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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

America: Dumbing Down...Down...Down

Why do many Americans show arrogance about their lack of knowledge? The problem is not just the things we do not know (consider the one in five American adults who, according to the National Science Foundation, thinks the sun revolves around the Earth); it's the alarming number of Americans who have smugly concluded that they do not need to know such things in the first place. According to Susan Jacoby, , this attitude is known as "anti-rationalism -- a syndrome that is particularly dangerous to our public institutions and discourse." (Susan Jacoby, "The Dumbing Of America," The Washington Post, February 17 2008)

"Dumbing down" is a perceived over-simplification of education, news, and television (among other things), or a commonly accepted view of real cultural trends in education and culture. People associate "dumbing down" with a decline in creativity and innovation; a slide of artistic, cultural and intellectual standards; and even attempts to undermine or trivialize cultural, artistic, and academic creations. (John Algeo & Adele Algeo, "Among the New Words," American Speech, 1988)

The American system of public education has been repeatedly accused of "dumbing down" curriculum in the wake of poor student achievement and creating a society full of undereducated individuals. To account for critical demands of improvement by the public, states have initiated proficiency tests and have implemented special graduation exit requirements. 

One might ask how much of this "dumber" view of modern America is used deliberated by the social engineers to create an educational crisis in order to move their agendas forward by offering radical reforms that can be sold to the public as magic bullets for fixing the crisis -- which they seem never to do.

Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt in her book, The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America, (1999), says, "The new reforms simply set the stage for the next crisis, which provides the pretext for the next move forward. This is the dialectical process at work, a process our behavioral engineers have learned to use very effectively. Its success depends on the ability of the 'change agents' to continually deceive the public, which tends to believe any lie the experts tell them."

Is America, in fact, "dumbing down"? Based on their past experience, most of the older generation would readily answer "yes." However, how much of this view is complicated by the vast expanse of new knowledge and the advent of the computer age and its impact on what is essential knowledge?

Consider the importance of a skill many consider very important -- cursive writing. Carl Brown, principal of Manatee Elementary in Viera, Florida contends,"With all the other subjects we must teach, we just don't have the time to spend a lot of effort on cursive." He claims that's a big change from years past when even he had to attend a summertime handwriting camp because of his illegible scrawl.

"Nowadays, parents would be pretty upset if we sent kids to handwriting camp," he said. "Kids just don't write letters now. They send e-mails or text messages. ... A lot of those old ways are going away. How many bills do you pay by writing a check anymore?" (Megan Downs, "Schools Debate: Is Cursive Writing Worth Teaching?" USA Today, January 23 2009)

A good question may be, "Without cursive instruction, how are the children going to sign a paycheck?" But, that question could be answered the sophistication of identification advances. Still, non-cursive writing students will hopefully be able to read the cursive document, the Declaration of Independence.

If America is "dumbing down," what is to blame? Many people blame various causes: media, television, computers, poor nutrition, lack of parental involvement in child rearing, schools from K-college, lack of reading skills, short attention spans, gluttony, materialism, the forgotten middle class, corporate brainwashing. It gets to be so overwhelming that the very ideas of understanding change and reforming become lost. 

The signs are there. Without getting into discussions of politics, economics and other scholarly subjects, I will present some of my "pet" peeves that may serve as signals for "dumbing down."

1. Why does everybody have to get a trophy?

Today it seems awards for mediocrity are dished out repeatedly. At one time, if an individual or the team didn't win the top slots, they did not receive an award. Special meaning was attached to attaining the trophy. Now, everyone worries about the feelings of those who lose. Losing can teach valuable life lessons, but being rewarded when competition is the goal detracts from the purpose of the reward.

2. Why have we experienced the death of unbiased journalism?

Most get their news from television these days.When Rupert Murdoch, the chief executive of the News Corporation, donated $1 million to the Republican Governors Association this summer, he may have given an even bigger gift to its opponents. The Democratic Governors Association said its call to match the Murdoch contribution raised $1.7 million. Ginning up a fight with Fox News, which is owned by the News Corporation, “helped fire up the base,” said Nathan Daschle, the association’s executive director. (Brian Stelter, "Candidates Running Against, and With, Cable News," The New York Times, October 23 2010)

The topics, news spins, and opinions are clearly political on these networks, yet many Americans choose to believe the views presented in their favorite propaganda without comparing it to other, unbiased sources. It is rare to find real news without sensation and without interpretation. Too many rely on talking heads to spoon feed them meaning.

3. Why does a political party exist merely to make the other party fail?

Both the Democratic and Republican parties have engaged continuously in creating a bloated, power-grabbing national government at the direct expense of people's liberty and their property (through excessive taxes and confiscatory statutes). No candidate Republican or Democrat can run for office using the party label unless the party bestows that label upon him or her.  And usually, the party itself and not the candidate raises and controls all the campaign funds. So, the parties, with discipline in the ranks, vote as a block. Add to that that lobbyists help fund re-election campaigns.  A statesman encouraging bipartisanship? Forget it.

4. Why does everyone insist that drinking bottled water is better than drinking tap water?

Most purchased water is just tap water run through a special filtering system. But bottled water prices can run up to1,900 times the price of tap water. Why don't people purchase a filtration system for the house if they are that concerned?

Unlike tap water, where consumers are provided with test results every year, the bottled water industry is not required to disclose the results of any contaminant testing that it conducts. Instead, the industry hides behind the claim that bottled water is held to the same safety standards as tap water. Tests strongly indicate that the purity of bottled water cannot be trusted.

Researchers state: "Analyses conducted by the University of Iowa Hygienic Laboratory of these 10 brands of bottled water (brands not given) revealed a wide range of pollutants, including not only disinfection byproducts, but also common urban wastewater pollutants like caffeine and pharmaceuticals (Tylenol); heavy metals and minerals including arsenic and radioactive isotopes; fertilizer residue (nitrate and ammonia); and a broad range of other, tentatively identified industrial chemicals used as solvents, plasticizers, viscosity decreasing agents, and propellants." (Olga Naidenko, PhD, Senior Scientist; Nneka Leiba, MPH, Researcher; Renee Sharp, MS, Senior Scientist; Jane Houlihan, MSCE, Vice President for Research, "Bottled Water Contains Disinfection Byproducts, Fertilizer Residue, and Pain Medication," Environmental Working Group, October 2008)

5. Why do comedy shows such as America's Funniest Home Videos keep showing clip after clip of embarrassing groin shots?

Groin shots (nut shots, ball busters) debilitate the recipient. In brief, they are agonizing. Every man on this planet can tell you the date and circumstances surrounding the worst time that he got hit in the "boys." It’s not that funny when you are the recipient. Groin shots are terribly over-distributed on television and on the Net as hilarious comedy.

Notice, these video clips never show reactions of women being "groined." Evidently, that is not as funny or not as painful. Do women get a special charge out of watching a man in agony? To most men, even seeing a groin shot sends chills down his spine.

Here is what happens. A male's testicles have many nerves on them, which when struck cause extreme pain. Simultaneously, when a male is hit, the abdominal muscles contract, which causes loss of breath. A man also usually doubles over because of the muscle contraction and to prevent further damage to the testicles. The majority of pain occurs in the abdominal cavity, this is because the nerves run to the abdominal cavity, from which the testicles descended so it is where the pain runs. Some men also experience nausea, sometimes leading to vomiting. Often times there can be a persistent pain for anywhere from minutes to hours depending on the severity of the strike. Also, if a man's testicles are struck with sufficient force, the testicles can rupture, causing possible infertility and pain.

6. Why do many women insist on getting "boob jobs" for strictly cosmetic reasons?

Shame on any man who suggests that a woman needs a boob job. And, shame on any woman who thinks she is inferior without one. Huge, enhanced, basketball-size breasts look very unusual to most. I sincerely believe most "breast men" even impose their own average limits.What is the thinking strategy of those who insist "bigger is better"? Do many women actually believe that a girl is more attractive or "more of a woman" with bigger breasts? Are most men rabid over humongous "knockers"?

OK, granted, when breasts start to lose their shape through age, the idea of having a boob job becomes a more and more realistic proposition. Having pert, solid breasts may be something that makes women feel more confident, and in our society that worships perfect female forms, it is unsurprising that so many women feel the need to 'fit in' with images shown on television, in film and in magazines.

Yet, isn't that still major vanity? Will implants on a woman's chest make a mate stop philandering, make the recipient more beautiful, or insure a woman's self-confidence? After all, sooner or later, gravity and time will sink the results of those operations. The proposed solution seems temporary, akin to belief in eternal youth.

Men will continue to stare at women's boobs and butts, but each man has his own ideas of perfection, not necessarily correlating with "super-size." The sexy concealment, the skill of sensual seduction, and the overall appeal of form create desire. Sexiness depends more on a woman's ability to use her brain than to rely on any other part of her body.

7. Why do many people believe so strongly in No Child Left Behind?

When the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law was proposed, many believed a major improvement had been added to American education.The law requires schools to meet certain goals each year, based largely on students’ scores on tests like the ACT. Those schools that do not do so must take specifically mandated steps that may involve providing tutors, replacing school staff, restructuring or even privatizing the school.

In reality, NCLB has not been the biggest needed reform."The basic strategy is measuring and punishing," former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch says of No Child Left Behind. "And it turns out as a result of putting so much emphasis on the test scores, there's a lot of cheating going on, there's a lot of gaming the system. Instead of raising standards it's actually lowered standards because many states have 'dumbed down' their tests or changed the scoring of their tests to say that more kids are passing than actually are." (Steve Inskeep, "Former 'No Child Left Behind' Advocate Turns Critic," NPR, March 2 2010)

Every state was able to define proficiency as it saw fit, which allowed states to claim gains even when there were none. Some states contend that 80 to 90 percent of their children are proficient readers and have math proficiency as well, Ravitch notes. But in the same states, only 25 to 30 of the children test at a proficient level on national tests such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Many parents and students did not want to leave their neighborhood school, even if the federal government offered them free transportation and the promise of a better school. In California, less than 1 percent of eligible students in "failing" schools asked to transfer to another school; in Colorado, less than 2 percent did; in Michigan, the number of transfers under NCLB was negligible; in Miami, where public school choice was already commonplace, less than ½ of 1 percent asked to move because of NCLB.(Steve Inskeep, "Former 'No Child Left Behind' Advocate Turns Critic," NPR, March 2 2010)

NCLB offered free tutoring, but 80% turned it down. The tutoring agencies blamed the districts for not giving them space in the public schools, and the public schools blamed the tutoring agencies for demanding space that was needed for extracurricular activities. The tutors complained about the cost of liability insurance, and the districts complained that some of the tutoring companies were ineffective or were offering students gifts or money if they signed up for their classes. It also seemed likely that large numbers of low-performing students did not want a longer school day, even though they needed the extra help.  

Yet adult interests were well served by NCLB. The law generated huge revenues for tutoring and testing services, which became a sizable industry. Companies that offered tutoring, tests, and test prep materials were raking in billions of dollars annually from federal, state, and local governments, but the advantages to the nation's students were not obvious.

8. Why are many teachers neglecting correction of errors in their students' spelling and grammar?

The English language has rules, structure, and formations for definite reasons. Spelling errors indicate both a lack of basic education and a lack of personal responsibility to detail. In short, right or wrong, many times a person is judged as ignorant or incompetent for blunders in spelling. Why not deal with reality and relay the truth to those seeking employment and common respect? And, now, with spell-check, how could someone beg an excuse for poor spelling skills?

Sure, in this world of online communications, hastily written texts and emails filled with spelling and grammatical mistakes are easily accepted in an individual's personal world. But they are still unacceptable in the business world.

Beth N. Carvin, chief executive of Nobscot Corp., a human-resources consulting firm, says, "Tell him (a poor speller) if he is serious about his ambitions, he can't risk being perceived by senior leaders as immature, illiterate or lacking attention to detail." (Toddi Gutner, "Can Poor Spelling Derail a Career?" The Wall Street Journal, September 1 2009)

9. Why do judges put so-called "deadbeat dads" in jail?

Is jail time going to help dad to pay child support? A man cannot seek employment when he is in jail. And jail costs money, as do court costs. If financial hardship is causing the father to be late with his payments, how are these extra costs going to help? Instead, make "deadbeats" work a job and garnish their wages.

10. Why does the History Channel, etc. show so many dumb programs about Nostradamus and his predictions?

Connecting up events with Nostradamus’s predictions after the event … isn’t prediction.

11. Why do American audiences squeal and cheer like fools when attending shows like the Ellen DeGeneres show or Jerry Springer?

This requires no explanation.

12. Why does America have a love affair with Starbucks?

Starbucks serves the OMFG COFFEE customer. This person is typically between 26 and 45, and relies on a double shot frappicino no-whip low fat extra mocha latte to get them through their work day. If they don’t manage to get their drink, they will complain for no less than 10 hours that they can’t function without their overpriced, over-marketed cup of $6 coffee.

13. Why does the fashion industry feature models that look like skinny anorexics?

The issue has long haunted the industry going back to the 1990s when the waif look swept fashion and helped launched models such as Kate Moss. But even, even those standards of thinness no longer seem to apply. A veteran of dozens of fashion campaigns and magazine covers, Filippa Hamilton was allegedly fired by fashion house Ralph Lauren for being too fat. She is 5’10″ tall and weighs 120 pounds, measurements that she says are essentially unchanged since she was 15. Too skinny is sickly.

Ana Carolina Reston was an anorexic model who did not get help. She died after consuming only apples and tomatoes as her “diet plan,” leaving her 5’8” tall body weighing only 88 pounds at the time of her death. Similarly Luisel Ramos died after eating only lettuce and diet coke for 90 days. Both models were only in their early 20s.

14. Why do parents put their young children into beauty pageants?

Most parents believe that their children are the most beautiful in the world. And in the subjective minds of the parents, they may be right. However, a beauty contest requires the parents to face subjectivity. Some say they are entering a child "for the child's sake." They say they are helping the child by boosting self-esteem, poise, public speaking skills, tact, and confidence.

So young? Children in pageants can range in age from 2 to 10 years old. There are frequent bouts of hysterical crying and outbursts. Everyone has only one goal-to win, though the question is being asked, ‘Whose dream, or fantasy, is being played out?”

Parents can contribute to the sexualization of their daughters -- for example, by entering their 5-year-old daughter in a beauty pageant in which she and the other contestants engage in behaviors and practices that are socially associated with sexiness: wearing heavy makeup to emphasize full lips, long eyelashes, and flushed cheeks, high heels to emulate adult women, and revealing evening gowns.

Hair extensions poufed and shellacked, fake tans, false eyelashes, fake teeth (called ‘flippers,’ masking baby teeth), fake nails and often, fake smiles -- it's just too much.

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