Posts Tagged ‘schools’

The dumbing down of America, cont.

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2024

By Bob Gaydos

23D7DF21-4B50-483A-9B07-30BAFB25EA37    “Do you know who fought in the Civil War?”

    “The French and the Germans?“

     “How did you know that?

     “I took history.“

     Wait, there’s more.

      “When was the war of 1812 fought?”

      “The 1980s?”

       “Who was America’s first president?”

       “His first name was George. I don’t know the last.”

        “Can you name the continents?”

        “The USA?”

         “Can you name another one?”

          “Puerto Rico?”

          “How many inches in a foot?”

          “One?”

          “Do you know what state Utah is in?”

          “Illinois?”

         “How many stars in the American flag?”

          “One hundred?”

          “What is Obama’s last name?”

           “Care. C-a-r-e.”

      OK, enough torture. The preceding was an example of the continuing dumbing down of America, brought to you courtesy of a well-spoken, pleasant young man on Facebook, who simply asks questions of mostly high-school-age Americans in Times Square and malls in and around New York and New Jersey.

       No, it’s not entertaining and he does his best not to make fun of the unbelievably clueless contestants who clearly haven’t paid a lot of attention in history, math, science and other courses in school. I’m not even sure geography and civics are even taught anymore.

       Most of the “contestants” are young people of various ethnicities, although some older folks manage to show up with interesting answers as well. And clearly, he doesn’t show people who know all the answers, but far too many don’t know any of the correct answers.

        I don’t know who needs to hear this, but the American education system is in crisis. Too many young people don’t know things that used to be considered basic information you learned if you got through high school. Worse, too many adults seem interested in keeping it that way.

      Teachers are being told what they can teach, librarians are being told what they can have on their shelves. Too many young people are getting whatever information they get via social media. (One young lady could name all the Kardashians.)

       I’ve written about this before and it’s depressing for me to belabor the subject, but I don’t see much change for the better.

        People who know stuff today get mocked by perhaps the dumbest person to ever occupy the Oval Office and his cadre of obedient/frightened followers.

      But it didn’t start with Donald Trump. The Tea Partiers, having been warmly welcomed into the Republican Party, got to John McCain in 2012 and made him choose Sarah Palin, who said she can see Russia from her home in Alaska, as his vice presidential running mate. It’s been all downhill ever since.

      The Republican Party doesn’t have the numbers to out vote the Democratic Party, so, in addition to lying and cheating and trying to steal elections, it needs an uneducated citizenry that doesn’t know what it doesn’t know, and, worse, doesn’t seem to care.

        People, we need to rethink what we’re teaching and rededicate resources to our public schools. Young people, especially those of voting age, need to know that what’s at stake in this year‘s presidential election is their very future.

      So that when some young guy with a microphone asks them in the shopping mall, “When do they celebrate the Fourth of July in England?” they don’t say, as one young man did, “The day after us.”

    Because of the time zones, of course.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

            

          

What Banned Books Have You Read?

Sunday, October 1st, 2023

By Bob Gaydos

Banned books

Banned books

Well, it’s here again, the annual reminder that, in the Land of Free Speech, people — school boards, politicians, religious groups, censorship groups, individuals — are still trying, and sometimes succeeding, in preventing others from reading books containing other people’s free speech which they find offensive or objectionable for some reason.

    It’s Banned Books Week (Oct. 1-7), an unfortunately necessary tradition the American Library Association began in 1982 in response to increased challenges to books in libraries, schools and other public places. Its stated aim is “to celebrate the freedom to read and to promote silenced voices.”

    Fueled by the MAGAmania fear promoted by Donald Trump and those wishing to supplant him as leader of the Republican cult, efforts to control what books teachers use to teach, what books libraries can keep on their shelves have increased significantly.

     In announcing the week, Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, said, “This is a dangerous time for readers and the public servants who provide access to reading materials. Readers, particularly students, are losing access to critical information, and librarians and teachers are under attack for doing their jobs.”

   How bad is it? The association says it documented 1,269 demands to censor library books and resources in 2022, the highest number since the organization began compiling data about censorship in libraries more than 20 years ago. The number nearly doubles the 729 book challenges reported in 2021. The association says most of the titles targeted were by or about LGBTQIA+ persons and Black, Indigenous and people of color.

   No surprise there. Traditionally specific reasons why books have been banned or challenged include: LGBTQ content, sexually explicit language, profanity, racism, violence, religious viewpoint, sex education, suicide, drug and alcohol use, nudity, political viewpoint and offensive language.

     Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, seeking to supplant Trump as Republican Party leader, has been aggressive in efforts to control what his state residents can read and what universities can teach, but Texas also has not been shy about attempting censorship. And a school district in North Carolina actually tried to ban Banned Book Week this year only to reverse its decision when it was reported in the news media.

   As someone who has made a living writing opinions that some might not agree with, I feel compelled to once again argue for the right of free speech and free access to whatever people want to read. Controlling what people read is, after all, a way to control how they think. And, yes, it’s a way those who lie try to hide the truth from others.

    My practice has been to list, in no particular order, banned books I have read. It’s compiled from a few lists I have found on the Internet and includes some books I had no idea were ever the target of attempted banning. 

The list:

        — The Catcher in the Rye

        — To Kill a Mockingbird

        — The Lord of the Flies

,       — 1984

        — Lolita

        — Catch 22

        — Brave New World

        — Animal Farm

        — The Sun Also Rises

        — Invisible Man

        — Howl

        — One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

        — Slaughterhouse Five

        — In Cold Blood

        — Rabbit, Run

        — Moby Dick

        — Canterbury Tales

        — Captain Underpants

        — The Kite Runner

        — The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

        — The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

        — Fahrenheit 451

        — Moll Flanders

        — A Farewell to Arms

     As always, I’d be interested in hearing what banned books are on your list so I can add to mine. I didn’t get much response to this request last year, but, forever the optimist, I ask again. I could use some new titles.

     We are living in a time when ignorance runs rampant in much of the country. Indeed, it often seems glorified. Reading, in fact learning of any sort, is under attack by groups who seek to maintain power by discrediting education. 

   Higher education, Republicans believe, is a threat to America, a survey tells us. We hear repeated claims of fake news and hoaxes and Fox News, even though recently shown in court to be a wellspring of phony news and propaganda, is still full of outright lies. 

   It is all nonsense, created out of fear, Fear of others, of the unknown, of feeling inferior, of losing power, of discovering that long-held beliefs were simply not true.

      Education is the answer, but our education system has a lot of work to do to repair the damage done in recent years. Encouraging reading is a good place to start.

       By the way, “Captain Underpants” is on my list because I have two sons, now grown. I also think a couple of books on the list  were high school reading assignments for one of my sons. Kudos to the teacher.

    And, please, share your favorite banned books with us.

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

It’s No Time to be Silent, America

Sunday, October 10th, 2021

  By Bob Gaydos

   C56781E2-67D2-4EBC-941D-A0CA7A4C30E9“Stop.”

     That’s it. That’s all he or she said. It was the entire content of a message reacting to a column I wrote on Banned Books Week. In fact, it was the only reaction I got from all of Facebook when I spent a few bucks to spread my words of wisdom on the subject.

     I was surprised and disappointed at the lack of response to a column encouraging, in effect, the freedom to read as we please without interference from some “authority.” I mean, this is the land of liberty, isn’t’t it? But that’s probably a topic for another column. This one’s about that one-word effort to stifle the messenger. It’s about why, disappointing feedback or not, I won’t stop. Indeed, disappointing feedback is a primary motivator to keep spreading the message. There’s simply too much at stake and it worries me that many Americans don’t seem to be aware of the threat.

       As God, the greater consciousness, Buddha and the cashier at Hannaford‘s Supermarket are my witnesses, there are some things, even with eight decades of experience, I just don’t understand.

         Spoiler alert: If you are a MAGA believer, there are likely to be some things in this column that might cause you emotional distress. I’d hate to cause you any discomfort, so you might want to consider not reading beyond here. Otherwise, you were warned. And to those who argue that we must try to reconcile our differences, I’ve pretty much given up trying to reason with true MAGAs. Using research, facts, logic and compassion has proven to be a waste of time. I’m focusing on the other Americans, millions of them, who apparently think we’re just going thriough a tough spell. Hey, football stadiums are full again, aren’t they?

      Sure, and so are hospital emergency rooms. In fact, in some states they are overflowing and people with serious medical issues are having treatment delayed because of the flood of Covid patients. A second flood caused by a refusal by many to get vaccinated or to wear masks. 

       One of the things I don’t understand is people who call themselves healthcare workers refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Thousands resisted mandates to get vaccinated even though the vaccines have proven to be safe and effective.  Only the threat of losing their jobs convinced many to do the responsible thing. 

        Another thing I don’t understand is people who call themselves educators arguing against children and teachers wearing masks in school. Or parents attacking school board members who think teachers should not have to put their lives at risk to do their jobs and students should not become an army of miniature Covid spreaders. Teachers have proven to be adaptable and the kids will only complain about the masks if their parents do. Meanwhile, there’s a lot of educating to do.

    Which is to say, I don’t understand why people who call themselves evangelical Christians or Republicans, or both, regard education as an evil, as something to be derided, dismissed and avoided at all costs. In the land of opportunity, how does the pathway to greater opportunity become the enemy for so many people?

      I do understand why some who call themselves evangelical Christians or Republicans or both routinely attack education, spread lies and misinformation and feed on the fears of the uninformed. Power and greed. Thus has it always been.

          Maintaining the support of an uninformed mass of people seems to be the only platform of today’s Rrepublican Party. It operates solely out of fear of losing whatever power it has. It gives lip service to helping those in need, devoting most of its energy and resources to fighting the efforts of those who would truly like to reconcile our differences.

       The truth is, reconciliation is not a Republican priority. They would rather rule. I don’t understand why. I always come back to fear. Which is why I always come back to education. Autocrats depend on keeping the masses ignorant in order to maintain power. So, too, do some religious leaders. Have faith in me, they preach. Give me your money. You will be protected. Do not trust the infidel with the clever words. 

       That approach works for some in politics, too. But democracy cannot survive in that atmosphere. And, in my opinion, our brand of democracy is under attack today. I have never felt this way before. The January 6 insurrection and the continuing lies of Republican leaders that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump are the most glaring evidence of this threat. So long as Trump speaks for most Republicans and so long as most Republicans fear to contradict him, I see no chance of “reconciling our differences.“ 

       That’s why I won’t stop writing about the importance of a Free Press, about the freedom to read what we choose, about the need for truthful history to be taught in all our schools, about respecting science, and about honoring the invitation on our Statue of Liberty, to welcome, not demonize, refugees from other lands.

        I repeat, I speak not to the MAGAs, but to the large number of Americans who, I am certain, share my beliefs. We are the majority. Protect our democracy. Make sure you’re vaccinated. Teach your children the importance of education. Be a voice of tolerance. Vote. Reread “1984.”

         Don’t stop.   

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

It’s Time to Un-dumb America

Saturday, December 1st, 2018

By Bob Gaydos

Sarah Palin ... she was the warning .

               Sarah Palin
    … she was the warning

I think Sarah Palin was the canary in the coal mine. We missed the warning.

I’m sitting at the keyboard asking myself when it became OK to be dumb in America. Never mind just dumb. There’s always some of that. In a better, more tolerant, mood, I might call it ill-informed or poorly schooled.

I’m not talking about that and I’m not in a tolerant mood. I’m talking about proudly dumb. Insistently dumb. Scientifically dumb. Historically dumb. Intellectually dumb. Socially dumb. Patriotically dumb. Spiritually dumb. Financially dumb. Ethically dumb. Environmentally dumb. Grammatically dumb. Unhealthfully dumb. Politically dumb. Morally dumb. I-don’t-want-to-hear-it-because-it’s-inconvenient dumb.

Willfully dumb.

Sarah Palin/Donald Trump dumb.

The planet is on schedule to destruct by the end of the century. Eating romaine lettuce anywhere in America right now could kill you. The pretender-in-chief of the United States of America says California could prevent forest fires by raking leaves. He also says it’s OK to tear-gas children across the border in Mexico because the adults who brought them to seek asylum in America are criminals and might not even be their parents and, besides, the Border Patrol used “safe” tear gas. This is supposed to be better than devoting sufficient resources to processing the asylum seekers in an orderly, dare I say, humane manner.

Dumb. And apparently just fine with millions of Americans as long as their kids aren’t the ones being hit with tear gas.

Along with the turkey, I enjoyed a 100 percent organic salad on Thanksgiving (no romaine). I will be upset with myself if every word in this column is not spelled correctly. In many households in this country, these two admissions make me some kind of strange creature, a “libtard,” as the MAGA geniuses on social media put it. Someone to be scorned or mocked.

Why? I mean, why is it a bad thing to eat good food that is free of chemicals or to not want to have spelling or grammatical mistakes in something that carries your name as the author? I get it that on social media the standards are significantly lower, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing when you’re supposed to be making your country great — again, no less.

I’ve been called a lot worse than “Libtard” in my opinion-writing career, so it’s not personal. I just think that letting anything someone misspells, mispunctuates or misquotes pass as acceptable, while it may sound egalitarian, is really a way to lower the bar.

Like when Palin, running for vice president, was asked what newspaper she read and answered, “All of ‘em.” In other words, none of ‘em. She also said she could see Russia from her front porch in Alaska and that gave her foreign policy experience. And she gave this memorable account of Paul Revere’s ride:

“He who warned, uh, the British that they weren’t gonna be takin’ away our arms, uh, by ringing those bells, and um, makin’ sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be sure and we were going to be free, and we were going to be armed.”

We escaped Palin, but wound up with Trump.

I get it that some people are just born with more brain power than the rest of us and that not everyone grows up in an environment that encourages learning, curiosity and a willingness to hear new ideas. An environment that makes it OK to say, “I don’t know” without fear of ridicule.

Fear is a powerful force, especially the fear we create in our minds. Donald Trump thrives on it. His entire political philosophy, if he can be said to have one, is based on fear of those who question, those who disagree, those who look, sound or think differently. “Others.”

“They” are coming to take something away from you or to harm you. It’s a fear founded in ignorance. But worse. Trump preys on other people’s fears for his own personal gain — votes, money, prestige, power. It’s always a transaction for him, easily changed for the right (more profitable) counter-offer. And some people choose to believe him in spite of all the evidence to the contrary because they have never learned — are afraid — to say, “Why?” Or, “Are you sure?” Or, “I don’t know.”

For Trump himself, in my humble opinion, the fear is that he will be found out as a fraud and so he must at all times act as if he knows what’s going on. He’s been doing it all his life. It doesn’t even matter if he believes what he says.

Global warming? “I don’t believe it.” He hasn’t got a clue, but all those people who actually studied when they went to college — “The ones who think I’m stupid even though I’m worth billions and they’re not — think it’s real. I’ll show them. I’ll save the coal mines.”

West Virginia goes for Trump. Dumb.

That Thanksgiving salad? I’m not a stickler for organic, but I do like to know the food I eat is safe as well as healthful and delicious. I do think it’s dumb to reject some food out of hand because someone says it’s good for you. Brussels sprouts, for example. Try it. If you don’t like it, at least you have some reason for not eating it other than you think those who do are strange. And strange, by the way, need not be threatening.

Neglecting the safety of our food or failing to teach children about the health benefits of a diet balanced beyond French fries and pizza is dumb. Trump doesn’t care. We should. He exists on ‘burgers and mocked Michelle Obama for trying to make school lunches more healthful. I’d like to think she succeeded, but I’m not sure. As someone who lives in apple country this is hard to say, but I’m pretty sure middle schoolers are still tossing apples in the trash when they leave the lunch room.

OK, this is not a treatise, just a minor rant. I’m probably hungry. But I do think, given all the above, our educators and legislators have a major challenge facing them. The Fox News Generation, fed a daily diet of fear and fiction, may be beyond saving, but there’s still time and hope for the youngsters. Knowledge is power. Our schools need to step up their game. They need to  encourage intellectual curiosity and let students know that it’s OK to know stuff. To know how to tell the difference between real and fake news, for example.

That way they may be able to tell the difference between real and fake candidates for political office, they’ll know the Earth is not flat and, Twitter notwithstanding, spelling is not a function you should leave entirely to your phone.

rjgaydos@gmail.com