Tuesday, September 28, 2010

BURN: Don't Know Much About Nothin'


May his red-nosed rotund-roundness rest in peace, Rodney Dangerfield said, "Itellya, kids today got no respect. I asked my kid, 'What are you, ignorant, or just apathetic?'  So he says, 'I don't know, and I don't care.'"  

Heh.  Funny, but inaccurate.  It appears the reality is that kids today don't know much, but they really, really care. Unsettling studies from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute found that kids graduating from some of the top schools in the country don't know much about history, civics or government, but have some very strong opinions about the matter.

First sheesh-worthy item on the menu:  On the left are the top ten schools rated by what percentage civic literacy "improved" at graduation over their score on the same test their Freshman year.  OK, fair enough.  Now, on the right are the bottom ten.  Do not attempt to adjust your monitor - The cognitive disjunction you are experiencing is due to the fact that these egghead-educrat-rugrats actually know less about American history, government and civics at graduation than they did when they started!  And these are top schools.

If you read the results at their site - you'll find these same kids have much stronger opinions - mostly about social issues - and a much lower estimation of the United States as a whole than when they were green little preppies. 

The ISI study has a civic literacy test you can take here, if you're so inclined.  I scored 93, and missed at least one question because I was rushing through and misread it. Not bragging in the least.  This quiz is like "see spot run" level.  Here is the average report card across the country.

A few more troubling tidbits from ISI and PEW research:
  • Less than half of Americans can identify the three branches of Government.
  • Less than half can name the House Speaker of Senate President
  • Less than half know which party has the majority in the House or Senate
  • Less than half can identify where "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" comes from.
  • Only 8% could not identify the winners of Dancing with the Stars for the last four seasons.
  • OK, I made up the last one, but I'd bet a dollar to a dog dropping its close!
 Did you say yowza!?! Agreed. We're dealing with some politically illiterate folks here.  None of which would rate a blink and a burp, except for one very huge problem - these folks not only vote, they are the ones who decide elections.  Here's the spectrum of all us US-type folks as of last year - so grant that this is leaning further right at present.

Is there not a huge problem here?  All those folks in the middleish part of the bell curve don't know what's going on - but they really "care".  They can be - and are - enticed either right or left, depending upon who is the Hopey Changiest, who can wow a crowd with a teleprompter and who's the slickest looking guy on the market.  I don't think this is being cynical in the least.  Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, because I'd like to be wrong here.  This is also the 2010 lb gorrilla in the room that the pundits and Conservo-blogo-screamers are not seeing.

Perhaps an illustration of the phenom might be good old WSJ opinionator Peggy Noonan.  You may recall when she went from working for Dan Rather (who she respected and admired, and still does), to writing speeches for Ronald Reagan, then Bush 41.  She is most noted for writing Reagan's Normandy address for the D-Day anniversary, and the Challenger Disaster speech - which has been dubbed one of the top ten speeches of all time.  Somewhat less known is that she is the mother of Bush's "Kinder, gentler nation"..."1000 points of light" (still can't figure that one out) - and the ever notorious, "Read my lips, no new taxes."  She wrote a very interesting and readable book about her time in the Reagan White House, "What I saw at the Revolution."  But Noonan was not enamored with Reagan because of his conservative values, but his charisma, character, leadership and his general bigger-than-life persona.  Strangely, this is the same reason she bought into the Hopey/Changey leg tingle.

In January '09 she wrote, "What I Saw at the Inauguration", a sunshine, lollypops and rainbows piece about the dawning of the, like, awesome new HopenChange - and stealing the name from her Reagan book

We left on time and as we taxied onto the runway the pilot came on. "This is the USAir 4 p.m. shuttle to Washington, D.C.," he said in the old-fashioned Chuck Yeager style, and from the back of the plane came a roar of cheers and applause. When the sound reached the cockpit, the pilot came on again. "Hope has come to America," he said. The plane went wild.  The whole experience the next few days was marked for me by a new or refreshed knowledge that those who had not felt included or invited in the past were now for the first time truly here, and part of it all, in great numbers. And I suppose the fact that this would never have come about without the support, the votes, of the traditionally invited and included gave a special air of inclusiveness to the event. There was great kindness between people and true friendliness. No one was different. Everyone, whatever their views or votes, was happy.
But as of this summer no mo tingle, no mo hope, no mo love, the thrill is gone.  "He Was Supposed to Be Competent" "The president, in my view, continues to govern in a way that suggests he is chronically detached from the central and immediate concerns of his countrymen." - and a long accompanying rant along the same lines. 

Bottom line:  Peggy Noodlehead voted for Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama - and here's the brain bender - for exactly the same reason.  She likes Charisma and charm - and she can not differentiate between "Morning in America" and "Hope and Change/Yes We Can."  Nor could she discern that the former was born of character and integrity and the latter a Sham Wow pitchman.  I would submit the majority of voters in this country are in the same politically challenged boat - which could put us up a creek without a paddle.

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