education, politics

We R not smrt

Canadian magazine Maclean’s looks southward and shudders.

A few painful excerpts from a thorough beatdown that starts with a bunch of frightening statistics on America’s willful scientific ignorance:

If the rise in uninformed opinion was limited to impenetrable subjects that would be one thing, but the scourge seems to be spreading. Everywhere you look these days, America is in a rush to embrace the stupid. Hell-bent on a path that’s not just irrational, but often self-destructive. Common-sense solutions to pressing problems are eschewed in favour of bumper-sticker simplicities and blind faith. …

Then gun laws, where the column assumes the point rather than proving it. Then Patriot Act stuff and book-banning.

If ignorance is contagious, it’s high time to put the United States in quarantine.

Before we can complain, the column follows up with our math test scores.

They don’t appear to be getting much smarter as they age. A 2013 survey of 166,000 adults across 20 countries that tested math, reading and technological problem-solving found Americans to be below the international average in every category.

Then it gets debateable. Is it such a bad thing that we’re not watching TV news? Do we have to be so serious that we read The Washington Post?

But it returns to solid ground with a look at “elitism.”

Both ends of the political spectrum have come to reject the conspicuously clever, she says, if for very different reasons; the left because of worries about inclusiveness, the right because they equate objections with obstruction. As a result, the very mission of universities has changed, argues Liu. “We don’t educate people anymore. We train them to get jobs.”

So does all this ignorance lead us to this conclusion?

There’s a long and not-so-proud history of American electors lashing out irrationally, or voting against their own interests. Political scientists have been tracking, since the early 1950s, just how poorly those who cast ballots seem to comprehend the policies of the parties and people they are endorsing. A wealth of research now suggests that at the most optimistic, only 70 per cent actually select the party that accurately represents their views—and there are only two choices.

Or is that a function of the two-party system and our “us vs. them” approach to politics, which we treat as a spectator sport?

Either way, it’s depressing. So we’ll finish with a comment from Groundskeeper Willie.


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