There’s an unnerving trend across our nation. Given my brief, mostly meaningless existence, I would not dare suggest my perspective grants me the authority to say this trend is brand-new, or that it hasn’t happened before. Rather, I just want to comment on its perceived severity, given my own knowledge of the history of this issue and where I see it going: the growing movement of Americans against higher education, and the rapidly expanding education programs abroad.
I don’t know if it’s the advent of the internet and the subsequent ubiquity of data access that has the majority of folks feeling entitled to believe their opinions are as factually valid as the next person’s, but the populist movement in this country – the railing against the “educated elite” – is more dangerous to this country’s future than I can possibly enumerate.
I know this will get me crucified, but I have to say it: for one, this whole American Exceptionalism thing has gone way too far. I’m all for having confidence in oneself and going against the flow when morally called upon to do so, but this core mission has been warped into something egocentric and, frankly, damaging. This article presents a pretty straightforward view on the whole issue of smart-blind, and the conclusion in particular is striking:
I have developed a new litmus test for guys on the online dating site. I ask them, “Who is the smartest person you know?” If they can’t think of anybody, that’s bad. If they say, “Hmm, I’d have to say I am the smartest person I know.” Epic fail. If you don’t know somebody smarter than yourself, and you have a masters degree, then you either went to the worst college in the country or you are just smart-blind. Why would you take instruction from somebody you didn’t think was smarter than you?!
Just because we as a nation have made incredible strides over a relatively short period of time doesn’t mean we can’t still learn from other corners of the globe. Most of the ideas the Founding Fathers implemented in our Constitution and Declaration were derived from philosophers of ages past. We shouldn’t discount the ideas of others merely because we didn’t come up with them.
Which brings me to my next point: since when has it become hip to be factually uninformed, yet polarizingly opinionated? Isn’t that the equivalent of getting on a loudspeaker and yelling gibberish? The simple fact of the matter is we have to know where we’ve been in order to make any sort of forward progress; as mentioned in that article, politicians reference all sorts of historical facts with an appalling lack of specific knowledge:
Sharron Angle sank to new lows of obliviousness when she told a classroom of Hispanic kids in Las Vegas: “Some of you look a little more Asian to me.”
As Palin tweeted in July about her own special language adding examples from W. and Obama: “ ‘Refudiate,’ ‘misunderestimate,’ ‘wee-wee’d up.’ English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!”
Shakespeare was also a master of the written word; he made up words that expertly fit the context, not words that were utter nonsense.
This video from The Daily Show on the GOP’s election of a new chairperson just confirms it: amid all the ridiculousness that Stewart highlights, the crowning moment is when Steele names his favorite book, then gives a quote from a completely different book by a completely different author.
And here’s my final point: while we are here bickering about utterly useless crap, the rest of the world is training the finest scientists and pumping out the most brilliant graduates the world has ever seen, and we’re way behind already. We used to be the leaders in education, particularly during the Cold War. Since then, between global warming and vaccines and alternative fuel sources and evolution, the non-scientists of the country seem to think that – because they can use Google – they know as much about these areas as the highly-trained elites.
This article about the Juan Williams firing addresses these larger, international issues. In particular, I like these quotes:
Had Williams said that “when I get on the train…if I see someone reading a Bible…I think they’re closed-minded,” O’Reilly would have screamed discrimination until his head exploded. But in this case, the right-wing pundits and politicians who lined up to defend Williams and denounce NPR didn’t even acknowledge the harm such stereotypes do to innocent Muslims. From their statements, in fact, you’d hardly know that there are innocent Muslims.
Yes, NPR is elitist, and it’s a good thing too. The people who run the station believe that Americans should know more about what is happening in China and less about what is happening to Britney Spears, which in today’s media makes them downright subversive.
The cold, harsh reality is that we’re nowhere as good as we think we are, and if we continue this reverence of ignorance, things are only going to get worse. Already, students graduating from top American universities are returning to their home countries, where once (even a mere decade ago) they remained as faculty in the United States, improving our foundations locally in every possible area of both the private and public sectors. Furthermore, developing nations like China and Japan are heavily invested in education, and already this is showing dividends. From a purely research perspective – arguably the longest-term, yet most rewarding investment a country can make – we as a nation are lagging dangerously behind.
I don’t know how else to say this, other than: ditch the attitude and get the hell back in school, America. Why we seem to revere dumb people is a mystery to me. It would seem, from a common sense perspective, that we’d want the best among us to serve as President, and the finest after that to serve in Congress. Wouldn’t it stand to reason, then, that our President would, effectively, be our Olympic [political] athlete? The best of the best? The “elite” politician?
I sure don’t want an “average” person competing on our behalf in the Olympics, nor would I want them in office. Simple as that.