Friday, February 15, 2008

Are Americans Hostile to Knowledge?

Susan Jacoby, author of "The Age of American Unreason," is genuinely concerned about a wave of anti-intellectualism she feels has taken hold of a certain segment of our country. A movement which she defines as an attitude that "too much learning can be a dangerous thing." In this article on, she lays blame on a failing educational system:

"Although people are going to school more and more years, there’s no evidence that they know more."

She is also quick to attack an overwhelming national obsession with popular culture--that it has replaced the thirst for knowledge as a national conversation. Others in the article claim that the American pursuit of happiness (which they claim breeds ignorance) could "well lead to a sudden extinction of the creative impulse." This is a pretty broad attack, and they're obviously not the first to offer this critique. But I thought I'd toss it out there, as we so often strive to be the guardians of education. What can we do to reverse this sentiment? Are we doing enough, how can we do more?


John L said...

She is quick to blame the educational system, even though that is probably the most stable part of children's lives over the past half century, changing very little.

A combination of consumerism and the electronic age have made it easy to entertain ourselves with very little effort. And since knowledge is just a click away on the internet, maybe we don't value it as much as we used to. I think this applies to adults even more than children, who are born with a thirst for knowledge but learn to take after their elders who want easy solutions and instant gratification.

Perhaps in order for us to help children keep their balance in this crazy electronic age, we first need to figure it out ourselves.

Bob Flynn said...

Well stated! I'm often puzzled when I hear people say how bored they are, but I guess that's the dilemma of the modern age. The paradox of the Internet is that we indeed have all knowledge a simple click away, but I wonder if people value it less, because it is so accessible.

But generally speaking, I regard general ignorance of the world around us (and how it works) as enormously problematic. As with the assault on reason. No offense to islands, but we can't live in insularity. I think so many problems in our world are routed in these failings. The dilemma is that most of us have enough on our plate dealing with the details of our daily life to bother with anything else.

You're right...we need to get a hold of it ourselves to set a better example for generations to come. In the meantime, I personally hope to do what I can to champion knowledge and scrutiny.

In moments of boredom, I would encourage people to balance entertainment with the search for knowledge...or better yet, combine the two! :)