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Maine-iac

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oh quick question. Does anybody here not understand the concept of a passing lane? A passing lane, the lanes on the left, are meant for passing, not driving at or under the FUCKING speedlimit and never moving over. Why you look at me all pissed off when I pass you on the right is beyond me. Truckers understand, they stay on the right; people in nice sports cars understand, they move along and don't hold up traffic; everybody else just plods along.

 

But please don't take it to heart when I pass you on the right yelling because you are in the left lane doing 65 in a 70.

 

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It is all a waste of my time and money. These institutions are significantly worthless;

 

For you, this is true.

 

link

 

for others, they define it more like this:

 

"Regrettably, most of us committed to liberal education agree that the outcomes of an undergraduate liberal education are not widely understood or valued by the general public. While the college degree is universally recognized as the key to economic and social mobility, what lies behind that credential—the educational experience, its full value and its purposes—is more or less ignored. In general, in the popular imagination, undergraduate education is a commodity: students and their families are customers, faculty are service providers, and institutions compete to provide accommodations. Specific attention to the full purposes of liberal education is even less focused; and in light of that, it is now rarely considered a necessary element of undergraduate education.

 

Because of its neglect of the core purposes of liberal education, the academy itself bears some responsibility for popular misperceptions—or, lamentably, ignorance of what liberal education promises.

 

There has been, and remains, a “triad” of interrelated core purposes for liberal education: the epistemic (coming to know, discovery, and the advancing of knowledge and understanding); the eudemonic (the fuller realization of the learner, the actualizing of the person’s potential—classically to achieve individual well-being and happiness); and the civic (the understanding that learning puts the learner in relation to what is other, to community and its diversity in the broadest sense, as well as the responsibility that comes from sustaining the community and the civic qualities that make both open inquiry and self-realization possible).

 

On one level, we have lost track of this complexity—focusing in the academy only on the epistemic. On another level, we have hardly attended to the issue of purpose at all. The gaining and transfer of knowledge and discovery, the “epistemic” purpose of liberal education, has been emphasized at the expense of the other core purposes—namely, fostering self-discovery and well-being, and establishing the relationship between knowledge and responsibility for what is beyond self, the “civic” purpose. While other institutions, such as church or the family, and other educational or training experiences certainly can separately contribute to a dimension of this triad of core purposes, liberal education is unique in that it contributes to achieving all three purposes and reveals their interdependency.

 

These core purposes determined the original missions of the many colleges and universities that were founded to provide a liberal education. These institutions forged a de facto social contract. For its part, the college or university was expected to contribute to what is known, to teach and discover, to serve as a positive and reinforcing context for the emotional and moral development of young adults, and to encourage greater responsibility for the common good. In return, society supported both the institution and the conditions of liberty required to sustain open inquiry. Although some colleges and universities may no longer define their missions in terms of the three core purposes of liberal education, the great preponderance of institutions still do. It is not clear, however, that these institutions actually give priority to the practices that instantiate the core purposes. Nor is it clear they recognize that the intentional development of all three interrelated purposes results in confirmable outcomes affecting the full development of students.

 

In recent years, much excellent work has been devoted to the assessment of learning outcomes. This work helps to establish whether and how the epistemic purpose of liberal education is being achieved. However, the scope of assessment should not be restricted to a single aspect of liberal education. Attention to each of the core purposes—the epistemic, the eudemonic, and the civic—is necessary to achieve the full promise of liberal education. The Bringing Theory to Practice project is about demonstrating that, as they are actualized in particular educational practices, all three core purposes produce outcomes— effects and affects, including behavioral results or consequences as well as dispositional patterns, attitudes, and inclinations—that can be documented and studied.

Student disengagement

 

The Bringing Theory to Practice project was founded on the premise of a connection between the widespread misunderstanding, devaluation, and neglect of the core purposes of undergraduate liberal education, on the one hand, and certain patterns of disengagement exhibited by a significant and growing number of students, on the other.* Multiple-year national data show that, even excepting students who drop out of school, 40 to 60 percent of all adolescents are “chronically disengaged” from their academic experiences (Blum and Libby 2004). This student disengagement is expressed in a variety of ways, from drug and alcohol abuse to cheating, from nonclinical forms of depression to suicide attempts.

 

More than 30 percent of students abuse alcohol, for example; nearly half of these are repeat abusers whose objective is to disengage completely by becoming “wasted” to the point of passing out. Indeed, over the past decade or so, campuses nationwide have reported dramatic increases in binge drinking. “Students [are] often stuporous in class, if they get there at all,” explains Hara Estroff Marano, editor of Psychology Today and member of the Bringing Theory to Practice advisory board. “The heaviest drinking occurs on weekends, beginning Thursday, but the effects increasingly hang over the whole week.” After counseling many students, Paul Joffe, a psychologist at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, has concluded that “at bottom binge drinking is a quest for authenticity and intensity of experience. It gives young people something all their own to talk about, and sharing stories about the path to passing out is often a primary purpose. It’s an inverted world in which drinking to oblivion (disengagement) is the way to feel connected and alive” (Marano 2004).

 

While it may be the most visible expression of student disengagement, alcohol abuse is among a host of behavioral and mental health issues affecting undergraduates. Somewhat less visible, for example, is the rising incidence of depression among college students. Studies generated by the University of Kansas Counseling Center suggest that, nationwide, over 40 percent of undergraduates report at least one incident of depression sufficient to interrupt their academic work. “Psychological distress is rampant on college campuses,” says Marano. “It takes a variety of forms: anxiety and depression—which are increasingly regarded as two faces of the same coin—binge drinking and substance abuse, self-mutilation and other forms of self-disconnection.” According to Steven Hyman, provost of Harvard University and former director of the National Institute of Mental Health, psychological distress is now so widespread among students that it is “interfering with the core mission of the university” (Marano 2004).

 

Overall, the response of colleges and universities to student disengagement has been partial, focused on enforcement or treatment; rarely have institutions seen the possibility of addressing these issues of disengagement through the outcomes of specific forms of undergraduate learning. Awareness of the problem has often led to institutional concern for liability and, in some cases, to the dismissal of students who acknowledge experiencing psychological distress. Only rarely does awareness lead to campus-wide consideration of the gaps between academic purposes, expectations, and practices—gaps that impede student learning, health, and civic engagement. At most institutions, where attention to students’ mental health is relegated to counseling professionals and where the academic aspect of students’ lives is disconnected from the social and developmental aspects, faculty and administrators may be unaware of the full extent of the problem, and of the possibility of addressing the manifestations of student well-being and civic development through academic experiences.

Engaged learning

 

The development of the “whole person” has traditionally been the goal of liberal education; however, on most campuses today, the “whole person” is fractured into discrete parts. Students themselves are expected to integrate, cumulatively and developmentally, what institutional structures and operations formally divide. By compartmentalizing students’ intellectual, emotional, and ethical lives, colleges and universities dichotomize the various facets of learning. This paradigm of compartmentalized learning is extended to campus life: faculty take care of the intellect, student-services staff and coaches handle the rest. Accordingly, the classroom is regarded as the exclusive setting for “real” learning, which is seen as wholly separate and different from what takes place elsewhere.

 

The Bringing Theory to Practice project began with the hunch that engaged learning is the key to reintegrating the epistemic, eudemonic,and civic purposes of liberal education. That is, we believed that by engaging students, by involving them in demanding service-learning and community-based research experiences, the academy could force them to consider their own privilege; challenge their assumptions of entitlement and self-indulgence; help them recognize that learning has implications for action and use; help them develop skills and habits of resiliency; and make them aware of their responsibilities to the larger community. And further, we believed that, with these gains, students would be more likely to transfer academic engagement to greater personal well-being and to deeper civic engagement.

 

It may seem quixotic to describe learning as a transformative activity. Many students, faculty, and staff may see no connection between their lives and the problems facing the community, the nation, and the world. They may not feel responsible for others. The many students who today participate in volunteer programs may fail to take action to address the problems they seek temporarily to relieve. In fact, volunteering may reinforce preconceptions and stereotypic beliefs held by students. As D. Tad Roach, headmaster of St. Andrew’s School in Delaware, puts it, “students may volunteer in a soup kitchen, and accumulate hundreds of hours of volunteer service; but if service is not linked with learning, they are likely to understand nothing about the systemic socioeconomic conditions that lead to poverty. And they are, thereby, unprepared to address the desperate need for change.”

 

We have identified service learning and community-based research as exemplars because they require active involvement by students and they have the greatest potential to transform attitudes, behaviors, and dispositions. Quite distinct from volunteerism, both forms of engaged learning require academic intensity. They entail greater expectations for students, pushing them beyond the classroom and beyond the model of learning as the passive receipt of information. And both forms of engaged learning can lead students to take greater responsibility for their learning and for its connection to both their individual development and their civic lives. Students come to recognize that not all learning occurs in the classroom, and that not all teachers are faculty.

 

In truth, the Bringing Theory to Practice project was founded on more than just a hunch. All of us in higher education have seen the transformative potential of engaged learning. We know, for example, that when students are engaged, when someone else is counting on them, the incidence and frequency of abusive behaviors and depression decrease. We also know that students themselves report increased confidence and a positive sense of self-value as results of experiences that take them “out of the bubble” of their school or collegiate life and into the community. Students who experience engaged learning in contexts where they are expected to contribute, and where their contributions are valued, tell us of their greater satisfaction with their education, their personal choices, and their futures. The documentation of these outcomes and their replicability are among the objectives of the project’s research.

 

In fact, part of what the project hopes to document is how findings confirm the now accepted (but, regrettably, less often practiced) view that these are forms of learning and pedagogies (in comparison to traditional emphasis on lecturing as a means of information transfer) that more effectively assure student retention of what is learned and more effectively aid student development of higher critical skills of analysis and synthesis. To this extent, the project will not only be documenting the linkage of outcomes and core purposes of liberal education; it will also be reinforcing educational practices that are more effective in realizing knowledge acquisition and intellectual development. Engaged learning appears to be the normative condition for multiple types of development—cognitive, emotional, moral, and civic. The project explores how the commitment to understanding a topic with significant connection beyond the learner, obliging the learner to put her own views and preconceptions in judgment, makes a positive difference to students’ intellectual development, to their sense of empowerment, and to their civic lives.

 

The sources of the “hunch” the Bringing Theory to Practice project was founded to explore are hardly new. Aristotle and Dewey, among many others, began with similar assumptions about the links among the core triad of educational purposes—the necessity of the pursuit of knowledge, the pursuit of self-realization, and the pursuit of justice. They too believed that realizing these interrelated purposes would result in particular forms of moral development and social action. What we would identify as liberal education was, on the classical model, focused on a public community purpose, namely good citizenship— the understanding that individuals were realized or actualized in the context of community. And it was the Enlightenment that encouraged the grounding of learning, knowledge, and discovery in replication, evidence, and the nonauthoritarian bases for any claims to know. These historical strands became linked elements in describing the sustaining core purposes of liberal education. In translating our hunch into a set of testable hypotheses, we recognized that not all relationships are causal, that discernible effects are distinguishable from likely affects, and that the relationships may be additive or even symbiotic. Nonetheless, concrete evidence is needed to substantiate the effects and affects of actualizing the core purposes of liberal education. The Bringing Theory to Practice project is supporting ongoing research that seeks to document outcomes and to justify the changes in educational practices required to make engaged learning normative.

The key role of faculty

 

Faculty are viewed by students as the primary agents of transformation on campus, and they are the group students respect the most. Thus, faculty are perhaps the only group on campus with the authority and the educational responsibility to confront the proximate conditions of self-indulgence and the withdrawal of students from the challenges of engagement. For this reason, the Bringing Theory to Practice project is attempting to demonstrate that, through their teaching and their expectations, faculty can affect students’ choices and behaviors, as well as students’ emotional and civic development.

 

Faculty are not counselors or therapists. Appropriately, they recognize that the provision of mental health services is beyond their expertise. But faculty are often aware of the crises their students experience. They are very likely to notice when individual students are incapacitated by depression or abusive behaviors, and they are concerned about these problems. Most faculty recognize that they have considerable influence on the choices and behaviors of young adults, and most want to help create positive contexts for learning and for student choices. If faculty do not actively encourage the full integration of students’ lives, if they elect to address the issues through grading alone and to relegate all other responsibilities to student affairs staff, then the current conditions of disengagement will continue to prevail.

The Bringing Theory to Practice project

 

Developed jointly by the Charles Engelhard Foundation and the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the Bringing Theory to Practice project was designed to encourage colleges and universities to revisit or review the core purposes of liberal education and to assess their students’ achievement of the full range of related outcomes. Such an effort can reveal the need for a significant redirection of energies and resources or for broad cultural changes. Most significantly, it can result in changed student expectations.

 

In addition to providing support for specific campus programs, the project, now in its fourth year, supports research on the connection of certain forms of engaged learning to student health and well-being, and to the complexity and depth of students’ civic development. To date, over two hundred colleges and universities have been linked to aspects of the project, and forty institutions have received grant support for their programmatic or research work. Project research is currently focused on seven institutions that are serving as national demonstration sites (see below).

 

Getting at purposes through an examination of possible outcomes is a complex task; it is exceedingly difficult to isolate the epistemic purpose and to determine effectiveness in creating and measuring learning outcomes. The Bringing Theory to Practice project is focused on very specific forms of pedagogy and learning that already are important elements of many undergraduate liberal education programs—namely, service learning and community-based research. These particular forms of engaged learning encourage students to examine how concepts translate into practice, how they expect and value greater personal involvement from students, and how they oblige students to link action and understanding.

 

The project is currently studying the possible effects and likely affects produced by engaged learning experiences that are expected, intensive, and valued elements of the undergraduate experience. We are gathering evidence— both testimonial and empirical—of outcomes that link engaged learning to behavioral choices and to student development. And we are learning how faculty and administrators who are involved across many campuses can begin to structure a “learning community” of their own affecting directional change at their own institutions. The provisional evidence supports the initial premise of the Bringing Theory to Practice project: the core purposes of liberal education can be realized through particular forms of engaged learning that affect the health, behaviors, and well-being of students and foster civic responsibility.

 

Even as the research goes forward, the project is encouraging campuses to continue, or to initiate, conversations about the purposes of liberal education and about the institutional means available for achieving them. This effective strategy already has led several campuses to reexamine the extent to which they are defining and actualizing their own sense of quality, and the extent to which they are pursuing services and activities that are driven by perceived “market” demands. Additionally, the project has supported the efforts of individual campuses to better understand the actual behaviors and patterns of experience chosen by their specific populations of students, and to assess those data within the context of national studies.

 

The overarching aim of the Bringing Theory to Practice project is to help colleges and universities deliver on the full promise of a quality undergraduate education by orienting their campus practices to the achievement of the three interrelated core purposes of liberal education. The project encourages institutions to create and support learning contexts that enable student transformation and, where current practices do not succeed in creating such contexts, the project argues for change. In creating and sustaining contexts for engagement, faculty must be supported, valued, and rewarded for experimenting with new and emerging pedagogies. This work is complex and often difficult; however, faculty frequently find such experimentation to be among the most intellectually, emotionally, and morally satisfying dimensions of teaching—especially when they are supported culturally and institutionally.

 

The faculty members and professional administrators involved in the project have demonstrated their strong commitment to the students on their own campuses. They have been willing to act somewhat counter to prevailing campus cultures by seriously considering how the very heart of their institutions—the faculty, dominant pedagogies, and the curriculum— can positively and holistically affect the lives of their students. Through their involvement in the project, faculty and administrators alike have found the reinforcing rationale and evidence for strengthening the academic experience in ways that more directly involve students, that expect more from them, that take them out of the classroom, and that involve them in experiencing and understanding the relation of what they study to issues and responsibilities rooted outside of themselves."

 

good luck

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OK, since you asked - you're wrong. The purpose of high school was to teach you how to learn; the purpose of university is to teach you how to think.

 

I agree too.

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OK, since you asked - you're wrong. The purpose of high school was to teach you how to learn; the purpose of university is to teach you how to think.

 

Maybe we're setting our sights too low. How about k-8 is to teach you to learn, high school to think, and university to allow you to contribute something beyond manual, rote, or craft labor.

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I truly believe that comparative literature is a waste of anybodies time. [...]

 

These institutions are significantly worthless; no wonder Europe is ahead of us, they don't waste time and money on needless dribble.

 

Gems like this keep me coming back! :tup:

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The purpose of a broad-based general education, and the older traditional classical university education, including things such art appreciation, literature and the humanities, is to give us a more humane and truly civilized understanding of the world at large. It's certainly possible in many schools today to get a degree in some area of science or technology without more than a smidgen of exposure to the arts, but if you look closely enough at anything, you come to find that things such as geography, engineering,chemistry,physics,etc, are, in and of themselves, very, or extremely advanced forms of art. And you can't get into geography very deeply before you start running into all kinds of history,archaeology, anthropology, architecture, politics,- in other words, the arts and humanities.

 

Everything we do as human beings is a form of art,whether visual,conceptual,physical or theoretical. Even war; witness the, ahem, LITERATURE Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf referred to from his West Point studies, Sun Tzu's The Art of War,(incredible book) during the first Iraq War. The arts and humanities give us a foundation from which to reason, evaluate, and yes, to examine our feelings about life and about what these various endeavors and disciplines we engage in, are actually FOR. And I'm not talking about touchy-feely, but about what makes anything we do worthwhile- to have a drive and passion, a dedication to some purpose, or to simply be able to do and appreciate something for it's own sake--such as (!) climbing. About as useless a sport as there is,especially in the view of those who write letters to the editor demanding the closure of Mt.Hood and the imprisonment, institutionalization, and financial excoriation of climbers every time there's an accident on the mountain. Why? Probably because many of those who write the letters have had little if any exposure to the arts and humanities, and consequently some very limited views of what human beings, or mountains, for that matter, are all about. I mean, after all, it's just a big 'ol ugly bunch o' ice n' rocks, n' junk, right? An' people? Climb? Do somethin' as crazy azat just fer fun? "Goddamned hippies!! Get A JOB!!"

 

I agree that some of this stuff can be boring--there is indeed good and bad, great and tedious, or middling classical or contemporary literature, art, etc. But a lot of times it's because you don't have the right teacher - someone who knows how to get the magic of the material across to you. And that's not your fault. I struggled with algebra and calculus in high school and college until I ran into a professor who broke the whole thing wide open for me; the next thing I knew, I was literally living in a different world. As it happened, I wound up as an artist and writer, from starting out as a major in natural history. But to this day, those "boring" classes in inorganic and organic chemistry, and the attendant math, were some of the most valuable I ever took in terms of stretching my perceptions of reality, and in developing the discipline and persistence it takes to be a working artist, and not just an educated dreamer.

 

Dreaming, however, is also important, so important, in fact, that none other than Albert Einstein himself once said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." This is only the guy who pretty much made the world as we know it, possible. All that knowledge is pretty useless, unless you have some idea of what to do with it. It also reminds me of what the speaker at one of my commencement ceremonies said; "Always remember that your plumbing, as well, as your theories, must hold water."

 

Comparative literature is all about the way people have dreamed, day-dreamed, imagined over the ages, plumbed the depths of thought, emotion, human experience. Seeing that others have been over the same ground, the same questions and difficulties, hundreds or thousands of years before us, we can learn from their mistakes or successes, and, possibly avoid repeating history, or re-inventing the wheel. Otherwise, we're in for trouble.

 

Big trouble. We've come pretty close to it during the Bush years, and this is regardless of whether you're a liberal or conservative. It's become very clear that an administration run by a president who boasted about never reading newspapers, a VP and Sec. of State who had utter disregard for history or cultures other than their own, who stuck to narrow,black-and-white thinking ("you're either for us or you're against us")and rushed in where angels feared to tread, have brought us all down,whatever our political persuasion. So much of this could have been saved by even just a little reading of Shakespeare, not to mention Disraeli, T.E.Lawrence, Caesar, and Marcus Aurelius,or Abe Lincoln, to name just a few. They'd all been there, done that. But nooooo... they didn't even bother to ask GW's dad anything about war,diplomacy,Iraq, or anything else, for that matter.

 

Of course some of that useful history is not all that long ago. In Nazi Germany, a entire generation was raised with very circumscribed ideas about what was and was not "acceptable" art and literature, while being very highly trained in the sciences and technology. Millions of books were banned, and burned, in an effort to rewrite history and literature,to focus thought, opinion, and maniacal pride on an ethnocentric pinpoint. The result was an educational system that produced people who could design, build, and close the doors on the gas chambers and cremation ovens, and when questioned about it later, say with complete equanimity, "Vell, I vass chust doing my job...". To this day there are Germans young and old who think that Adolf Hitler was "a very nice man." The arts and humanities can probably never completely prevent this kind of thing, but they go a long way towards making this a world where people are likely to think twice before committing anything to the flames.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by Mtguide

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no wonder Europe is ahead of us, they don't waste time and money on needless dribble.

 

Most industrial nations are ahead of us because families in those nations recognize the [free market] value of education. Parents in those cultures are just far more actively engaged in insuring their children leverage educational opportunities than are comparable parents in the U.S. Further, much more is demanded from their children both at school and home with regard to academics.

 

Lester Thurow was in PDX about 15 years ago and, with regard to the lack of comparable and rigorous national academic standards in the U.S., noted "the U.S. has over 5,000 local school boards all cranking out a lousy product...". He makes a worthy point, but the other shoe as the biggest obstacle to better academic achievement in the U.S. is the behavior of families.

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A Quibble

 

By Mark Slouka

 

We have every reason to be pleased with ourselves. Bucking all recent precedent, we seem to have put a self-possessed, intelligent man in the White House who, if he manages to avoid being bronzed before his first hundred days are up, may actually succeed in correcting the course of empire. The bubble is rushing back to plumb; excitement is in the air. It would be churlish to quibble.

 

Still, let’s. Although the guard at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has indisputably changed, although the new boss is not the same as the old boss, I’m less certain about us. I’d like to believe that we’re a different people now; that we’re more educated, more skeptical, more tough-minded than we were when we gave the outgoing gang of criminals enough votes to steal the presidential election, twice, but it’s hard work; actual human beings keep getting in the way.

 

My neighbor, a high school teacher living about an hour outside New York City, wants to torture a terrorist. He’s worried because he believes that Osama—excuse me, Obama—cares more about terrorists than he does about us. He’s never heard of the Spanish Inquisition. Another neighbor—an actual plumber, actually named Joe—wants Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time tossed out of the high school library. Joe came by recently. Did I want my kids learning how to curse and kill dogs and commit adultery? he asked. I said that my kids already knew how to curse, and that I hadn’t realized that killing dogs and committing adultery were things you had to learn. He showed me the book. He and his wife had gone through it with a blue highlighter and highlighted the words “crap,” “shit,” and “damn” every time they appeared, on every page. They’d written to Laura Bush about it, and received a supportive letter in return, signed by the first lady. “You’re a teacher,” he said. “Don’t tell me you support this kind of filth.” I asked him if he’d read it. Well, no, he said, but he knew what it was about. He didn’t really go in for reading, himself, he said.

 

I like a party as much as the next man, and I still have moments when I realize that the bastards are really, truly out and think that maybe, this time, it really is morning in America, but a voice from outside the ether cone keeps whispering that we haven’t changed at all, that we’re as dangerous to ourselves as we’ve ever been, and that the relative closeness of the popular vote in this last election (given the almost embarrassing superiority of the winning ticket and the parade of ca tastrophes visited on the nation by the outgoing party) proves it. Go ahead and bask, this voice says, but that rumble you hear above the drums and the partymakers is real, and it’s coming our way.

 

What we need to talk about, what someone needs to talk about, particularly now, is our ever-deepening ignorance (of politics, of foreign languages, of history, of science, of current affairs, of pretty much everything) and not just our ignorance but our complacency in the face of it, our growing fondness for it. A generation ago the proof of our foolishness, held up to our faces, might still have elicited some redeeming twinge of shame—no longer. Today, across vast swaths of the republic, it amuses and comforts us. We’re deeply loyal to it. Ignorance gives us a sense of community; it confers citizenship; our representatives either share it or bow down to it or risk our wrath.

 

Seen from a sufficient distance (a decade abroad, for example), or viewed through a protective filter, like film, or alcohol, there can be something almost endearing about it. It can appear quaint, part of our foolish-but- authentic, naive-yet-sincere, rough-hewn spirit. Up close and personal, unromanticized and unfiltered, it’s another thing entirely. In the flesh, barking from the electronic pulpit or braying back from the audience, our ignorance can be sobering. We don’t know. Or much care. Or care to know.

 

What do we care about? We care about auto racing and Jessica. We care about food, oh yes, please, very much. And money. (Did you catch the last episode of I Love Money?) We care about Jesus, though we’re a bit vague on his teachings. And America. We care about America. And the flag. And the troops, though we’re untroubled by the fact that the Bush Administration lied us into the conflict, then spent years figuring out that armor in war might be a good idea. Did I mention money?

 

Here’s the mirror—look and wince. One out of every four of us believes we’ve been reincarnated; 44 percent of us believe in ghosts; 71 percent, in angels. Forty percent of us believe God created all things in their present form sometime during the last 10,000 years. Nearly the same number—not coincidentally, perhaps—are functionally illiterate. Twenty percent think the sun might revolve around the earth. When one of us writes a book explaining that our offspring are bored and disruptive in class because they have an indigo “vibrational aura” that means they are a gifted race sent to this planet to change our consciousness with the help of guides from a higher world, half a million of us rush to the bookstores to lay our money down.

 

Wherever it may have resided before, the brain in America has migrated to the region of the belt—not below it, which might at least be diverting, but only as far as the gut—where it has come to a stop. The gut tells us things. It tells us what’s right and what’s wrong, who to hate and what to believe and who to vote for. Increasingly, it’s where American politics is done. All we have to do is listen to it and the answer appears in the little window of the eight ball: “Don’t trust him. Don’t know. Undecided. Just because, that’s why.” We know because we feel, as if truth were a matter of personal taste, or something to be divined in the human heart, like love.

 

I was raised to be ashamed of my ignorance, and to try to do something about it if at all possible. I carry that burden to this day, and have successfully passed it on to my children. I don’t believe I have the right to an opinion about something I know nothing about—constitutional law, for example, or sailing—a notion that puts me sadly out of step with a growing majority of my countrymen, many of whom may be unable to tell you anything at all about Islam, say, or socialism, or climate change, except that they hate it, are against it, don’t believe in it. Worse still (or more amusing, depending on the day) are those who can tell you, and then offer up a stew of New Age blather, right-wing rant, and bloggers’ speculation that’s so divorced from actual, demonstrable fact, that’s so not true, as the kids would say, that the mind goes numb with wonder. “Way I see it is,” a man in the Tulsa Motel 6 swimming pool told me last summer, “if English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for us.”

 

Quite possibly, this belief in our own opinion, regardless of the facts, may be what separates us from the nations of the world, what makes us unique in God’s eyes. The average German or Czech, though possibly no less ignorant than his American counterpart, will probably consider the possibility that someone who has spent his life studying something may have an opinion worth considering. Not the American. Although perfectly willing to recognize expertise in basketball, for example, or refrigerator repair, when it comes to the realm of ideas, all folks (and their opinions) are suddenly equal. Thus evolution is a damned lie, global warming a liberal hoax, and Republicans care about people like you.

 

But there’s more. Not only do we believe that opinion (our own) trumps expertise; we then go further and demand that expertise assume the position—demand, that is, that those with actual knowledge supplicate themselves to the Believers, who don’t need to know. The logic here, if that’s the term, seems to rest on the a priori conviction that belief and knowledge are separate and unequal. Belief is higher, nobler; it comes from the heart; it feels like truth. There’s a kind of Biblical grandeur to it, and as God’s chosen, we have an inherent right to it. Knowledge, on the other hand, is impersonal, easily manipulated, inherently suspect. Like the facts it’s based on, it’s slippery, insubstantial—not solid like the things you believe.

 

The corollary to the axiom that belief beats knowledge, of course, is that ordinary folks shouldn’t value the latter too highly, and should be suspicious of those who do. Which may explain our inherent discomfort with argument. We may not know much, but at least we know what we believe. Tricky elitists, on the other hand, are always going on. Confusing things. We don’t trust them. So what if Sarah Palin couldn’t answer Charlie Gibson’s sneaky question about the Bush Doctrine? We didn’t know what it was either.

 

How did we come to this pass? We could blame the American education system, I suppose, which has been retooled over the past two generations to churn out workers (badly), not skeptical, informed citizens. Or we could look to the great wasteland of television, whose homogenizing force and narcotizing effect has quite neatly corresponded to the rising tide of ignorance. Or we could spend some time analyzing the fungus of associations that has grown around the word “elitist,” which can now be applied to a teacher driving a thirteen-year-old Toyota but not to a multimillionaire CEO like Dick Cheney. Or, finally, we might look to the influence of the anti-elitist elites who, burdened by the weight of their Ph.D.s, will argue that the words “educated” and “ignorant” are just signifiers of class employed by the oligarchy to keep the underprivileged in their place, and then proceed to tell you how well Bobby is doing at Princeton.

 

But I’m less interested in the ingredients of this meal than in who’s going to have to eat it, and when, and at what cost. There’s no particular reason to believe, after all, that things will improve; that our ignorance and gullibility will miraculously abate, that the militant right and the entrenched left, both so given to caricature, will simultaneously emerge from their bunkers eager to embrace complexity, that our disdain for facts and our aversion to argument will reverse themselves. Precisely the opposite is likely. In fact, if we take the wider view, and compare today’s political climate (the arrogance with which our leaders now conduct their extralegal adventures, the crudity of the propaganda used to manipulate us, our increasing willingness to cheer the lie and spit on the truth, just so long as the lie is ours) to that of even a generation ago, then extend the curve a decade or two into the future, it’s easier to imagine a Balkanized nation split into rival camps cheered and sustained by their own propaganda than the republic of reason and truth so many of us want to believe in.

 

Traditions die hard, after all. Anti-intellectualism in America is a very old hat—a stovepipe, at least, maybe even a coonskin. We wear it well; we’re unlikely to give it up just like that. Consider, for example, what happens to men or women (today as ever) the minute they declare themselves candidates for office, how their language —their syntax, their level of diction, the field from which their analogies are drawn—takes a nosedive into the common pool. Notice how quickly the contractions creep in and the sleeves roll up. The comparison to high school seems appropriate; the pressure to adapt is considerable, and it’s all in one direction—down. In American politics, as in the cafeteria, the crowd sets the tone. It doesn’t know much, and if you want in, you’d better not either. Should you want out, of course, all you have to do is inadvertently let on—for example, by using the word “inadvertently”—that you’re a reasonably educated human being, and the deed is done.

 

Communicate intelligently in America and you’re immediately suspect. As one voter from Alaska expressed it last fall, speaking of Obama, “He just seems snotty, and he looks weaselly.” This isn’t race talking; it’s education. There’s something sneaky about a man like Obama (or even John Kerry, who, though no Disraeli, could construct a sentence in English with a beginning, a middle, and an end), because he seems intelligent. It makes people uneasy. Who knows what he might be thinking?

 

But doesn’t this past election, then, sound the all clear? Doesn’t the fact that Obama didn’t have to lower himself to win suggest that the ignorant are outnumbered? Can’t we simply ignore the third of white evangelicals who believe the world will end in their lifetimes, or the millennialists who know that Obama’s the Antichrist because the winning lottery number in Illinois was 666?

 

For starters, consider how easily things might have gone the other way had the political and economic climate not combined into a perfect political storm for the Republican Party; had the Dow been a thousand points higher in September, or gas a dollar cheaper. Truth is, we got lucky; the bullet grazed our skull.

 

Next, consider the numbers. Of the approximately 130 million Americans who voted this past November, very nearly half, seemingly stuck in political puberty, were untroubled by the possibility of Sarah Palin and the first dude inheriting the White House. At the same time, those of us on the winning side might want to do a cross-check before landing. How many of us—not just in the general election but in the primaries, when there was still a choice—voted for Obama because he was the It thing this season, because he was so likable, because he had that wonderful voice, because he was black, because he made us feel as if Atticus Finch had come home? If nothing else, the fact that so many have convinced themselves that one man, thus far almost entirely untested, will slay the culture of corruption with one hand while pulling us out of the greatest mess we’ve known in a century with the other suggests that a certain kind of “clap your hands if you believe” naiveté crosses the aisle at will.

 

But the electorate, whatever its issues, is not the real problem. The real problem, the unacknowledged pit underlying American democracy, is the 38 percent of the population who didn’t move, didn’t vote. Think of it: a country the size of Germany—83 million people—within our own borders. Many of its citizens, after decades of watching the status quo perpetuate itself, are presumably too fed up to bother, a stance we can sympathize with and still condemn for its petulance and immaturity, its unwillingness to acknowledge the fact that in every election there is a better and a worse choice. Millions of others, however, are adults who don’t know what the Bill of Rights is, who have never heard of Lenin, who think Africa is a nation, who have never read a book. I’ve talked to enough of them to know that many are decent people, and that decency is not enough. Witches are put to the stake by decent people. Ignorance trumps decency any day of the week.

 

Praise me for a citizen or warm up the pillory, it comes down to the unpleasant fact that a significant number of our fellow citizens are now as greedy and gullible as a boxful of puppies; they’ll believe anything; they’ll attack the empty glove; they’ll follow that plastic bone right off the cliff. Nothing about this election has changed that fact. If they’re ever activated—if the wrong individual gets to them, in other words, before the educational system does—we may live to experience a tyranny of the majority Tocqueville never imagined.---from Harper's February 2009

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"We had to destroy the village in order to save it.."

 

-US Army Ranger mission report, Vietnam, 1971.

 

 

"Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."

 

-Edmund Burke

 

"Liberty is always unfinished business."

 

-Title of American Civil Liberties Union annual report, 1956

Edited by Mtguide

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Just for accuracy's sake, the quote was:

 

'it became necessary to destroy the town to save it...'

 

and was attributed to an unnamed Air Force Major by AP stringer Peter Arnett on 2/7/68 in regard to the destruction of Ben Tre which is the capital of Ben Tre Provence in the heart of the Mekong Delta. If I recall correctly the quote was made in the context of the fact B-52 strikes pretty much returned everything back to level ground. Life Magazine used it across a two-page aerial view of Ben Tre after the fact.

 

Now the basic concept is codified in the euphemism "Ben Tre logic"...

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Many thanks, I stand corrected. After all, we are talking about clarity,and that means attention to detail. I'd honestly never bothered to check the source I first got that quote from, years ago. Hm, for that matter, I have to admit I'm not entirely sure it was Edmund Burke who said "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." Thom Paine? Jefferson? Patrick Henry?

 

I had a wonderful American History teacher in high school who told us to never be afraid to ask a question, because, "it's better to look stupid for five minutes, than to be ignorant the rest of your life."

Edited by Mtguide

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That's o.k., I only know because I was a photog in Vietnam and recalled that Life Magazine spread from my high school days and realized at the time how perfectly it had portrayed our enduring predicament.

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That's pretty cool, I'd like to hear about that, maybe see some photos, over a brew at PubClub sometime. And Peter Arnett; now THAT was a great journalist and newsman. They'd probably never hire someone like him nowdays, too accurate, articulate, and penetrating. Also the difference between my version of the quote and the real thing, it conveys a whole other level of nuance and intent: "...it became necessary...". Words do make a huge difference.

 

 

"A tenth of an inch difference, and heaven and earth are set apart."

 

-Chinese Ch'an (Zen) Proverb

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this thread has turned out some mega-gaint responses!

 

come on people, you make me feel guilty when i have to scroll through your 5 page magnus opus! my high school failed me! i never learned to read! where is the goddamn porn?!?

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okay, and now time for my rant:

 

would all you fucking hardman quit doing fucking brilliant climbs and writing goddamn tr's about it!?! stuart, dragontail, colonial, etc. i mean shit, you're really fucking w/ my self-esteem here :(

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I read through your initial rant, but I am not going to read through all of the other replies.

Suffice it to say, growing up and through High School I hated literature.

At the UW I learned to love it, BA Language and Literature.

I have been a veracious reading for the past 25 years. The last classic I read was Victor Hugo’s epic,”Le Miserable.” (It was a translation, but unabridged.)

The analytical skills I developed at University help me enormously in understanding Victor Hugo. You can just pick up and read something like Le Mis, but unless you can use analytical skills then it is just a meaningless story, interspersed with history lessons.

 

After applying your newly found skills you can find an epic classic dealing with the ongoing struggle between justice, and mercy. Furthermore you need to delve into the idea that Justice and Mercy can not exist with out the other.

Then you can get even deep on how Justus and Mercy look like when personified in a personality.

Finally, you need to ask yourself is Victor Hugo really writing a series of essay on the different kinds of misery of the human experience and then applied it to a story line, supported by all of the above points.

 

It is quite in depth – if you want to look.

 

Be very careful now because once you take the pill of understanding literature the rabbit hold is very, very deep and there is not coming out….

 

 

 

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I believe the rabbit hole currently surfaces in the Tel Hawwa neighborhood in Gaza City after a recent departure from Souj Bulak, a Kurdish neighborhood outside of Tabriz, Iran. Damn rabbits...

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I believe the rabbit hole currently surfaces in the Tel Hawwa neighborhood in Gaza City after a recent departure from Souj Bulak, a Kurdish neighborhood outside of Tabriz, Iran. Damn rabbits...

 

Hasenfeffer!!! :lmao:

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