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Friday, December 30, 2005

If You Read, the Terrorists Win

From the mind of a Psychotic Patriot here is your Friday guest post.

Bush_reading_9110_1I've come to realize something about America recently, and it's disturbing not just because it's out of the mainstream media, but because it by definition is caused by the mainstream media. I offer this dark scenario: If you read, the terrorists win. What I mean by this is that fewer and fewer people read, for any reason, and fewer CAN read, for any reason. So you have a continuous dumbing-down of the populace, and an equally continuous rise in wingnuttery and incredibly simplistic concepts offered as fact. Take the "ID" movement, please.

So the more I read, the more I disbelieve Bush and his minions. Wait. I didn't believe him before he became the resident. Anyway. The more I read the more I refuse to accept the glowing bullshit frothing from Iraq. Insert anything intellectual, or GASP! (Liberal) after "The more I read." So, in the parlance of conservative evangelical mindlessness: if I don't unquestioningly devour the smallest sound-bites of Hannitian and Limbaughistic logic, leaving any curiosity at the curb, I'm Osama's butt-buddy. It's just that simple.

Now I'm talking about what is called "Critical Literacy." Not skimming the newspaper headlines, not squinting to see the scroll at the bottom of Fox News, but the kind of critical reading done in books, as well as thoughtful reading in any format done in pursuit of a serious intellectual or educational premise. If you've gotten this far, you know what I mean. The kind of reading which examines an issue deeply, and dredges up information to add to an informed mind, to expand said mind, to enhance it, or, perchance, to throw the issue the fuck out.

But that's not what's happening.

Reading scores have been dropping like a stone for fifty years, and this Washington Post article helps us see where we are now:

Literacy experts and educators say they are stunned by the results of a recent adult literacy assessment, which shows that the reading proficiency of college graduates has declined in the past decade, with no obvious explanation.

"It's appalling -- it's really astounding," said Michael Gorman, president of the American Library Association and a librarian at California State University at Fresno. "Only 31 percent of college graduates can read a complex book and extrapolate from it. That's not saying much for the remainder."


Experts could not definitively explain the drop.

"The declining impact of education on our adult population was the biggest surprise for us, and we just don't have a good explanation," said Mark S. Schneider, commissioner of education statistics. "It may be that institutions have not yet figured out how to teach a whole generation of students who learned to read on the computer and who watch more TV. It's a different kind of literacy."

Different kind of literacy? Pardon me while I laugh until my intestines are hanging from my teeth. This line sounds exactly like a Bush talking point. The two activities which make up the bulk of Internet traffic are porn and music file-sharing, so we can shit-can that one right away, unless we're including "... Betsy likes a big dick in her love life, and shows you right where to put it in this HOT HOT HOT video clip... " in Critical Reading skills.

They do not NEED to read. Tiny bits of information are text-messaged to them, deliberately misspelled (which they would never notice, apparently), along with equally - yet not deliberately - misspelled e-mails. The average attention span is measured in micro-seconds these days, so if the concept can be splashed across a video screen, with tattoos and nipple-rings aimed at what to buy, the message gets through without any reading necessary.

So how does the whole nation fare in reading skills? I will extract some numbers from the National Center For Educational Statistics: 93,000,000 Americans are at or below the minimum reading skill level. Don't make me look at which states.

Back in the 1940's we had a 96% literacy rate in those volunteering for military service.

WWII was over in 1945. Six years later another war began in Korea. Several million men were tested for military service but this time 600,000 were rejected. Literacy in the draft pool had dropped to 81 percent, even though all that was needed to classify a soldier as literate was fourth- grade reading proficiency. In the few short years from the beginning of WWII to Korea, a terrifying problem of adult illiteracy had appeared. The Korean War group received most of its schooling in the 1940s, and it had more years in school with more professionally trained personnel and more scientifically selected textbooks than the WWII men, yet it could not read, write, count, speak, or think as well as the earlier, less-schooled contingent.

So I offer this continuing concept, one which I extract from the historical information: The more television one watches, the less one reads, and the more one believes idiotic rantings by wingnutty puffballs.

I have a television, but it's connected to a DVD player, not a cable. I listen to Internet Radio or iTunes for fun or information. I read a huge variety of web information across the entire political spectrum. I detest commercials. If I want topical video clips, I go to Crooks & Liars.

I sit at the edge of another vast wasteland; not the television itself, but the growing vacuum between the ears of America, and sadly, it's growing in one direction only.

Posted by The Bastard at 12:01 AM in Politics | Permalink


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I think it's intentional.

Charlotte Thompson Iserbyt, head of education under Reagan, quit after two years and wrote the book The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America. SciAm in Oct. noted that a major cause of poverty since the Industrial Revolution is the lack of job skills. People get job skills by being educated in them.

The same article noted that another major cause is low productivity. This is directly related to health. So why don't we have a health care system in the U.S.? The French worker is one of the most productive in the world because France spends 12% of it's budget on health care.

Another major cause of poverty throughout history has been over population. Cultures simply self-destruct because the population growth outstrips the available resources. The more people there are then the less there is to go around. So what's another major political problem in the U.S.--poor family planning.

If you put together the major issues that the Right Wing had failed to provide--education, health care and familty planning-- then it becomes quite obvious that there is a deliberate agenda to create a large poverty class in the U.S. The increasing gap in income between the rich and the poor over the past 20 years is an indicator that this is exactly what is happening. Bush's failure to stop the flow of illegal aliens is another contributing factor. Sending all the middle class jobs offshore is still another.

And, as you made quite clear in your post, most people are just too damn stupid to realize what's going on because they don't read about it.

Posted by: icoman | Dec 30, 2005 1:59:31 AM

Wow, this is a great post!

Like you, I don't watch any television (heck I don't even have cable!). If it isn't on Crooks and Liars or on television during my time at the gym, I won't be watching it.

Posted by: The Bulldog Manifesto | Dec 30, 2005 3:48:56 AM

Thank you. I find that the more time I spend on a computer, the fewer books I read. That scares me for me

More than that most kids I know don't read for pleasure. They read because they have to, and spend the rest of their time on the computer, listening to music, and watching DVD and TV.

That scares me for the future of the country because they're learning to think in sound bites or in computer speak

Not the same kind of literacy. That said I am a total believer in computers for anything, but to enhance not substitute

Posted by: pia | Dec 30, 2005 9:00:14 AM

Great post. I saw the book the Deliberate Dumming Down of America but have not read it (no pun intended). It was one that at the time I tended to think of as rather "out there". However as time has passed, you have to wonder.

Computers and television are big part of it. I used to read all the time. Then I found my computer. Now while I read a lot of blogs, it's not the same as sitting down with a book. I read maybe two to four month to my two to four a week. The scariest part? I still read more than most people and they don't get why I enjoy this so much.

Posted by: The other Bonnie | Dec 30, 2005 11:21:20 AM

I think the government needs to institute RIF again! I don't read much but when I do I go full tilt because I don't have much time. I don't think most Americans can say that they actually try to read. We are fucked!!!

Posted by: The Bastard | Dec 30, 2005 11:28:34 AM

I tend to agree, Bastard. We've spent several generations developing a voracious appetite for immediate satisfaction. We absorb a fraction of a story via TV and movies over the full story, replete with character development and musings fleshed out in book form. We waddle through McDonalds, shop Wal-Mart for the "convenience" of finding everything in one place, drive DVD equipped vans to silence our children so we don't have to talk (or listen) to them, shove frequently needless antibiotics into their bodies so we can send them to school rather than miss work. We have perfected the art of living in a tunnel.

Basically, it boils down to personal choice. What is terribly sad is that so many seem so content with auto-pilot. Life is such a rich gift, and squandering it on mindless drivel is a heartbreak.

Posted by: Jet | Dec 30, 2005 3:13:22 PM

"You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test."
Source: United Press International, "Bush Proposes Increase in Education Funds," Mark Kukis, Feb. 21, 2001

hehe....well maybe not either as we can see by the article. I guess some people think just surviving the test experience and doing well are the same thing. And while it is a shame we are just a bunch of illiterate dumbasses over here, it would be different if we were the smartest dumbasses on the planet. Unfortunately, the US is 21st and 23rd on math and problem solving skills out of 26 (?) industrialized countries according to the 2003 PISA. I would hazard a guess that the countries 1 - 20 are probably graduating students that can actually read at their "grade" level.
With our manufacturing base virtually gone and our seeming inability to produce educated citizens, the future looks a bit dim. Instead of "no child left behind", it should be, "every child left behind".

Posted by: Daniel | Dec 30, 2005 4:42:33 PM

In case you haven't noticed, academics, educrats, and the many voices decrying old-style knowledge and learning are aligned about nineteen to one with the political Left. So if you need to blame someone for the decline in literacy, you know where to look. As for motives...well, I'll leave that to your fevered imagination.

Posted by: Francis W. Porretto | Dec 30, 2005 5:21:21 PM

The vapid vacuousness between heads is only a reflection from the very top - let's call it trickle down intelligence. In that mission, ignorance propagated becomes bliss for the masses.

Loved the post Bastard, I'm linking up.

Posted by: wingspike | Dec 30, 2005 6:40:31 PM

I don't have anything intelligent to add to your post, but I still wanted to let you know that I enjoyed reading it and agreed with what you had to say.

Posted by: Bec | Dec 30, 2005 8:12:01 PM

The The Psychotic Patriot offers humble thanks all the commenters here for their input, and even my first troll wrote in complete sentences. High 5 to The Bastard for putting up the post.

Word. The responses give me hope that many people on these here Internets do read, and do think, and do matter.

The happiest and safest of New Year's to you all.

Posted by: JamesRaven | Dec 30, 2005 10:51:47 PM


I make a living working for a company that sells books to kids...

didn't quite realize that was subsersive.

I LIKE it!

Posted by: bonnie | Dec 31, 2005 2:28:17 AM


I should not comment when I've stayed up too late to spell.

But I liked this post a lot. Yes. Reading - and reading a wide range of items from a wide range of sources, and remembering what's been read - lets a person build his or her own opinions, rather than just swallowing whatever the spin du jour is.

Posted by: bonnie | Dec 31, 2005 2:36:54 AM

It is deliberate.

For as long as there has been public education, there's been a tug of war between those who believed the purpose of education should be to produce well-rounded citizens who understood civics and were good at critical thinking, and those who felt the schools' role should be to produce compliant workers who only needed the basic skills it took to do their jobs. You can guess which side of that debate big business is on. An example is Sam Walton, who supposedly discouraged his WalMart managers from hiring people who had gone to college because they tended to be uppity.

As our government has gotten more and more oriented toward serving the rich and less toward the rest of us, education has slid toward producing people who are good for working cash registers or driving cabs but not at analyzing what the government or their employers are doing.

There is a term, the "hidden curriculum", that refers to the norms and values schools teach through the way they run things, above and beyond the content of the classes - lessons like "stand in line and don't get rowdy or you'll get in trouble", "there is one correct answer to a question, and the person in authority has that answer", and so on. The way that is shaped has a big impact on how people behave as adults, too.

To move education back toward producing alert, thinking citizens, we should push for some changes:

We need to start making civics, history, and the other humanities required classes again, and instead of teaching rote memorize-and-regurgitate, give students a lot of essay questions and assignments and use practical exercises.

I went to an experimental high school where we got to do a lot of great stuff like that; for example, in one social studies/history class, instead of just reading about different kinds of government and taking a multiple choice test, we got divided up into groups and each group was assigned to create a different type of government for an imaginary country (democracy, republic, oligarchy, dictatorship, socialist sytem); then we got various problem situations thrown at us and had to work through them the way that type of government would do so, and had to interact with the other imaginary countries. We had wars start, palace revolutions, all kinds of unexpected things happened when the personalities banged into each other in the different systems.

That was great, and I wish the school board had made the way our school operated the norm - instead, they decided it was too unstructured and the year after I graduated, turned it into a cookie-cutter school like every other high school in town.

It's also good to have students work in teams in general, and to frame assignments as projects that they have to complete together. One master teacher I took some college classes from used to put his grade-schoolers in teams of four - each team had one brighter-than-average kid, one slower kid, and two who were average, and they'd stay together for the whole school year - sit together, do just about everything cooperatively.

There should be a lot more field trips, discussion of current events, and other real-world activities. Less use of mass-produced textbooks, except for math and the hard sciences, and more use of literature, newspapers, etc.

If we did that, we'd have a nation of citizens who would be able to spot BS fast and would call their leaders on it.

Posted by: Liberal Jarhead | Jan 1, 2006 6:55:48 AM

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