Tom McLaughlin: Willful Ignorance in Education
Wed, 04/25/2012 - 6:39am
Posted by tommclaughlin
A lot of reaction to the “How Stupid Are We?” column last week, including one comment quoting the late George Carlin: “Just think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize that half of them are even stupider.”
That would be “more stupid,” George, not “stupider,” but it wasn’t a good choice of words on my part either. “Ignorant” would be more accurate than stupid. Stupid means unable to learn. Ignorant means not having an opportunity to learn, or worse - refusing to learn. As a teacher, I called that "willful ignorance."
Jay Leno showcases popular ignorance with his “Jaywalking” series, stopping people on the sidewalk and asking questions like: “In what country is the Panama Canal?” and they don’t know. He asks “What countries border the United States?” and people guess: “Australia?” On and on it goes.
Schools issue diplomas, degrees and certificates to people who have completed a prescribed course of study. I can’t tell you how many small business people complained to me as a local teacher that young people who have graduated from local high schools could not fill out simple job applications or read a ruler on a job site. They paid a big portion of our property taxes which funded our schools and they were angry.
Colleges are no better. Admission standards are so weak that a big percentage of freshmen must take remedial English and math courses for no credit. As long as applicants have high school diplomas and qualify for federal grants and subsidized loans, they’re in. Many enroll in watered-down, pointless majors such as “Gender Studies”; Queer Studies; “Fashion Design”; and courses like “Cyberfeminism” (Cornell) and “The Science of Superheroes: (UC Irvine) that cost thousands. When I saw signs and interviews of people at “Occupy” demonstrations last fall complaining about their student loan debt, I wondered what it was they had studied. If they majored in Women’s Studies and couldn’t find a job, whose fault is that?