Friday, January 13, 2017

On Education, the Media, and Blissful Ignorance

It has become increasingly clear to me that brushing Trump off as simply a buffoon is an incredibly dangerous view. What he has shown us is a strong knowledge of what it takes to create totalitarian control, not unlike what we see in dystopian stories. A friend recently posted a quote from George Orwell's 1984 that I think is certainly apropos today:

What was happening in 1984 was that the government was setting up complete power over its citizens, including what they think and what they know. It's no coincidence that Trump is attacking things like education and the media. In a system such as ours, where in order to have literal power (i.e., be a politician), one must be rich, the only power the remaining citizens have is knowledge. Access to knowledge and the ability to speak about that in the hopes that someone is listening, is how we maintain balance.

Trump wants to do things like completely gut the Department of Education, giving power back to local education boards to set standards and curriculum. It completely ignores the very reason national education boards and standards were developed to begin with. It is to ensure that everyone, regardless of where they live, the wealth of that area to hire high-quality teachers, and the family background of the citizens, is able to get a quality education.

I come from what would be defined as a working-class family. We did the best we could, and I know how very fortunate I was that I had a roof over my head, clothes on my back, and food in my belly. (And I'm terrified of what might happen to programs like free or reduced school lunches that helped my brother and me have a regular meal.) But most importantly, I had a family that valued education, teachers who believed in me, and a public library that could give me all the knowledge I could absorb. Education is how you transcend. It is a way to go beyond your background, your upbringing, your opportunities. I am who I am today because of this philosophy. I'm not so elitist about education that I think everyone has to go to college. College is not the only way to learn. But I do believe that everyone should have the opportunity to get the education they need to make whatever difference in this world they want to make.

Trump's snide comments about higher education being overly politically correct, his insistence that local boards of education were doing just fine before the federal government came in and told them what they had to teach - all of these are setting up a system where the haves continue to have all the power (and now all the knowledge too). And the have nots are so under-informed that they have no idea they're have nots. They have no opportunity to become anything else. And he has convinced his supporters that they are better off without the very education that would allow them to transcend, to make a better life for themselves and their families. He has sentenced them forever to ignorance, and they are bending over backwards to thank him for it.

People who go into higher education tend to be more liberal, which Trump (and let's be honest, many others on the right) argues is because these places are troves of politically correct professors spouting off their liberal philosophy to convince students to see their way. This view creates a chicken/egg problem, of course. Higher education is about teaching critical thinking skills, research skills, the skills people need to be good citizens and informed people. So I don't think it's any coincidence that people who go on to receive higher education are more likely to be liberal, and it has nothing to do with the ideologies spouted off by professors. That's what knowledge does to people. It teaches them to consider other viewpoints, other ways of life, to be empathetic to their fellow man. And from this, they learn that there are certain basic inalienable rights. And so they fight with knowledge on their side. What happens when the knowledge is gone? What happens when it's only given out to people that the current leadership deems worthy? What happens when the face of the educated and the powerful are made in the current leadership's own image? It creates ripples that continue far beyond the length of any presidential term.

And now the media - he's attacking them too. He's attacking anyone with a voice who dares disagree with him, expose his lies, or comment on his corruption. So what does he do? Casts them off as fake news. Just as he tried to program his supporters to distrust the results of the election if he lost, he is programming them to distrust anything that he says is untrue, or perhaps even worse, anything that he doesn't say is true. Do you have any idea how dangerous that is? How much power that gives one person?

Big Brother is watching. He's been watching. This isn't only true of the incoming administration. But now Big Brother is also shaping the truth in his preferred image. And he is setting up a system in which only the people he wants to succeed - the people who are like him - can succeed.

This isn't just the president-elect throwing a tantrum because Buzzfeed says he likes golden showers or Meryl Streep called him a bully or anything else he tweets about. This is calculated.

To fight, we need our citizens to be knowledgable. That knowledge comes from education (about the past, theories, scientific method, critical thinking, and so on) and the media (about what is going on in the world currently). We need a media that is not only motivated to tell the truth, but protected in its right to do so. But as Trump has shown, even with a Bill of Rights guaranteeing the freedom of the press, you can still take away that power and silence that voice, by convincing citizens to doubt what they hear and stop listening. Yes, some news is fake. But determining that should come from critical thinking and evidence, not what the president says.

Do not be misled. Do not be convinced when he tells you something is overly politically correct or fake news. And more importantly, do not laugh and call him a buffoon. To do so greatly underestimates just how dangerous his rhetoric and his actions are.

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