According to a recent Newsweek survey among 1,000 U.S. citizens, “29 percent couldn’t name the vice president. Seventy-three percent couldn’t correctly say why we fought the Cold War. Forty-four percent were unable to define the Bill of Rights. And 6 percent couldn’t even circle Independence Day on a calendar.” As Andrew Romano, the author of the Newsweek article noted, “…the world has changed. And unfortunately, it’s becoming more and more inhospitable to incurious know-nothings—like us.” To quote Plato, “the price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.” The need for a curiosity of mind in all human endeavors, particularly in business, education and government, should be clear.
As illustration, consider a recent article by Robert Reich that brought to light the importance to a free society of having a citizenry that is adept at discerning fact from fallacy. Though Reich’s article focused on unsupportable claims by some politicians about what creates jobs, what this is indicative of is that in general politicians—no matter the party—have a tendency to misuse and manipulate the facts and figures to advance their self-serving agenda.
Sadly it appears that the public looks to their elected officials for the facts, unquestionably believing most everything their respective party representatives say, while often dismissing out of hand the claims of another party—an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ dynamic appears operative. As a result people are not only misinformed, they are manipulated. Again quoting Plato, “false words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil.”
The fact that people are actually swallowing whole the stories they are told is most frightening! Why? Because when people don’t demand that credible support be provided for such (politically-shaded) claims of fact reflects an unthinking and gullible citizenry; it is a citizenry that is easily deceived by manipulative and devious people (aka politicians) who play on others’ hopes and fears. With the destructive combination of self-serving charlatans and the absence of a critical thinking citizenry, a free and democratic society cannot possibly be sustained!
Compounding this situation is a press that is increasingly less inclined to reveal and correct such falsehoods. Isn’t this the role of a free press? Perhaps our press is not free from obligation to another’s agenda. Also, it seems that journalism has morphed into sensationalism, where the aim is to stimulate the senses—to excite and even to entertain—but not to inform decision-making. Perhaps more focus should be on the underlying currents—on the movement of the ground beneath us—and less on the in-the-moment effects. Perhaps the focus should be on building understanding rather than playing on the hopes and fears of people.
People in society mustn’t rely on others to provide understanding they need to be self-sufficient in this regard. Therefore the need for an educational system that will develop in people, joy in learning, the ability to think critically and to be far more discerning in consuming information—as well as in choosing their public servants—could not be clearer. Unfortunately the current system is not so designed.
So what is the likelihood that politicians and their anointed experts will actually envision and enact a system of education that would prepare people to critically assess information provided and claims made by public officials?
A society of the people, for the people and by the people necessitates a discerning public. Therefore we must take the education reformers to task for there to be a quality system of education that will prepare people to sustain the viability of a free and democratic society. A free society for generations to come depends on it!