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Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Dumbest Nation on Earth

Michelle has an interesting and scary post on the assault on academic freedom going on in this country, and how it relates to the general dumbing-down of the country, which enables the corporate fascists to proceed with their pillaging of the world not only without hindrance, but with actual encouragement and support from the ignorant masses. While Michelle's whole post is good, I especially appreciated the link to a commentary written by Luciana Bohne shortly before the start of the Iraq war. Here are some excerpts:
"I don't read," says a junior without the slightest self-consciousness. She has not the smallest hint that professing a habitual preference for not reading at a university is like bragging in ordinary life that one chooses not to breathe. She is in my "World Literature" class. She has to read novels by African, Latin American, and Asian authors. She is not there by choice: it's just a "distribution" requirement for graduation, and it's easier than philosophy--she thinks.

The novel she has trouble reading is Isabel Allende's "Of Love and Shadows," set in the post-coup terror of Pinochet's junta's Nazi-style regime in Chile, 1973-1989. No one in the class, including the English majors, can write a focussed essay of analysis, so I have to teach that. No one in the class knows where Chile is, so I make photocopies of general information from world guide surveys. No one knows what socialism or fascism is, so I spend time writing up digestible definitions. No one knows what Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" is, and I supply it because it's impossible to understand the theme of the novel without a basic knowledge of that work--which used to be required reading a few generations ago. And no one in the class has ever heard of 11 September 1973, the CIA-sponsored coup which terminated Chile's mature democracy. There is complete shock when I supply US de-classified documents proving US collusion with the generals' coup and the assassination of elected president, Salvador Allende.
Let me put it succinctly: I don't think serious education is possible in America. Anything you touch in the annals of knowledge is a foe of this system of commerce and profit, run amok. The only education that can be permitted is if it acculturates to the status quo, as happens in the expensive schools, or if it produces people to police and enforce the status quo, as in the state school where I teach. Significantly, at my school, which is a third-tier university, servicing working-class, first-generation college graduates who enter lower-etchelon jobs in the civil service, education, or middle management, the favored academic concentrations are communications, criminal justice, and social work--basically how to mystify, cage, and control the masses.

This education is a vast waste of the resources and potential of the young. It is boring beyond belief and useless--except to the powers and interests that depend on it. When a Ukranian student, a three-week arrival on these shores, writes the best-organized and most profound essay in English of the class, American education has something to answer for--especially to our youth.
Cultural fascism manifests itself in an aversion to thought and cultural refinement. "When I hear the word 'culture,'" Goebbels said, "I reach for my revolver." One of the infamous and telling reforms the Pinochet regime implemented was educational reform. The basic goal was to end the university's role as a source of social criticism and political opposition. The order came to dismantle the departments of philosophy, social and political science, humanities and the arts--areas in which political discussions were likely to occur. The universities were ordered to issue degrees only in business management, computer programming, engineering, medicine and dentistry-- vocational training schools, which in reality is what American education has come to resemble, at least at the level of mass education. Our students can graduate without ever touching a foreign language, philosophy, elements of any science, music or art, history, and political science, or economics. In fact, our students learn to live in an electoral democracy devoid of politics-- a feature the dwindling crowds at the voting booths well illustrate.
Okay, I've quoted about half the article! Still, you should read it all. And then remember, in the face of this abysmal ignorance, there are people out there trying to make it even worse.