Home > Critical Thinking, Culture & Media, History > What can be done? (Postman part 4.5)

What can be done? (Postman part 4.5)

Another interlude in the Amusing Ourselves to Death series, originally posted October 2006.


Gregmc [a blogger at Townhall at the time] commented on the last Amusing Ourselves to Death installment with two excellent questions, the answers to which I thought warrant a full post. I was already thinking of providing some attempt at answering such questions at the end of this series, but it may be more useful to introduce this discussion here so that as the remaining evidence unfolds, we can consider it in this light. So, with thanks to gregmc for the input, here goes.

The first question, preceded by a summary of what he understood me to be saying:

…what I gather from this article is that there are those of us who, due to the fact that we don’t spend the majority of our time brain dead watching the boob tube, we instead deliberately and happily concentrate our attention to the pursuit of knowledge through the written word. Therefore, I feel that sometimes a majority of what I attempt to explain to someone is simply lost on them regardless of how much I try to simplify it. Is this what is inferred here and if so what are the possible cures?

Yes, what Postman has concluded from his observations is that those who study and pursue knowledge in a typographic environment tend to develop and maintain skills in logic and reasoning that those in a visual world will not, rendering the latter class of individuals less capable cognitively (at least I believe the data suggests this rather strongly). Consequently, what we try to share with them about reality based on data and logic, may, indeed, go over their heads. As we will see in later chapters, Mr. Postman has assembled an impressive body of data in several relevant fields to prove his thesis.

But the analogy of muscle is very useful here. The muscle is always there. It’s not that the visually oriented can’t think objectively and logically. It’s a skill that must be learned, just as muscle must be fed and exercised to be able to fully and efficiently do its job.

And this muscular analogy also provides insight into the possible cures. To strengthen muscle, it must be both fed and exercised. In terms of the question on hand, this translates into proper education (feeding) that includes “opportunities” to use the knowledge that is imparted in a way that goes beyond simple regurgitation of rote facts (exercise). Alas, our public education system, in most instances, can’t even get rote facts right. As noted here [alas and forsooth, I’ve lost this link, but the documentation of the assertion is not hard to find], most of 14,000 randomly selected freshmen and seniors at 50 four-year colleges and universities nationwide flunked a 60 multiple-choice question test of their knowledge of US history, government, foreign affairs, and economics. Most of this information should have been imparted in high school, so the fault cannot strictly be placed on the colleges and universities (although they apparently do nothing to solve the problem as evidenced by virtually no difference in scores between freshmen and seniors). But I think the words of Winston Churchill apply here:

Never give in. Never, never, never, never! Never yield in any way, great or small, large or petty, except to convictions of honor and good sense.

One cure would be to make the public schools focus more on reading, writing, and arithmetic rather than values clarification and pretending you’re a Muslim to promote “understanding.” Private schools that major in the 3 R’s should be sought out and supported. For those who can, homeschooling is another excellent option, and is actually a rather large movement in this country owing to the stark failure of the public education system.

Nor is it ever too late to change. Education and mental exercise can start anytime in life. Here Paul’s advice to Timothy is applicable:

But the servant of the Lord must not strive, but to be gentle to all, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those who oppose, if perhaps God will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth…. (2 Timothy 2:24-25)

The second question:

It has taken generations for the socialist agenda to dumb down our populace and I imagine it will take generations to fix it. How do we hang on long enough to reverse the damage done?

What we are engaged in here at TownHall.com [OK, so this would be past tense now for the Townhall blog platform] and other such websites is one way to hang on. I think the evolution of the “new media” and blogosphere is itself a good indication that there is a significant “remnant” of people who can still think, and who exercise their mind by reading and writing. The mental acumen of many of our fellow TownHallers appears to be way above average (if I do say so myself; of course, my sample size is somewhat small, especially compare to the entire blogosphere, but….).

The other thing we need to do is get involved in the education of our children, and that includes not just our own family. I’m using “our” in the big, generic sense of “our American children.” If you have children of your own, start there. And then teach your children to teach their peers.

Any other ideas are welcomed in the comments section.

I will close with this quote from Rene’ Descartes as a suggested goal for our efforts, or perhaps a motto:

It is not enough to have a good mind; the main thing is to use it well.

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