In 2008 Rick Shenkman, the Editor-in-Chief of the History News Network, published a book entitled Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth about the American Voter (Basic Books). In it he demonstrated, among other things, that most Americans were: (1) ignorant about major international events, (2) knew little about how their own government runs and who runs it, (3) were nonetheless willing to accept government positions and policies even though a moderate amount of critical thought suggested they were bad for the country, and (4) were readily swayed by stereotyping, simplistic solutions, irrational fears, and public relations babble.
Shenkman spent 256 pages documenting these claims, using a great number of polls and surveys from very reputable sources. Indeed, in the end it is hard to argue with his data. So, what can we say about this? One thing that can be said is that this is not an abnormal state of affairs. As has been suggested in prior analyses, ignorance of non-local affairs (often leading to inaccurate assumptions, passive acceptance of authority, and illogical actions) is, in fact, a default position for any population.
To put it another way, the majority of any population will pay little or no attention to news stories or government actions that do not appear to impact their lives or the lives of close associates. If something non-local happens that is brought to their attention by the media, they will passively accept government explanations and simplistic solutions.
~ from The Decline of Critical Thinking by Lawrence Davidson ~
Public education ain't what it used to be! When I was in school in the Kansas City Public School District, we were taught to think. I'm certainly not saying my public education was perfect, but it was much better than public education today.
So, what changed?
In my opinion, the biggest change is in society's valuation of teachers. During my school days, public school teachers were highly valued. They were viewed as foundations of society. People admired them and they showed this admiration by providing sufficient financial resources for teachers, schools and students to succeed.
The conservative elite has never liked the idea of strong public schools because they churn out thinking adults and thinking adults are not so easy to manipulate! You see, the elite want a docile and stupefied population -- people who will do and think what they are told without asking pesky questions. They don't desire critical thinkers among the unwashed masses.
And so, in a concerted effort, they have assailed public education for the past few decades. They have mercilessly attacked teacher's unions. They have starved public education of the funds needed to keep pace both with inflation and an ever changing world. They have promoted the concept of charter schools because they utilize public monies without much public oversight. And they are steadfast supporters of standardized testing which robs students of individuality.
This decades long assault is bearing the desired fruit today. Tired of being cast as society's scapegoats, many of our brightest and most innovative public educators are getting out of the field. Charter and magnet schools are the big rage across the country. Many public schools have become decrepit relics of the past. Public schools today must pinch pennies and charge fees to students to participate in extracurricular activities.
All the while, average folks grow more ignorant...and the wealthy elite smiles!