A LITTLE KNOWLEDGE
-W.B. Yeats, Meditations in Time of Civil War
Just about everyone knows that there's a serious problem with education in America. Its not that there are no good schools, but that there are so very many barely tolerable and bad ones. Great effort has been made again and again to fix education, usually by heaping cash on the schools in the hopes that it will all get better from the sheer weight of it, or something.
Per pupil spending on average in America has doubled in the last 15 years. In 1987 the average public school teacher's salary was just under $27,000 a year, and as by 2009 had risen to just under $53,000 a year, doubling in 25 years' time. Support staff, administration, and non-teacher employees of public schools quadrupled in that time period. Education is one of the largest sectors of the economy in America, with more than $250,000,000,000 spent for three million teachers and administrators each year.
Meanwhile, a focus on homework has risen in recent years, with kids staggering home under the crushing weight of backpacks full of books and papers to read each day. And yet, for all that, we know so little.
SAT scores have dropped steadily since the 1960s despite being "retooled" three times to make the test somewhat easier. The same study shows that almost 40% of high school students are unable to draw inferences from written material, and in California, 3 million students when tested were unable to find the Pacific Ocean on a map.
THE SEA OF DATA
We're awash in information every day through smart phones, the internet, 24 hour a day news channels, and continual bombardment through every media. People know more about more things than ever before in America, but from it all, we know so little. A recent example in the media helps illustrate this fact. After the Zimmerman trial, a professor wrote:
The not guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman case has me thinking a lot about a book I first encountered in seminary, Is God a White Racist?, by the Rev. Dr. Bill Jones. As a budding seminary student, it took me by surprise. Now, as a wiser, older professor looking at the needless death of Trayvon Martin, I have to say: I get it.This was written at a religious site, and it is packed with some of the most hateful, bitter ignorance I've ever seen in my life. I'm not going to take the time to Fisk this nonsense, because I think her foolishness is abundantly apparent and its been hammered apart elsewhere quite well.
God ain’t good all of the time. In fact, sometimes, God is not for us. As a black woman in a nation that has taken too many pains to remind me that I am not a white man, and am not capable of taking care of my reproductive rights, or my voting rights, I know that this American god ain’t my god. As a matter of fact, I think he’s a white racist god with a problem. More importantly, he is carrying a gun and stalking young black men.
When George Zimmerman told Sean Hannity that it was God’s will that he shot and killed Trayvon Martin, he was diving right into what most good conservative Christians in America think right now. Whatever makes them protected, safe, and secure, is worth it at the expense of the black and brown people they fear.
Their god is the god that wants to erase race, make everyone act “properly” and respect, as the president said, “a nation of laws”; laws that they made to crush those they consider inferior.
The problem is that this is an educated woman, a professor of Religious Studies and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and Graduate Chair of Religious Studies. She isn't uniformed about life, she isn't stupid, she's just ignorant and wrong. She's filled with information, but only enough to get her into ridiculous, even troubling places.
The problem is that people are being filled with facts and data, but not knowledge. This is a pretty subtle difference but it is an important one. And it helps explain the problem with education and the low-information population we are saddled with.
Facts are things like "ripe tomatoes are red" and "plants need water" but knowledge allows you to grow tomatoes properly. Facts give you pieces of separate, discrete information without context or meaning. Data is merely a piece of info, it doesn't help you know why or what to do with it. Facts and data only give you a semblance of an education, they allow you to answer questions and sound informed, but without the ability to string those facts together into meaning or to put them to use, all you are is a recording that's been fed with little bits of things.
If you are never educated how to think and how to put those pieces of information together into more than their parts, then all you will have is a semblance of education and knowledge. Take all those stats I bombarded you with at the top about education, all those numbers. People love that kind of thing, they love to quote and repeat and link to it. Oh, its terrible, look at that.
But what does it mean? What can you do with that? Mere effective repetition what you've been given does not mean you understand any of it.
NO ASSEMBLY POSSIBLE
Professor Butler I quoted above has her pieces of information, the data she's been spoon fed about the world and can take those pieces and arrange them in interesting shapes, but she can't make any sense of any of it in the process. You can give a donkey a bunch of geometric shapes of different colors and that donkey can form them into patterns that are interesting and even attractive, but it can't make the shapes, create the colors, or turn them into anything resembling real art.
Without learning to understand, analyze, and do something with that information, there's been no real education. Sure, that kid can answer those questions on a test like an ace. He can repeat the bits of information when called on. He sounds informed and educated, but he doesn't know anything.
As I wrote in my series on education, you have to learn not only to make something out of what you've learned, but to build your own new thoughts before you can truly be called educated. Modern education has stalled at the Grammar stage, where the student is packed with bits of information but never taught what or how to do anything with any of it.
After generations of this sort of education, America is filled with a population not only unable to understand or string together these facts into something meaningful, but no interest whatsoever in doing so. To be sure, they know all about multiculturalism and political correctness, they know what the Kardashians are doing and who Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt are dating. They have facts memorized about celebrities and sports stars that would astound celebrities fifty years ago.
What they don't know is what party controls the senate, how bad unemployment is, what self defense means, or how the US constitution was designed. They don't know right from wrong, they know comfort from pain, like an animal.
And that's how people can claim that we know more about President Obama than any previous president despite knowing so little about his education, what he did in his jobs, and his youth: because there are books out there telling trivia about him, giving bits of facts carefully designed for a specific image and goal.
THE PATH TO RUIN
We didn't get here out of some malicious plot, it was all done with well meaning naivete. When warnings were given by men like C.S. Lewis, they were dismissed as old fashioned, or just ignored because he used such big words and I got better things to do, bro. Education didn't get to this state out of a hatred for learning, but out of a desire for kids to feel better about themselves, for teachers to be nicer, and for education to develop a sort of citizen which better fits their utopian ideal of a leftist future.
The end of this kind of culture isn't hard to imagine. We're living through it right now. Ignorant people are easy to manipulate and ignore. People filled with facts instead of knowledge, with data instead of wisdom are unequipped to deal with rising tyranny and control. This sort of person is easy to distract, easy to confuse, and easy to manipulate. You can get Joe Average to vote for you based not on what's happening or who you are, but what you make them feel and hope for.
Aldous Huxley wrote about this in Brave New World, about how a government sure it knew better than everyone else controlled an entire nation through drugs, careful education, and entertainment. We're in that state, with most kids drugged, and everyone more worried about celebrity antics than the collapse of the Republic.
Many people can see the problems and are very concerned, but they don't seem to understand something. They yell about getting your guns, about being ready and armed, about the frustration of being in that awkward place between being pointless to vote, but too soon to start shooting.
They don't seem to comprehend that we aren't facing a foe with weapons we can shoot it out with. We're facing an army of Wormtongues from Lord of the Rings, whispering into a hundred million ears. And there's no Gandalf coming to set them free.
The only answer to this is local, personal, and generational. We cannot fix anything from the top down, so who wins what election is really irrelevant to this fight. The leaders of today are the product of this destroyed education system and share the lack of understanding the rest of modern American culture does. Politicians aren't cut from a better cloth, and that Yale or Harvard degree doesn't mean what it once did: its all the way to the top, these days.
You have to fight and work with the weapons at hand, against the foe you face, not the one you prefer or understand best. And the best and easiest way to fight is to raise your kids carefully. Who gives them their worldview? Who has the greatest access to their minds? Who is educating, shaping, and raising them?
Is it television? The internet? Teachers who are the basic core of this problem? No matter what you say at home and how much Rush Limbaugh you listen to, no matter how many times you make them go to church on Sunday, you won't win that fight. You have to be the dominant influence on their education and understanding of the world or they will end up exactly the same way as the rest.
And to be able to do that, you have to understand, yourself. You have to break the education and culture you've been raised with. You have to learn and change your worldview or you won't be able to teach it to others. You have to break yourself free from your culture and rethink everything in this new light. Even things you've always found comfortable and pleasing. You have to break free of presumptions and things you've never questioned.
And when you've learned and opened your eyes, you have to spread that to your friends and family as well. Not just your children but your spouse, your brothers and sisters, and so on. Not by preaching and judging, but by informing and being.
Christianity teaches the concept of "witnessing" where you bring the gospel to the world, but that doesn't mean just talking, it means living. Witnesses are primarily passive; you witness a crime by being at the right place at the right time and perceiving, not by tracking them down like a detective. Witnessing is being something different and better so people are made curious and take note not of you but of who you represent.
And that's what this change will take, in the culture. Conservatives have to be different, have to live different. We have to give a viable, superior alternative to the offering of the left. We have to be better people, more productive, more conscientious, because taking the tactics and behavior of the left will merely make us into them in short order. Yes, it will take a long time. It will be brutal. It will feel pointless, as I wrote in a piece a while back:
We all know deep down, I think, that this will be a long, hard fight for every inch of ground. What we don't have is a visible sense of accomplishment, and wracked by dread of what failure means, it is so difficult to keep going every morning with any real energy and excitement. Every single day, at every single moment, the left works to demoralize and ruin us, and it often gets through.But what matters is the truth, not how successful we feel. Feelings and subjective perception are the realm of the enemy, that's how they run their entire lives. Truth and reality, reason and righteousness have to be our realm. Truth is true, even when it doesn't feel true.
Because in the end, that's the only way we have a chance of getting through this to the other side. Its going to take a long time, and its going to be a rough fight. We'll lose some people we love along the way, including kids, no matter how hard we work and how much we love. But the only hope we have of coming through this is to keep going, locally, where we live.