Analysis by Reporting San Diego
May 9, 2017 (San Diego) There has been a lot of ink already spent on whether the President of the United States understands history, or not. We will take a slightly different tack. It matters if they know history, but it is far more telling what the attitudes are regarding history and expert knowledge. The president and many other Republicans and some Democrats, in national office, are the result of a deep anti-intellectual strain in the United States. This translates to contempt for education, in particular, liberal degrees. There is a tension when it comes to this. On the one hand, when we need to, experts become central to our lives. For example, the moonshot. Otherwise, there is a strain in the country that does not believe education has any value.
Susan Jacoby described this tension in The Age of American Unreason in ways that were predictive. The rise of a country where books are not valued, and people have disdain for experts is not a country where we are going to care if the President knows what the cause of the civil war was (Slavery by the way.) Or that Andrew Jackson was a slave owner, or was dead at the time the civil war started.
Nor should we be surprised when education is seen as a privilege, not a right, Or when the Environmental Protection Agency dismisses scientists from an advisory board. According to the New York Times reporting, an EPA spokesperson even said why:
A spokesman for the EPA. administrator, Scott Pruitt, said he would consider replacing the academic scientists with representatives from industries whose pollution the agency is supposed to regulate, as part of the wide net it plans to cast. “The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community,” said the spokesman, J. P. Freire.
Now, this is the ultimate disdain for training, expertise, and knowledge. We have been there before as a country. This tension is very American. This tension is now moving to the school house, and an Arizona legislator has even said this, according to the Washington Post:
“The number one thing I would like to repeal is the law on compulsory education … I believe education is still a privilege, and the kids who don’t want to be there are a larger distraction to the kids who do want to be there.
“We’re telling kids they have to go to school, and we put fences around the schools to protect them now, and we give them a meal or two and sometimes send a backpack of food home with them. So now schools are not only tasked with educating our children, but also feeding our children. What happened to the personal responsibility of a parent to feed and educate their kids?”
In the current culture, this should shock no-one. We live in a culture that is obsessed with what is popular, and a disdain for book learning. Jacoby wrote about this in recent years, But Richard Hofstadter first identified the problem in 1964 in his book, Anti-Intellectualism In American Life. This book won the Pulitzer.
Schools, and in certain states this is worst than in others, athletes are the heroes on campus. Nerds are seen as weird, weak, and to be bullied. In Texas, for example, Friday Night football is celebrated, but the science fair, not so much. This creates a problem. These attitudes put brawn ahead of brains, and discourage kids from pursuing anything intellectual. Also, universities are not teaching people for the joy of learning, but training them for jobs.
While we have a country where we are forced to go to college to get what once we got in High School, we are not getting what we need. Why U.S. Companies are at times forced to go abroad to find talent.
So you think your members of Congress are a bunch of ignorant fools for ignoring climate change? They are average for the culture. You think the President should know the cause of the civil war? He should, but many third graders don’t either. Trump is clearly the product of decades of a culture that diminishes those who seek knowledge or have any specialized knowledge. The present Congress is also a result of that. The head of the Education Department is also a result of that culture.
We shall continue to decline as a society, (we used to be number 1 in college graduates, now we are number 12) as long as we continue to think that sports and the video culture are more important than knowledge and continue to make fun of dweebs, dorks, and nerds.