Saturday, February 16, 2008

We're Winning the Race to the Bottom of the Swamp

There's a great piece in the New York Times today that got me started. Can you believe two adult males in business suits who think Pearl Harbor was when the Vietnamese dropped a bomb in a harbor and started the Vietnam War? Can you believe an American idol idol who thinks Europe is a country and has never heard of Hungary?

This isn't the first time I've moaned about the militant ignorance in this country. I don't get out all that much, but even I encounter it and that's saying something.

And when I say "militant," what I mean is "I'm stupid and proud of it, and if you don't like it, GFYS." Where does it come from, this rapid rush to mute, slovenly serfdom? Apart from our puritanical distrust of knowledge, I mean. More about that when I'm in a better mood.

Picture an upside-down triangle. Divide it into fourths, horizontally. The top level is the diversity of knowledge imparted to my parents in the eighth grade. The second level is what I learned. The third level is what today's 30-40-somethings learned, and at the bottom, that tiny tip, is what today's kids are getting.

I first figured this out when I was hired by a community college to copyedit all its courses for online delivery. If I can edit an algebra or chemistry course, the world will be coming to an end very shortly. If I can correct courses in biology, history, and Spanish I, and cause a whole sociology course to be yanked right out of the curriculum, the state of teaching in at least one community college is flat-out abysmal.

I attribute this grim condition to (1) the inverted triangle, above; (2) schools' increasing reliance on "adjunct" faculty; and (3) the school admin's focus on paying students, not on providing basic education for a quality life. It's about pushing more and more courses through the factory, not about Quality Control.

Things are so bad, in fact, that sitting instructors actually believe they are entitled to say anything they please, as a matter of "academic freedom," and they do. If they think "pretty" is a verb, it's a by-God verb. And since nobody presently in the faculty or the administration has a clue what "academic freedom" really does mean, the thought of peer reviewing course manuscripts before they are posted for all the world to see has never darkened their brows. Imagine their shock when I marked up their courses like a freshman term paper. My name is still invoked as t'were a curse.

This really doesn't bear contemplating by anyone my age or older, because what it means is that we are entering our decline just as these cretins are assuming control of the country. I think George Bush has give us a preview. In fact, he has also given us a larger-than-life example of militant ignorance as well as a not-very-entertaining ride through the Land that Learning Forgot.

All these 20-somethings running around loose will be running nursing homes just as my weary bones give way. It's a terrifying concept. Just imagine the possibilities for disaster. If I ask for an aspirin, will I get a tattoo? I'm really scared.

And don't get me started on manners. We were talking about this last night. One of our all-time faves happens when somebody delivers a scathingly rude statement about someone standing there, and then says, "Well, I'm just being honest!" The only response is, "Marvelous. Maybe when you learn good judgment, you'll be fit for decent society," to be delivered while striding away in haut peeve.

Here I think I'll defer to the redoubtable Lynne Truss, she of the exceptional Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero-Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. (That's the third book I wish I'd written.) See her Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, Or, Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door. But don't bother unless you're at least 45; it'll be, like, waaaaaaaaaaaay over your head.

Here's a contest. Send me your favorite example of drooling ignorance or thudding bad manners, and I'll send you your very own copy of Talk to the Hand. (USA only, sorry. Can't afford the postage.) PS: If I don't get 30 entries or more, the deal's off.


shrimplate said...

I was in a big local guitar store one day and the guy working behind the service counter was talking to somebody on the phone.

He cupped the phone and asked me if I "was musical." I said that maybe I was. On behalf of the person on the phone, he wanted to know where on a guitar fretboard you might find a B-flat.

"Top string, sixth fret," I said, noticing the quizzical look on his face. He didn't know which one was the *top* string. Not that it matters, it works for both the string closest to the sky and also the highest-pitched string, which is closest to the floor when a guitar is held in a playing position.

Okay, so not everyone is musically literate, especially guitar players. But this occurred *in a music store.* So while not the best, I think it's a fair example.

Pico said...

I'm B-flat impressed that you knew that. But yeah, maybe he should look for work in a cellphone store?

Morgan said...

Ooh! One of my favorite topics. Intentional stupidity. Here are examples from my collection of stupid things people have asked or stated. I've left them as written:

"Is the Ukraine a part of the United Kingdom?"

"Was Edgar Allan Poe a drugattic?"

"R there any ghosts on moon?"

"what is a polite way to ask a person if they have roaches in there home?"

"How much will i get for my kindney or lungs?
or any other valuable..i dont use?"

"Should a married couple have married friends?"

"I was scammed 37 times!"

"Where were the Christians when Rome was overthrown by the Huns, Visigoths and the Osteopaths?"

Sometimes they amuse, but more often they annoy the #$*&!?@ of me which makes me middle aged and therefore crabby.

Liana said...

HAHAHAHA, those are funny. Mine's not funny, just pathetic. I asked for participation in an action on behalf of some folk who had been ripped off by their boss. The response was, I can't make it. When I asked if that person could think of anyone in their circle could come in their stead, that person replied, well, most of them don't go out at nite. Translation: I'll try, but I don't really want to be bothered with injustices perpetrated on other people. I'm cooking and my friends are self absorbed.