Ed Driscoll

The Zero-Sum Game of the Education Curriculum

In “Don’t Know Much About Geography,” Victor Davis Hanson writes that in the half century since Sam Cooke wrote “Wonderful World,” which contained the line that VDH used for his title, “such ignorance is now all too real. Even our best and brightest — or rather our elites especially — are not too familiar with history or geography:”

Our geographically and historically challenged leaders are emblematic of disturbing trends in American education that include a similar erosion in grammar, English composition, and basic math skills.

The controversial Lois Lerner, a senior official at the IRS — an agency whose stock in trade is numbers — claimed that she was “not good at math” when she admitted that she did not know that one-fourth of 300 is 75.

In the zero-sum game of the education curriculum, each newly added therapeutic discipline eliminated an old classical one. The result is that if Americans emote more and have more politically correct thoughts on the environment, race, class, and gender, they are less able to advance their beliefs through fact-based knowledge.

Despite supposedly tough new standards and vast investments, about 56 percent of students in recent California public-school tests did not perform up to their grade levels in English. Only about half met their grade levels in math.

A degree from our most prestigious American university is no guarantee a graduate holding such a credential will know the number of states or the location of Savannah. If we wonder why the Ivy League–trained Obama seems confused about where cities, countries, and continents are, we might remember that all but one Ivy League university eliminated their geography departments years ago.

As a rule now, when our leaders allude to a place or an event in the past, just assume their references are dead wrong.

When Mark Greif of the London Review of Books reviewed the DVD of Mad Men’s first season back in 2008, he described the series as “an unpleasant little entry in the genre of Now We Know Better:”

We watch and know better about male chauvinism, homophobia, anti-semitism, workplace harassment, housewives’ depression, nutrition and smoking. We wait for the show’s advertising men or their secretaries and wives to make another gaffe for us to snigger over. ‘Have we ever hired any Jews?’ – ‘Not on my watch.’ ‘Try not to be overwhelmed by all this technology; it looks complicated, but the men who designed it made it simple enough for a woman to use.’ It’s only a short further wait until a pregnant mother inhales a tumbler of whisky and lights up a Chesterfield; or a heart attack victim complains that he can’t understand what happened: ‘All these years I thought it would be the ulcer. Did everything they told me. Drank the cream, ate the butter. And I get hit by a coronary.’ We’re meant to save a little snort, too, for the ad agency’s closeted gay art director as he dismisses psychological research: ‘We’re supposed to believe that people are living one way, and secretly thinking the exact opposite? … Ridiculous!’ – a line delivered with a limp-wristed wave. Mad Men is currently said to be the best and ‘smartest’ show on American TV. We’re doomed.

If your attitude is that Now We Know Better — and by implication, oh, so much more than those who came before us, why should anyone study the past? It’s nothing but sexual, racial and colonial repression, black armbands all the way down.

Besides, who needs facts when your heart is in the right place? Or as Ezra Levant of Canada’s Sun News writes, accompanying the video footage his network shot after he waded into a crowd of anti-energy protestors in Hamilton:

I arrived at 11 a.m., and by 11:05 I had everything I needed to do a normal story. I had counted the 50 people there, taken pictures of the more entertaining ones and took a little flyer explaining their point. They were against the reversal of an oil pipeline called Line 9. (Right now that pipeline ships OPEC oil from east to west; the company wants to reverse it, to ship Alberta oil from the west to the east.)

But instead of leaving — as most busy journalists have to do in order to meet their deadlines — I stuck around for two more hours. I introduced myself to more than a dozen of the protesters. And I learned something that I’m sure I wouldn’t have learned had I followed the usual media formula.

The first thing I learned is these protesters were clueless about the pipeline they were protesting, and about oil and economics in general.

I asked one of the protesters, Mike Roy, why he is only protesting the pipeline now, even though it’s been operating without incident since the 1970s. He seemed genuinely surprised to learn this. I asked him why he only opposes the plan to put Alberta oil in it, but was fine with it pumping OPEC crude for decades.

At first Roy simply refused to believe me. He was confused about how OPEC oil could be pumped from Alberta. He didn’t understand that the pipeline was operating now, with Saudi and Algerian oil now. The Alberta plan would be a change — that’s the “reverse” part that he was protesting. He didn’t know that.

When I pressed him on why he prefers Saudi oil in Line 9, he said he opposes Saudi oil too. But he couldn’t explain why he has never protested Saudi oil before, let alone protested at the Saudi embassy. I asked these same questions of a half dozen protesters, and all were confused. One woman proposed an excuse: she prefers Saudi oil, she says, because it’s “sweet oil.” I think she believes that means it’s like sugar water, so it’s better for the environment. Others pretended not to use any oil at all — as if you can bicycle to work in Hamilton in February.

How could people who were so clueless about what they were protesting also be so passionate, too? That’s the second thing I learned. I did what many reporters simply don’t do — I Googled the names of a half dozen protesters there. Mike Roy was from London. So was Bailey Lamon. And Dan Beaudoin. Jeff Hanks was from out of town too.

They’re professional protesters, who go from town to town on whatever the cause of the day is — Occupy, Idle No More, anti-GMO food, whatever. That’s why they didn’t know anything about the pipeline. They didn’t care. They just like protesting.

No doubt most of the protestors also have a serious case of Chemophobia:

When it comes to what’s for dinner – or breakfast and lunch for that matter– many people suffer from chemophobia, an irrational fear of natural and synthetic chemicals that pose no risk to our health, a Dartmouth study finds.

Chemistry Professor Gordon Gribble, whose paper appears in the journal Food Security, argues that low doses of chemicals in modern food are inherent, typically harmless and often highly beneficial. He says most people don’t know they are routinely exposed to a host of compounds in non-toxic concentrations in what they eat and drink each day. Even the air they breathe – whether in big cities or the countryside — is full of naturally occurring and synthetic chemicals, including wine “aroma,” flower “bouquet,” perfume “fragrance,” bakery “smell” and “garbage “stench.”

* * * * * * * *

Gribble says chemophobia started in 1962 with publication of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and was reinforced by major chemical accidents, such as those in Times Beach, Missouri; Love Canal, New York; and Bhopal, India. “The word ‘chemical’ became a dirty word despite the fact that everything we see, smell and touch is chemical,” he says. “While chemical scares invariably appear on the front page, the follow-up stories that often refute the initial scares never do.”

But then, conspiracy theories are nothing new, predating Rachel Carson by centuries, as Jesse Walker of Reason explores in his new book, The United States of Paranoia, which is also the subject of a video interview between Walker and Reason’s Nick Gillespie:

“Political paranoia, and conspiracy theories in particular, have been a part of the United States since before there was a United States,” explains Reason Magazine books editor Jesse Walker, author of the new book The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory. “Even when a conspiracy theory says absolutely nothing true about the object of the theory, if it catches on it says something true about the anxieties and the experiences about the people who believe it.”

Canadian journalist Robert Fulford once wrote a phrase that was further popularized by Kathy Shaidle, that “conspiracy theories are history for stupid people.” Which, come to think of it, brings this post back to where it started.

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(Via James Bowman, Maggie’s Farm and Small Dead Animals.)