Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Long Term Results of "Dumbing it Down"

Our country's deterioration began by being okay with misspellings.

WHO made the chili ?


  When I was a child, both my parents unceasingly called my attention to misspelled words or poor grammar in our daily lives.  It didn't matter if this was a fruit stand, or a television program, they wanted me to know that something was spelled incorrectly.  My initial response to this as a young person was generally, "Who cares ?"   Is there going to be a spelling test afterward ?  Will points be lost somehow ?   My parents explained that when a television program misspells, misuses or mispronounces words, that this causes other people to do the same, and that in the long term this erodes our language.  At nine, this just didn't seem to be much of a problem to me.
              As I aged and entered my teens my parents were concerned about the general education of those within the US.  When we shopped, no one could deduct 10% or 20% from something without going through a protracted process with their cash register, and even then, they couldn't get it right.  I didn't care.  After all, a job at the Newberry's was not rocket science.  Who cared if the sixteen year old behind the cash register couldn't do math ?   All he really needed to do was count change.
              In my twenties, I graduated from college, married, bought my own home, and began to have children.  My parents continued to lament on how people might have a degree in a particular subject, but that they weren't well educated across the board.  Many didn't know even basics of literature and science, and a lot of people in the eighties didn't know the first thing about geography or history.  Even though I was beginning to notice this, my response was pretty much that, we did, and this would stand us in good stead. If most people lacked a broad education, and we had one, then we would do, oh well.
             Of course, like most people, as I grew, I have found that my parents are much brighter people than I imagined them to be when I was, perhaps nine.  All of the things they worried about when I was a child have come to roost as big problems.  Political correctness has reached a point at which we can't communicate clearly in the workplace for fear of offending someone in some way.  General public education has deteriorated to such a point that high school graduates might, or might not be, functionally literate.   Many people can't speak clearly enough to be understood, and don't know enough vocabulary to make themselves understood, without dipping into swear words.  People with degrees might know their subject, or they might not.  A new mechanical engineer might be able to function at his first job, but he also might not.  A physician, might be adequate in family practice, but might not be able to better the child on "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader ?"   I meet Phds all the time who are functionally inept in anything else besides their own field, and some, who aren't stellar in their own subject.
             My parents had a point.  The thirty to forty year stretch of time when people didn't need to have decent handwriting, or didn't need to write clearly or convincingly, has left its mark.  Many people can't write a letter, even coherently enough to complain about a product or a service.  Many people, don't know who the president of the US was during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  They think we have 56 states.  They think Canada is a US state.  They think that Russia is a communist country.
              I am different from my contemporaries only in that I have very clear memories of being three, four, five and onward.  I remember when a US high school graduate was a person whose education actually permitted them to go to a company, read the orientation notebook and begin to do a job, which resulted ultimately in a career which supported a family and bought them a house.   I remember when a person in college had to study in order to remain there.  I remember when a Phd was something rare, and when there was nothing you could ask them that they wouldn't have known something about, or could have ventured an educated guess.
              My parents were right.  The erosion of our language, how it's spelled, and it's meaning, over time resulted in a laziness of communication, of functional precision, and eventually in critical thinking.    Without critical thinking, our nation was ripe for someone whose plans for it did not make sense and would not be workable.  This is how the present regime was elected.
              I am sorry that I wasn't bright enough to understand the implications of making the standards so low when I was a child.  I suppose if I had understood, I would not have been in a position to improve the situation anyway.   I did do my best as an instructor to keep the standards high, and help my students meet those standards, rather than "dumbing down the course material" whenever I could.
             We now live in a nation which may not be able to compete with all of the other world nations.  It seems to me that many of the other nations have also fallen into sloppy writing, sloppy definitions, and imprecise work.   How long will it take to repair forty years of sloppy education resulting in a largely ineffective workforce ?     Because half of our citizens can't read or think well enough to borrow a presidential candidate's books from the local library and to read them, we now have a president who issues executive orders rather than interfacing with Congress.  We have a president who thinks the Constitution is an archaic document which has outlived its usefulness. We have a president and a regime which thinks spending money will help to relieve our nation's crushing debt.   Yes, it did start with sloppy spelling, and an inability to write, and it's ending with an inability of half of the American people to apply critical thinking skills.

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