Basic skills

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(Host) Recently commentator Ruth Page has been wondering if too many Americans are escaping reality by neglecting education and serious thought.

(Page) For many years I’ve wondered, idly, how it is that so many Americans boast when their children excel in school, and take pride in their intelligence; yet at the same time make fun of learned adults as “just a bunch of Eggheads and Nerds.”

A week or so ago I read a piece in a local paper suggesting that maybe, since schoolchildren don’t seem to be learning basic skills in reading, writing, grammar and spelling, we’re going to end up with a split American public. One batch of us will take language accuracy seriously, and speak, write and think systematically and according to the rules of grammar; another batch of us can’t be bothered. One group will think, the other won’t.

Words are what we think with. Approximations don’t work. For millennia, there were civilizations in which only the elite had basic speaking and writing skills. If we can’t think with precision and accuracy, we can’t convey thoughts clearly. In those civilizations, the ignorant had their lives managed for them, became powerless, and were incapable of developing a democracy.

Is there a danger of America returning to such a state? Will the majority spend its time watching sports and sitcoms on TV, possibly getting a smattering of “news” there, gathering to drink beer and play games with buddies, and offering “opinions” by parroting others?

The country would no longer be a democracy. The majority would be spending its time escaping reality. A minority – and it looks like a minority now – would be trying to understand political, social, economic, and environmental events, and would attempt to improve troublesome situations. We’d have a split-in-half society.

This is NOT, of course, the way most of the human race behaves. Americans are able to be self-indulgent because of our wealth and power. Look at the people in societies where schools are closed to the poor and often to girls and women. What do they want most? Peace; and schools. Think of the women and children of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Here in New England, think of the immigrants from the East, and from Third World countries, who put studying first. Think of the young Sudanese men who came to Vermont a few years ago: they’re so eager to learn, they work at often menial jobs to support basic needs, go to high school or college, and study half the night. They make major sacrifices to put learning first.

Have you noticed how many of the scientific breakthroughs emanating from America in recent years have come from scientists who moved here from foreign countries mostly because we can afford to pay for the technology and the laboratories they need to do their experiments? We have many American-raised scientists, but there should be more.

This is Ruth Page, wondering whether an immense change may be taking place as we develop a largely Escapist Society.

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