I don’t know if you have ever looked at the school books from the 19th Century or even early 20th Century, but the 6th “readers,” along the lines of McGuffy, Harper, Baldwin, Harvey and Appleton readers, but looking at them is an eye opening experience. This is from page 461 from McGuffey’s 6th Reader, revised edition also know as the Eclectic Series. I downloaded the reader it from Project Gutenberg here, but you can read just the section online too. It speaks to a mature person’s free will, implies the expectation for the desire for knowledge,
Every person must judge for himself how long a time he can bestow
upon any single subject, or how many and various are the books in
respect to it which it is wise to read…
Nor should it be argued that such rules as these, or the habits which
they enjoin, are suitable for scholars only, or for people who have much
leisure for reading. It should rather be urged that those who can read the
fewest books and who have at command the scantiest time, should aim to
read with the greatest concentration and method; should occupy all of
their divided energy with single centers of interest, and husband the few
hours which they can command, in reading whatever converges to a
definite, because to a single, impression.
These readers provided the structure that educated our grandparents, great grandparents and great great grandparents. Surely no one can say that these volumes reflected anything other than the basic American culture. These readers obviously prepared Americans to be literate, value education, value life-long learning, and understand that being well educated was part of being a good citizen. We set up libraries and schools to promote an educated democracy.
“All who have meditated on the art of governing mankind have been convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth.” (Aristotle)
So from where does this trend to glorify ignorance and lack of information come? Well it might have come from the loss of critical thinking skills being taught as a core part of U.S. education, but it also comes from an unequal access to information.
The appeal of the Occupy America movement harkens back to olden days, yes the days of the “Readers,” when communities had control over themselves while being guided by the connecting principles of our laws. The people had more say in what happened locally to them because information traveled more slowly, and the forces that acted against the community’s interests would not be able to react instantly. If people needed to meet all night somewhere to figure out what was a threat to their community and what the informed, likely-to-succeed reaction to that threat was, they could. Today we cannot. Parks and public spaces are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. or dusk to dawn which in the winter can be a short time in the Rust Belt and northern rural areas of the U.S. We are right now readjusting to the instant flow of information and dis-information that we all know exists although we may ascribe it to different groups. One of the things that I personally believe prompted the occupy movement is that when 10 percent of the population, as a rough average, is out of work, they have time to consume more information than when they are employed.
Those of us who have had access to information via the internet and the academy for going on two decades now forget that many people are only now in the second decade of the 21st Century getting access to high speed information networks. Many of my friends from the mid-west are still on dial up access to the internet because out in the country you don’t have cable lines as one of the utilities that is running from utility pole to utility pole the length of every black top and dirt road so you don’t have cable bringing you TV and the internet in a bundle as an option as you do in major cities and suburbs. They might have a satellite TV. These same friends who live in, say, Avilla, Indiana, and Comcast’s Basic Cable package is the least expensive tier of service and gives subscribers access to 18 channels. “Among these stations included are Avilla’s local CBS, PBS, ABC, FOX, NBC and CW affiliates, several public and educational access stations, Home Shopping Network and WGN America. The basic Dish satellite package in the same geographic area provides Fox News but not MSNBC or CNN. Nothing divergent there. Conservative and line towing stations all. Even when you look at Dish TV for the same area, the basic package has no major competition for Fox. There is no CNN, only Headline News, and no MSNBC. The percentage of conservative Christian stations is remarkably high. How are non-conservative ideas even to enter the discussion if they are kept out of the data flow. Radio is similarly biased.
Being well educated is a good thing. Having information to make well informed decisions is good. Being an active participant in our democratic process is good. Being unemployed gives a person time to think, read, and look around at the state of the world. Information is spreading, there are still pockets where unfettered and unfiltered access to information is the norm, but those places are fewer and fewer in number. Is it a coincidence that these places where information is expensive, if it is even available, are also some of the places where ultraconservatives have political power? Nope. It isn’t. I have lived my life in two of the most conservative and closed minded states in the U.S.
Information is power and we have to get information to the people if democracy is to survive. The 99% talking about things that haven’t been spoken of for decades is an education of sorts and will open information channels. This may well be the start of an awakening.