and unwilling to grasp. When such facts are contrary to what is believed to be true by those who respect faith-based beliefs, then obviously the facts must be wrong! There’s nothing like a legislative act to set the facts on the path to redemption.

Good grief.

The world, however – and  no matter where we look at it – continues to offer up the brutal fact that creationism is not only a fairytale but that its supposed benevolence is identical in all meaningful ways to that of a delusion. For example, the latest and devastating earthquakes in New Zealand and China and  Japan is accompanied by undeniable indiscriminate death and much human suffering.  Tsunamis add their additional effects. Plate tectonics and the accompanying geological and hydrological effects are just as mindless, unguided, undirected, and indifferent a physical mechanism as biological evolution is and the resulting human suffering just as obvious. The physical evidence for mindless cause and effect of these mechanisms is overwhelming. Where is the evidence for benevolence versus the suffering these mechanisms cause?

No where.

Let us now turn to the pious who feel some level of compassion and empathy for the suffering of their fellow creatures in the wake of these disasters. A.C. Grayling offers us this glimpse into the reasoning that is avoided by those who decide to offer up their prayers to some benevolent creator for these distant folk suffering from calamity. Following the same reasoning of Epicurus’s paradox, he wonders about why anyone would show fealty to such an obvious metaphysical monster some think of as a benevolent creator:

For if he is not competent to stop an earthquake or save its victims, he is definitely not competent to create a world. And if he is powerful enough to do both, but created a dangerous world that inflicts violent and agonizing sufferings arbitrarily on sentient creatures, then he is vile. Either way, what are people thinking who believe in such a being, and who go to church to praise and worship it? How, in the face of events which human kindness and concern registers as tragic and in need of help – help which human beings proceed to give to their fellows: no angels appear from the sky to do it – can they believe such an incoherent fiction as the idea of a deity? This is a perennial puzzle.

Indeed it is.

This desire by the pious to believe in a literal Santa Claus-ian benevolent creator is not just foolishly childish and comforting as only a delusion can be; it is a faith-based belief that incessantly gives god-sanctioned motivation to those who directly attack both evidence-based fact as apostasy and intellectually honest reason as some kind of evil plot to undermine god. That some continue to insist that we can accommodate religion and science – allow respect for what some believe is true as well for what IS true – is foolhardy as well as intentionally dishonest. It is foolhardy because it interferes with folk who think there is a legitimate choice to be made between accepting what is factually true and faith-based beliefs as some kind of equivalent source for knowledge in spite of no evidence for this to be the case (and much evidence in stark contrast to this case), and dishonest because for these same folk it reduces  what is true to be conditional on some collection of faith-based beliefs they have chosen to accept as true first. Yet faith-based beliefs add nothing honest to our understanding of the world nor any true appreciation for the dependent role we suffer for our lives on it and much disinformation and misrepresentation of how the world actually is and how it actually works and how we actually cause effects in it.

December 16, 2010

What is wrong with our education system (that Ritalin can’t fix)?

Filed under: Education — tildeb @ 8:13 pm

A lot, I think.

As an adult educator, I see exactly these results trudge into my classes all the time. Once I reveal to these brow-beaten people that they already know what they need to show – that each is easily intelligent and capable enough to excel if they only know how to show it –  my job becomes simply that of a helper. These ‘students’ inevitably try to blame me for their later successes but I will not stand for it. People own their education… once defined succinctly as what you have left after you’ve forgotten everything you’ve learned.

I can think of no reason belonging to these students why almost every one of them (publicly educated at the taxpayer’s expense) should not be successful in whatever academic pursuit aids them in achieving a high level of expertise in whatever field they wish to participate. But I do know that the education system itself here in Canada is fractured into trying to be a job training program based on standardized skill attainment rather than an educating system that allows people to think better (and I don’t for a moment mean to suggest that we do so by some exclusion of the passions. The passions are central to our learning).

We learn through experience, by making meaning, by being present and engaged in something interesting and applicable and moving  and helpful and important. We need an assortment of ways and means to bring to bear on whatever it is we are trying to learn to facilitate the richness of this interaction with all the bits and pieces and patterns and people of the world. We need an intellectual toolbox that incorporates and utilizes and enhances our natural responses to learn and broaden our understanding, gain knowledge, and create meaning from our interests. A standard curriculum (to suit standardized testing that allows comparisons to be the benchmark spectrum for defining academic excellence) that tries to encompass just about everything through skills achieves (at best) the lowest possible common denominator as its crowning glory. We should expect more – much more – from an education system. This video explains very well how we have come to educationally produce exactly this:

September 9, 2010

In spite of the beginning, what’s in a Word? Well… bad news for some…

Filed under: Education,Religion,Statistics — tildeb @ 7:29 pm

(Thanks to research by OKCupid with more than 3.5 million members)

August 22, 2010

What might Darwin say?

June 14, 2010

What is the goal of education?

Filed under: Critical Reasoning,Education — tildeb @ 11:03 am

Bard’s reasons for its summer reading program should be mandatory reading for any parent and public school board member. I have often lamented that the goal of the public education system is not clear but rather fractured depending on which ‘stakeholder’ you ask – from politician to business owner to parent – so curriculum and its delivery methods tend to reflect this confused struggle.

What too often happens is that public education manages to achieve the lowest common denominator of the various – sometimes conflictual – intentions of different stakeholders.  It is quite refreshing, then, to be reminded occasionally of what education is really all about: learning how to think well so that one may live life well. I have taken a few excerpts from the essay Message to Freshmen over at Minding the Campus that explains why a rigorous summer reading program before entering college helps to get the students’ minds ready to begin exactly this process:

Colleges must counter the experience of conventional high school education in the United States, where learning is little more than a standardized test-driven chore with utilitarian benefits. In college, students should discover that most of the important writings and discoveries they will study were not generated for their benefit, but rather came into being in order to illuminate and improve life. It is precisely the connection between learning and living that justifies the life of the mind and makes study and inquiry a treasured form of human activity and among the most rewarding.

This belief cannot be preached; it can only be experienced. What better mechanism to set this experience in motion than assigning common readings in the summer? Students who encounter vaguely familiar texts like The Metamorphosis or “Natural Selection” will discover on entering college, through the intervention of teaching and the exchange of ideas with peers, that there is so much more to learn than they had expected about texts and subjects with which they believed they were familiar. With this realization, they embark on a journey of discovery that will strengthen their confidence in themselves and the enterprise of serious learning.

Faith in human reason and its inherent link to liberty and justice is an eighteenth-century conviction held by the founders of this republic, who wished its citizens to be capable of distinguishing between fact and fiction, truth and lies. The sooner the connection between education and liberty is strengthened on the level of higher education the better.

Our summer readings point our students to the habits of mind—analysis and argument, inquiry and inference, skepticism and belief—that will enable them to distinguish appearance from reality, sense from nonsense.

And therein lies the key to a successful and meaningful education: a habit of mind that pays dividends throughout life in highly meaningful ways. How we think determines what we think. Education that avoids or fails to address the importance of teaching how to think well is not an education that promotes a habit of mind that offers guidance on how to live well. Yet the two are inextricably entwined. And without that clear and concise habit-of-mind foundation prominently established in all local offerings of public education, then all the job training in the world, all the rote learning and focus on skills and collecting and regurgitating of facts necessary to do well on standardized testing, achieves little more than turning young minds into post-graduate wanderers in the wastelands… minds capable of retaining what to think but at best self-taught on how to think.

I think there is no greater risk to the freedoms and rights of the modern secular state than to have a solid majority of voters trained for years through public education ready, willing, and able to be told what to think… allowing others in positions of influence to define the terms of various issues for consideration without ever having to justify why those terms and not others should define the issues. Voters and tax payers need to know how to ask the right questions and understand why these questions are important enough to be answered if we wish to cut through the glib non-answers and empty rhetoric that defines today’s version of so many successful public office holders. But if voters don’t know how or don’t care to ask the right questions of those to whom they are about to empower with their vote, and instead are so easily swayed to accept what to think by the candidate who presents the simplest message with the best appearance and/or sound bytes, then is it any wonder that appearances and sound bytes don’t get anything done on behalf of all? What action that is done by such office holders is done on behalf of those closest to the seats of power, often by ignoring or thwarting or undermining any laws meant to protect all but inconveniently hinder partisan action.

I see the bulk of network talking heads and journalists not asking the right questions of public figures. I see the influence of media and religious personalities become based on the same kind of adoration offered to rock stars and other cult figures… but to millions addicted to their daily dose of the personality; the focus on political financing for harnessing the power of mass marketing of a crafted message to become the determining factor in election results; and so on. I see marketing reach into the lives of prepubescent children to successfully affect the spending of malleable parents, and I see these and other unjustified beliefs and opinions hold sway over people who simply don’t know how to wield the intellectual tools necessary to distinguish appearance from reality, sense from nonsense.

None of this is a success of a particular economic model or an evolution of political divides; this reality we face on a daily basis is a failure of our education system. It is a failure that all of us pay, and shall continue to compound that payment, as a collective price for this lack of education. And without a proper education on how to think well for all of us public ‘stake-holders’, we cannot have an informed, honest, and legitimate debate about important issues that affect the public, nor have the influence to affect the path chosen to address how to live well in a meaningful and lasting way.

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