Thursday, February 14, 2008

Amerian Unreason

Why are Americans so stupid? Perhaps more importantly, why are they so proud of their ignorance? Author Susan Jacoby probes the issue in her new book, “The Age of American Unreason.” Jacoby is hardly the first social commentator to address the subject; a number of books have been written lately which lament American’s growing hostility to rational thought, but Jacoby has cast her gaze over the land and sees a perfect storm of ignorance that has been brewing for quiet some time.

According to her observations, at this point in our history anti-intellectualism (the attitude that “too much learning can be a dangerous thing”) and anti-rationalism (“the idea that there is no such things as evidence or fact, just opinion”) have fused in a particularly insidious way. The blame can be laid at the feet of our failing public educational system as well as religious fundamentalism’s antipathy toward science. She cites a disturbing statistic that nearly two thirds of Americans want creationism taught alongside evolution. Two thirds!

A good review of Jacoby’s book can be found here.


Anonymous said...

I think it is not so much an education system that is failing but one that has failed. We need to get rid of it, rip it up from the roots and throw it in the dump. To my mind this is because the focus of our current education system is teaching the subject rather than the student. It is focused on what to think and not on teaching to think; properly and independently. The prospect of teaching creationism and evolution side by side, in itself, does not scare me. That it would be taught in the current educational system scares me. A decent education system, one that teaches children to be free thinkers rather than factory workers or one that teaches children to be society shapers rather than shaped by society, would naturally cleave a student to the bosom of rationality. In such a system the focus would not be so much on what you learn, but the way you learn. Evolution and creationism could be taught side by side in such a system because the system itself would be about learning and critical thinking, about debating and discarding wrong-headed thought after true examination. The conclusions a student arrives at would not be preordained, but arrived at freely and independently. Unhappily, without the balls or the wishes to put such an education system in place, at least not for the poor and middle class, you are left with a system that beats the natural joy of learning out of children, leaving them mis-educated. Some are lucky enough to have good parents and other role models in their life to resurrect the natural joy of learning, but many more, well, not so much. This is why children, especially inner city children, may be better off on the streets or hanging out at a butcher shop than going to their large overcrowded school where their teachers do not even know their names.

Mark said...

I agree with your analysis, however, creationism should not be taught as science, whatever the school system. Perhaps a class on myths and fables is a more appropriate place. I do not have any faith that critical thinking will overcome religious zeal in adherents such that they will reason their way to evolution.

Anonymous said...

I wholeheartedly agree with crackass. My present experience of taking smart kids and turning them into nonthinkers has reaffirmed my zeal to spark intellectual curiosity. I agree with Mark that creationism should not be presented as a scientific theory because it's not. It presents an opportunity to teach students exactly what a scientific theory is. But, I fear no ideas. I want all of them out there and on the table.