The time for more education has arrived
In Richard Somerville’s column of July 31, he quotes David Brooks’ “an educated electorate is a polarized electorate.” One false assumption leads to a lot of mischief. Brooks is dead wrong. As one who taught at U.C. Davis for many years, I know first hand. I have lectured at close to a hundred colleges and universities all over the country.
The great majority of students are in engineering, the sciences, health care, law, city planning, journalism, computer engineering, economics – all these fields that make life in the USA possible as it is today. To disrespect their studies is to invite the decline of America.
Only the tiniest percentage study history, philosophy, or English, and only of a few of those have any set ideas other than the Equality of Men and Women, Human Rights, and Freedom of Speech. These are ideas they might have gotten simply by reading the U.S. Constitution. One might note, in passing, that our Founding Fathers said that a genuine democracy requires an educated electorate.
It’s the hope of humanists in the university to keep the spirit and practice of critical thinking alive, to encourage honest debate, and to examine the evidence of history, economics, and political science on the way to forming public policy. Ideological rigidity comes from lack of curiosity, and a wish for cheap quick answers.
Consequently a good part of the polarization we see in the world today is produced by the recent resurgence of religious fundamentalism in the Abrahamic Religions (which includes, of course, Islam). These are the people who cannot engage in a civil discussion of fundamental questions regarding nature and human nature, and who have a set idea of what sort of society they want.
The cure for it is more education. Some of them know this, and that is why they hold their children back, and lash out at our (still outstanding) institutions of higher education worldwide. Not that they aren’t free to think this way.
Indeed, our society does need (as you quote David Broder) the acceptance of people whose values are different from our own. May we also agree to civility in our debates.
Gary Snyder, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, lives on the San Juan Ridge in Nevada County.
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