16 September 2011

The days are dark ahead I fear.

As a society we used to believe that education was an important component to maintaining the republic. Thomas Jefferson certainly believed that when he wrote to Charles Yancey, "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." [1] The push for compulsory education in the U.S. arose from a belief that some education -- at least at the elementary level -- was necessary to secure the continued survival of the nation. The establishment of compulsory education has been maintained, despite the wailings of the right wing, through court decisions resting on the right of the state to secure the general welfare of its citizens.

In so far as schooling creates docile bodies, the right wing has come around to accepting universal compulsory education. However, the right wing has never been interested in the emancipatory power of education, bemoaning (a la Glenn Beck) the supposedly horrible fact that education does not seem to to reinforce their narrow definitions of patriotism, nationalism, or "American ideals." Despite their insistence on individual rights, the right wing has a great fear of individualistic thinking; theirs is the individualism of make-believe atomistic production and consumption, a fantasy land in which you or I simply float in isolating ether until we enter into contracts with one another.

Education at every level has been under assault by the right wing for at least thirty years (dated from the landmark scare tract A Nation at Risk which yeah I know is only 28 years ago but I'm rounding up), and while most of these scary myths have been promulgated ignorantly or dishonestly by those who fail to understand that the US tests every child while many other countries test only those who have already tested into rigorous academic-tracked schools, we as a nation still seem to swallow those lies hook, line, and sinker.

We have allowed the penny wise and pound foolish to control the national imagination where it comes to education, substituting job training for critical thinking. As we advance memorization of rules and procedures and denigrate problem solving, we train students for the next five years and leave them more or less on their own for the following thirty or forty. Or fewer if they happened to have been trained in a field that is easily shipped offshore in service of capital.

At the same time the right wing has sought to dismantle education, they have been aided and abetted (sometimes actively and sometimes simply by lucky chance) by the transformation of (visual) news providers into entertainment centers. Whereas the depth and breadth of your news organization used to signal prestige if not profit, now entire cable channels are built around nothing other than the presentation of news as the sole profit generator. The era of infotainment has been particularly destructive to our nation's ability to think critically, as the lives of the Kardashians assumes preeminence over the upheavals in the Middle East. Even when world events are presented in death, they are given the infotainment treatment with slick graphics and theme songs that transform them into Baudrillardian events. The emphasis is not on informing viewers, but on keeping viewers.

Recognizing that most people get their news from television and that the format doesn't allow for deep analysis or even a moment's reflection, and understanding that the media's ostensible commitment to objectivity has for the last few decades most often meant that even outright lies will be reported unchallenged, demagogues such as House Speaker John Boehner can spout off factually incorrect statements knowing they'll reach their target audience who either don't have the background, time, or desire to question the factual content of Boehner's lies.

This post is already incredibly long, and it would take another five paragraphs to analyze the ludicrous vomit that spewed from Boehner's mouth yesterday and was given an airing even on NPR, who would certainly have challenged the Speaker had he argued that Blacks or Jews were responsible for our current economic woes. However, what he did say was just as empirically incorrect and blindly bigoted as those statements, suggesting that businesses (or to use the preferred Republican nomenclature, "job creators") were shackled by onerous taxes...when businesses currently enjoy their most favorable conditions since the gilded age.

I suppose I'll stop here. I sense my blood pressure rising, and as disgusted as I am with the cynical content of Speaker Boehner's lies and the media's lapdog consumption of them, I am even more disgusted that a significant portion of Americans are unable to see this venomous fraud for what he is.

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