Knowledge is power

To the Journal editor:

What we count as newsworthy, like what we count as historically significant, is a matter of opinion.

These days, many avid news seekers ferret out “news sources” that only reinforce their present biases. About 1.4 million Americans tune into Fox News each day, about 1.3 million view MSNBC and/or CNN. Together, that’s less than 1% of the U.S. population.

If you’re reading this, you probably believe most other people read the paper, as well. Pew Research says about 25 million Americans routinely or occasionally a physical or online newspaper; or about 7% of the U.S. population.

About seven million Americans watch the evening news on broadcast television; or about 2%.

All told, this might suggest about 10% of Americans make an active attempt to keep up with what’s going on in their local community, state, or nation.

I am told that many young people get their “news” from social media. The vast majority of the young people that I interact with, many of them college graduates, are embarrassingly clueless about what’s going on in their own country, much less in countries around the world.

As a retired educator, I share much of the blame for this dismal situation. Many students go to college to qualify for a specific career and resent having to take courses outside their career interests.

Several of my former colleagues agree, arguing that there wasn’t room in the packed degree programs to allow for general education courses such as civics, history, or philosophy. These same colleagues would bristle when I suggested that such narrowness rendered the university a glorified trade school.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with trade schools but institutions of “higher learning” shouldn’t pretend that they’re something that they’re not. Maybe it’s time to put away the robes, stoles and rethink what it means to be an informed, educated citizen.

Rich people send their kids to different kinds of schools. Private academies focus on leadership and require students to read, understand, and to be able to articulate the ideas underlying the great books; the foundational ideas that underlie human thought and behavior.

For a representative democracy to work, the majority of voters need to be well-informed and capable of understanding the ramifications of their decisions.

Plato feared that democracy would inevitably enable those motivated only by personal desires to attain power leading to mass ignorance, hysteria, and ultimate tyranny.


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