Dumb and Dumber…………………..April 16, 2012

Our public schools are under attack from many directions. The reasons for these attacks are varied.

Religious fundamentalists charge that the public schools are not teaching the proper morals and cause the young to disrespect and reject religious teachings. These parents, having themselves been indoctrinated in the faith from an early age, find it much easier to believe things than to know them. For these, the faithful, it is easier to accept the ravings of some zero or minus century goat herder than to accept that there are unknowns. Science admits there are things yet unknown, yet, even so, it is the unknown that drives science.

“We have the answers” shout the dealers of myth, yet they offer no basis for those answers, no reasons to accept them, except an appeal to authority. No factual evidence is allowed to deter them, and they offer no factual evidence of their own.

“Give us vouchers to school them where we want.” they demand, knowing full well that doing that would make the public schools even poorer. After all, it’s not their children they wish to educate, it’s their faith they want to force… on all. The uneducated are easy pickings.

“The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance. As I write, the number one videocassette rental in America is the movie Dumb and Dumber. “Beavis and Butthead” remain popular ( and influential) with young viewers. The plain lesson is that study and learning – not just of science, but of everything – are avoidable, even desirable.”       – Carl Sagan, from “Demon-Haunted World: Science as a candle in the Dark”

We can excuse the goat herder of ignorance. They had no tools, no knowledge. They didn’t even know how rain developed in the sky. How could these simple people, with simple needs and wants, ever be expected to understand science, much less use it. What is truly strange is that there were people at the time who proffered great thoughts, were well equipped to write, unfortunately, they had no hand in religious tomes.

“The candle flame gutters. It’s little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.” – Carl Sagan – same source.

There are more directions from which attacks emanate than those of religion, though religion’s are many. We also have the development of an attitude, not from the absence of religion, possibly due to it’s presence, but more general in nature. The attitude that learning is not “cool”, or “rad”, insert whatever label is appropriate.

Students that apply themselves are soon awakened to the reality that their fellow students think they aren’t “one of them”. The brightest boy is labeled a nerd, dweeb, or worse, and bullied into acquiescence. The brightest girl is seen as desirable, pursued by many suitors, and soon diverted from her path of achievement.

Who wins the acclaim? Who brings the cheers from the crowds of students? The football, track, and basketball stars, of course. Physical excellence is celebrated, while educational levels drop. There’s big money to chase for the few who can make it to the top in the sports category.

Educational excellence should be the focus of any celebrations, after all, that’s why the school was built. It wasn’t built to generate the next football or basketball, or even baseball great. It was built for educating the generation that would replace the last. Use the money that goes to sports now to provide scholarships for those who would go to college, however little it might be. Encourage learning, not the coliseum atmosphere at sporting events. Physical fitness need not be an expensive venture, nor need it be a spectacle.

“Scientists may reject mystic revelations for which there is no evidence except somebody’s say-so, but they hardly believe their knowledge of Nature to be complete.”  – Carl Sagan – same source.

Academic achievements should garner the awards of excellence not displays of physical prowess. It wasn’t brawn that got us to the moon.

Many believe that Unionized teachers are responsible for the decline in academic achievements. I think it more a problem with the parents who do not accord education with the importance it deserves. A lot of parents use school as a means of day care and do not accord the achievements of education at a level of importance that they deserve. They never visit the school or offer to help the teacher in any way. “Teachers are paid to teach, so they better teach” they might exclaim. Children learn from their parents, and if the parents do not accord the teacher respect, neither will the children.

I agree that no school district should accept restrictions as regards the teachers abilities, whether they can be fired for incompetence. This is a major problem. No tenured teacher should hold a job simply due to tenure.

I remember two teachers that should not have been teaching in the High School I attended. One an English teacher, one a history teacher, and both completely senile. This was not a judgment created by a teenager, these teachers were unable to present the material, and unable to control the students. Frequently the history teacher would doze off in class. The English teacher was eventually removed for making remarks that denigrated women, depicting them as children, and she a woman. This was in the late 60’s. So the problem of incompetence has been around for a long time. (He was definitely not worth a Million, and she was definitely not as pretty as a Rose)

The value of education must be relayed to the young in extremely clear fashion. They must be warned not to waste the opportunity available to them. Parents must begin to participate in their child’s education which is a big step in and of itself in teaching the importance of education. If you are going to invest in the child by having them, go the full mile and invest in their future.

Finally… we must embrace the future. Technology is the future, and scientific discovery produces and develops technology.

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