Archive for April 2008

Ignorance is no Defense

April 5, 2008

In a New York Times Op-ed (March 30) Kristof raises the critical issue of the remarkable ignorance of Americans. He points out that compared with the people of other developed countries Americans are ignorant as a people and the leaders they select relatively uninformed. He points to numerous studies, showing, for example, the remarkable percentage of people who do not believe in evolution, as well as the general ignorance of Americans of geography outside the USA. Large percentages believe in UFOs, and about 20% believe the sun orbits the earth. In President Bush we probably have the only leader of a modern state who still believes that on evolution “the facts are still out”. Such facts force us to address the question why we have a larger intellectual vacuum at many levels of society than other developed countries?

To effectively address the issue we need to first establish the extent and the nature of the deficit. (I suspect that further investigation would show that the deficit begins with parents and teachers, and is then passed on to the young.) Next, we need to compare the American educational system with the systems of countries that particularly excel us in this regard. By educational system, I mean much more than the classroom. It includes media of all kinds and how they are actually used by people at different economic and cultural levels at different stages of life.

This investigation should be based on and help initiate a larger comparative study of the cultures of developed countries. So many of our critical social and institutional problems could be seen more clearly and be more successfully addressed if the experience of other advanced countries could be incorporated into our agenda for change. To fail to do this would unfortunately reinforce the argument for our comparative intellectual incompetence.