Modern Times

Hello again my oh-so-far-away friends!

Surely some of you have noticed things have been suspiciously quiet from my end of late. No cynical rantings about the lack of candidates for the US elections, no inflammatory monologues on the global recession – not even a bitter note containing pertinent information for all to know. Well the wait is over, I return(!) and I come bearing the gift of prose.

Recently it was brought to my attention that one of my friends, who shall not here be named, had the misfortune of attending America’s worst school district. Consequently, he could not tell me where Oslo was, what the capital of Australia is, or even how many countries comprise the African continent. “Why do those things matter?” he asked innocently, and the flood gates sprung open.

Being a US citizen means that at age 18 you get to help elect the man (and hopefully one day a woman) who will wave the scepter over the most powerful, influential, and vocal nation in the world. That person is expected to deal with all manner of serious matters ranging from the economy (oops!) to global politics, and at times, where to send the Marines. It may then be nice, I argued to my wayward friend, to know something about some of the more pressing matters that face your country and by extension its leaders and ultimately yourself.
World geography, as was our topic, is no trivial matter. Directly after the terrorist attacks on the 11th of September, 2001 a survey was put into the field asking Americans to point to, on a blank map of our world, where President Bush should send the considerable might of the US armed forces. The places some of those fingers ended up are painful indicators as to the lack of worldly knowledge some people possess. Equally interesting is the fact that an overwhelming majority of those polled believed Iraq, and the lackeys of former dictator Saddam Hussein, to be responsible for the attacks.

Why is this important? In a democratic republic such as the united states, the people elect their most capable peers to serve in their government. At least, that is what is supposed to happen. Sadly, thanks to rules and regulations governing this very process, the candidates with the most money usually end up in office, having essentially defeated the notion of democracy. The knowledge they bring with them to this office is traditionally their great strength. We, the people, do not have to know what countries signed the NATO treaty so long as our leaders do, right? Well no, but it would be nice if everyone knew anyway. If however your congressman got elected, as so many of them do, by running the broadest campaign, saying the things most of us wanted to hear, and doing all the right things in front of the CNN cameras, it is entirely likely that he or she is better at running for office than he or she is at governing (for which you need knowledge, not electoral savvy)

In the end, the congressman in our example goes on to be a senator, a Governor, and the next president of the United States. He is an election winning machine, a true American, with all the right values, and the champion of our issues. Not so I say. He is, a professional election winner. He won the election to be congressman, he won the election to be Governor, and he has finally climbed his very own political Mt.Everest: he is now President. What has he gained in the mean time I wonder? Surely some knowledge of the issues at hand in recent years. Perhaps even information gathered by such illustrious groups as the CIA, NSA, and more recently the Department of Homeland Security, which is not available to you and I. Presumably, this information has prepared our intrepid politician for the task he now faces as President. Not so I say. The world has become such a complicated, high-pace, chaos that to understand it all is no longer possible. To that end, the President collects a vast horde of advisers, knowledgeable in a plethora of matters he himself is simply not, and cannot be. After all, there are only so many hours in a day, and he spent most of his being an election winner, not a Nobel laureate, a scholar, or a student of our world. These advisers do what their titles implies, but at the end of the day, when the order is given in the situation room to invade a 3rd-world country to “liberate” its people from the oppressive clutches of its religiously zealous militant regime in which their sons serve, the President is the one giving the order.

So, we the people have collectively chosen the person who will in the end receive all the blame. We never quite understood the magnitude of our decision as we do not understand the magnitude of the world we live in. We do not know there are more African nations than there are states in the United States. We do not know that since the invasion of Afghanistan the world’s production of heroin has doubled, and we certainly do not know it is the Afghan farmers, liberated from the oppressive clutches of the Taliban, are the ones producing the balance of that crop. Nor do we know, or care apparently, that American teens are the ones shooting up Afghan heroin, ODing, and dying, along with their peers in other “civilized” nations.

How could you be expected to know all this? After all, in school you were very busy covering things such as math, US history, science, and English (a language of which I can assure you, most of the registered voters have little more than a passing understanding) – we never covered world geography, sociopolitical impact of our decisions upon the global stage, or analytical thinking. Those things were deemed non-essential. Better you learn to recite the pledge of allegiance (paying special attention to the “one nation under God” line added in later) without stuttering than learning why it is your country is so wildly unpopular and what you can do about it. Going back to the conversation I was having with my good friend, he offered that he could have studied some of these things outside of school and simply did not. I stepped in then, telling him he should not have had to. Instead of covering US history, his school should have covered world history (increasing the length of time covered from 300 years to about 10,000) Instead of teaching him the name of every capitol, mountain range, and river in the US at a snail’s pace, they should have done that for every continent at 7 times the pace.

In the back of my mind I hear another friend of mine complaining even as I write this. “But the slower children would never be able to take it all in, grades would drop and the parents would be unhappy!” She is a teacher, and a damn good one, but she misses the bigger picture sometimes as she has been utterly consumed by the system.

If I were to teach world geography to a group of 6th graders in the US, and unlike their peers I would include such crazy places as Europe, Africa, and Asia in my curriculum, I would have to shorten the time spent on each continent. By extension, the kids would have less time to learn where all the capitols, rivers, and mountain ranges were. Thus, they would get lower grades and some might even fail. F+ for trying. The parents would indeed call the school and say things like: “My son/daughter is a very special child and I feel it cannot be their fault they failed this horrible teacher’s stupid world geography class! Who needs that stuff anyway? I didn’t when I went to school and I turned out fine!”
Well ma’am, yes and no. You turned out fine when compared to the expectations set out for you and your ilk. We have simply raised the bar so that your children will know more than you, and hopefully, in time, their children will know more than they did. This is what we like to call evolution of the mind. (OH NOES! I used the ‘E’-word!)
Put it another way, I feel too little was expected of you ma’am. I think it looks good if all your students get ‘A’s and no one fails. I think we are a self-congratulatory bunch more concerned with appearances than substance. Yes, your son/daughter failed my class, but many others did not. I even have one bright young girl in my class who got an ‘A’ despite the increased work load and decreased time spent on each individual subject. It is my sincere hope that she grows up to be the next President of these United States and brings her knowledge to bare on the apathetic, ignorant, and uneducated lot she will meet there.

Still not convinced? I borrow now from H.Jackson Brown Jr. – an American writer famous for such books as “Life’s Little Instruction Book,” and “Live and Learn and Pass it on” He wrote:

“Never say there isn’t enough time. Your days contain exactly the same number of hours as those of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”

Surely if they could do it, some of our children might as well. I fear these elections are a moot point for me. Though I am personally rooting for senator Obama for fear of the consequences of Mc.Cain winning, that is hardly the right motive for wanting a candidate to win. It is my sincere hope that a day will come when a young man or woman stands up and is recognized for their knowledge of this world, their ability to think rationally and analytically, and to come up with the solutions we so desperately need. When that person starts to run, I will get genuinely excited. Until then my friends, I hope all of you will come to expect more, not less, of all the people that matter in your lives.

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