Monday, August 1, 2016

Ignorance Growing

Arriving Russian immigrants
My grandfather, the son of Russian immigrants, put himself through college.  When his two sons were old enough, he sent them to college, too.  It didn’t matter that the country was then in the Depression.  My grandfather had a small factory that made cheap shoes, but he knew fully well that he was also responsible to produce contributing members of society.  His sons had to be educated, and his grandchildren, too.

At our house, my three brothers and I never asked if we were going to college. The only question was where.   We all possess at least one college degree.  Three of us have at least two.

These days, however, education seems passe.  We all look around in bewilderment.  What has happened to the emphasis on education that began with the founders of this country? They were completely aware that only educated leaders could preserve a democracy.  As a result, they restricted the vote.

Moreover, this country pioneered public schools.  That opened the door to universal voting.  Our educational system was once the envy of the world.   Now, the U.S. has placed 15th in reading, math and science, according to research by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).   Our citizens aren’t going to be better educated in the future either.  The United States came in 29th in the widely recognized study of the best science and math education for 15-year-olds, the OECD reported.

We lag behind such major world powers as Estonia, Poland and Switzerland.  Korea tops the list, followed by Finland, Canada, New Zealand and Japan.

What has happened?

In my grandfather’s day, people who succeeded had to have an education.  There were some who gained success through the dint of their own genius and talent, such as Lincoln, Edison and Carnegie, but they were rare.  Americans have always admired people who succeed on their own merit, but, statistically, only those who got an education usually achieved anything.

Old-time classroom
To help students succeed, education was left to professionals trained to educate. Politicians didn’t interfere, so teachers could teach.  Voters regularly supported education-related bond issues.  Teachers could prepare a lesson knowing they had the support of parents.

None of that is true today.  Politicians left every child behind, while ego-driven parents bedevil schools chronically short of needed funds.

Of course, the world is not the same.  My grandfather lived until age 92 and saw much of the 20th century, with the influx of computers and high tech.  Today, someone with computer skills can make a great income without much of an education.  There are also enormous opportunities in the fields of entertainment, which is now our biggest industry.  Just ask the Kardashian family about that.

Modern classroom
In addition, schools today commonly  allow students to focus on their chosen area of expertise.   That leads to graduates with meager knowledge outside their own field.    For example, an engineer may know little of history, culture or science.  A pediatrician may learn nothing about nutrition or the arts. 

This change came in the 1970s when studies revealed that young people were going to college to get a job, not for an education.  Prior to that, and for more than 1,000 years, the reverse was true.  You learned the job after you graduated, after your mind was expanded with knowledge.

The results are obvious.  This country is burdened with people who have not been exposed to the realities of science and history.  Just for starters, we are mired in another Vietnam, this time called Iraq and Afghanistan, because those who started those wars ignored history and had no exit strategy.

At the same time, almost half of all Americans deny evolution, the most-proven theory in science.  Even the Roman Catholic Church has given up that fight.

Today's racists on display
We have elected officials trying to change history to fit their uneducated views, like the Texas board of education that approved a history textbook that claimed Africans were not forced here as slaves, but apparently  chose to labor in the cotton fields as some sort of vacation. 

We are watching the rebirth of racism and anti-Semitism, the return of the KKK, voter suppression efforts that marked the Jim Crow era and more.  We are afflicted by a presidential candidate who claims to know everything and demonstrates on a daily basis that he has learned nothing during his decades on Earth.  The few who are widely educated in history recognize in Trumpism the birth throes of a dictatorship endured by the Germans and Italians in the first half of the 20th century.  They wonder why others can’t see it.

They can’t because they lack the knowledge to challenge pat answers and wild claims.

My grandfather would understand.  He had one observation, an insult to anyone inside or outside the family who showed signs of ignorance.  He would say with sadness, he/she “has stopped learning.” To him, nothing could be worse.

That’s true for this country, too. The Republicans pushed one ignoramus, George W. Bush, into the White House, where he left both  the economy and our place in the world in shambles.  Eight years later, they have nominated the king of the ignorant for the same post. 

Unfortunately, continued ignorance could result in a painful lesson for all of us.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history with an occasional foray into American culture.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  He holds an ABD in American Studies from Case Western Reserve University and an M.A. in communication from Kent State University.  You can reach him at 

 He is the author of the famed novel The Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus as well as The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Comparative Religion for Dummies.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

In addition, you can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion, at

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