Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Chris weighs in — Part 2

Chris Clair, who lives and works in Chicago (and is now officially The Red Electric's Chicago correspondent) has been sharing his impressions of the Blagojevich scandal in e-mails. That's a subject to return to.

Here, though, is the continuation of his thoughts about some unconnected "dots" I mentioned the other day.

He takes up with Sarah Palin's demonstrated ignorance during the campaign. I had suggested she suffered from a lack of education. Chris has a different take.

What was her education? I would ask what does it matter? What is education? Jane Jacobs said in "Dark Age Ahead" that today's colleges and universities do little more than grant certifications. Very little "education" takes place. But whose fault is that? Do we blame the professors or the academic programs themselves?

I happen to think education is a personal matter. You choose to be educated. I'm sure her K-12 experience included the standard civics classes, but what did she take from them?

I spent half my time in 12th-grade economics goofing off in the back of the room. I absorbed some information, sure, enough to pass the tests. But what I've learned about Keynes, Adam Smith and bell curves, as well as the Constitution, government and issues like freedom of speech I've learned on my own, by seeking out information, either in college or in books or magazines or online.

The fact that Sarah Palin doesn't understand the First Amendment isn't her high school social studies teacher's fault; it's hers. The same goes for not understanding the duties of the office to which she was seeking election. As individuals we have a responsibility to educate ourselves through a variety of means, including but not limited to, formal schooling.

What about personal curiosity – the desire, or even the need in some cases – to learn more about the world around us? How can anyone else be responsible for that? What about parents? What is their role in fostering curiosity in their children? As a parent, how do you teach curiosity? How do you teach critical thinking?

What's the difference between information one is given (traditional, formal education) versus information one seeks (reading for pleasure, magazine/newspaper subscriptions)? Is the latter somehow more valuable?

Who's to blame here?

We are. Individually and collectively.

What does it mean to be informed…? What does it mean to be aware…? Does a mass of disconnected information block awareness? Maybe seemingly disconnected information only blocks our awareness if we let it. But why don't people employ more filters? Perhaps that's something civics classes in high school should be including in their curricula, and maybe colleges should include "media studies" as a core requirement. Again, you can't teach people what they don't want to learn but you can plant the seed.

Why does the nature of information have to change because the medium changes? Isn't information information? Our interaction with it may change, but does that really change the information?

So many of our problems fall to the schools to solve, but are the schools … up to a task of this enormity? Why is it schools' responsibility? What about parents, other family members? This goes back to the question of who teaches critical thinking skills?

Are our leaders intelligent? Who ARE our leaders? Elected officials? Corporate chief executives? College professors? Pundits? TV and radio talk show hosts? Actors? How do we choose them? I see where Fran Drescher's spokesman has indicated she's interested in Hillary Clinton's N.Y. senate seat. What qualifies her to serve in the U.S. Senate? What does it mean to lead?

What is wealth? Monetary wealth is transitory and based on collectively agreed-upon values. What happens when agreement disintegrates, as with credit? Can wealth disappear or is wealth accumulation a zero-sum game – for every loser there is a winner, for every loss a corresponding gain elsewhere? Who controls our financial future?

Those are a few dots.

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