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Offline Iago

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"Dumb and Dumber"- Are Americans hostile to knowledge?
« on: February 17, 2008, 11:32:38 AM »
February 14, 2008
Dumb and Dumber: Are Americans Hostile to Knowledge?
By PATRICIA COHEN-NY Times

A popular video on YouTube shows Kellie Pickler, the adorable platinum blonde from “American Idol,” appearing on the Fox game show “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” during celebrity week. Selected from a third-grade geography curriculum, the $25,000 question asked: “Budapest is the capital of what European country?”

Ms. Pickler threw up both hands and looked at the large blackboard perplexed. “I thought Europe was a country,” she said. Playing it safe, she chose to copy the answer offered by one of the genuine fifth graders: Hungary. “Hungry?” she said, eyes widening in disbelief. “That’s a country? I’ve heard of Turkey. But Hungry? I’ve never heard of it.”

Such, uh, lack of global awareness is the kind of thing that drives Susan Jacoby, author of “The Age of American Unreason,” up a wall. Ms. Jacoby is one of a number of writers with new books that bemoan the state of American culture.

Ms. Jacoby, whose book came out on Tuesday, doesn’t zero in on a particular technology or emotion, but rather on what she feels is a generalized hostility to knowledge. She is well aware that some may tag her a crank. “I expect to get bashed,” said Ms. Jacoby, 62, either as an older person who upbraids the young for plummeting standards and values, or as a secularist whose defense of scientific rationalism is a way to disparage religion.

Ms. Jacoby, however, is quick to point out that her indictment is not limited by age or ideology. Yes, she knows that eggheads, nerds, bookworms, longhairs, pointy heads, highbrows and know-it-alls have been mocked and dismissed throughout American history.
Anti-intellectualism (the attitude that “too much learning can be a dangerous thing”) and anti-rationalism (“the idea that there is no such things as evidence or fact, just opinion”) have fused in a particularly insidious way.

Not only are citizens ignorant about essential scientific, civic and cultural knowledge, she said, but they also don’t think it matters.

She pointed to a 2006 National Geographic poll that found nearly half of 18- to 24-year-olds don’t think it is necessary or important to know where countries in the news are located. So more than three years into the Iraq war, only 23 percent of those with some college could locate Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel on a map.

Ms. Jacoby, dressed in a bright red turtleneck with lipstick to match, was sitting, appropriately, in that temple of knowledge, the New York Public Library’s majestic Beaux Arts building on Fifth Avenue. The author of seven other books, she was a fellow at the library when she first got the idea for this book back in 2001, on 9/11.

Walking home to her Upper East Side apartment, she said, overwhelmed and confused, she stopped at a bar. As she sipped her bloody mary, she quietly listened to two men, neatly dressed in suits. For a second she thought they were going to compare that day’s horrifying attack to the Japanese bombing in 1941 that blew America into World War II:

“This is just like Pearl Harbor,” one of the men said.

The other asked, “What is Pearl Harbor?”

“That was when the Vietnamese dropped bombs in a harbor, and it started the Vietnam War,” the first man replied.

At that moment, Ms. Jacoby said, “I decided to write this book.”

Ms. Jacoby doesn’t expect to revolutionize the nation’s educational system or cause millions of Americans to switch off “American Idol” and pick up Schopenhauer. But she would like to start a conversation about why the United States seems particularly vulnerable to such a virulent strain of anti-intellectualism. After all, “the empire of infotainment doesn’t stop at the American border,” she said, yet students in many other countries consistently outperform American students in science, math and reading on comparative tests.

In part, she lays the blame on a failing educational system. “Although people are going to school more and more years, there’s no evidence that they know more,” she said.

Ms. Jacoby also blames religious fundamentalism’s antipathy toward science, as she grieves over surveys that show that nearly two-thirds of Americans want creationism to be taught along with evolution.

Ms. Jacoby doesn’t leave liberals out of her analysis, mentioning the New Left’s attacks on universities in the 1960s, the decision to consign African-American and women’s studies to an “academic ghetto” instead of integrating them into the core curriculum, ponderous musings on rock music and pop culture courses on everything from sitcoms to fat that trivialize college-level learning.

Avoiding the liberal or conservative label in this particular argument, she prefers to call herself a “cultural conservationist.”

For all her scholarly interests, though, Ms. Jacoby said she recognized just how hard it is to tune out the 24/7 entertainment culture. A few years ago she participated in the annual campaign to turn off the television for a week. “I was stunned at how difficult it was for me,” she said.

The surprise at her own dependency on electronic and visual media made her realize just how pervasive the culture of distraction is and how susceptible everyone is — even curmudgeons.
"Good", is NOT good enough, when "better" is expected

Ephemerid

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MN Dave

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Re: "Dumb and Dumber"- Are Americans hostile to knowledge?
« Reply #2 on: February 17, 2008, 01:27:57 PM »
Why use your own brain when there is Google?  ;D

Bonehelm

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Re: "Dumb and Dumber"- Are Americans hostile to knowledge?
« Reply #3 on: February 17, 2008, 01:44:49 PM »
ROFL

"How many eiffel towers are there in Paris?"

"....um...I'd say ten."

Steve

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Re: "Dumb and Dumber"- Are Americans hostile to knowledge?
« Reply #4 on: February 17, 2008, 06:59:04 PM »
While I don't object to the finding that an air of anti-intellectualism is spreading, but why must it be an American phenomenon?
There is no comparison offered to citizens of other countries, so why would the article not bear the title "Are People hostile to knowledge?"

greg

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Re: "Dumb and Dumber"- Are Americans hostile to knowledge?
« Reply #5 on: February 17, 2008, 08:04:24 PM »
hilarious and sad at the same time....... maybe this is what 30 years out of school does to people's brains?
anyways, that couldn't possilbly be EVERYONE they interviewed, obviously it must've been edited to get the bizarre effect that it has- by only including the dumber people.
they even had an old guy say there have been 3 World Wars and couldn't say what Hiroshima and Nagasaki were famous for. You'd expect someone his age to know that stuff....

the 10 Eiffel Towers was possibly the funniest.....
« Last Edit: February 17, 2008, 08:10:29 PM by GGGGRRREEG »

Ephemerid

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Re: "Dumb and Dumber"- Are Americans hostile to knowledge?
« Reply #6 on: February 17, 2008, 08:21:55 PM »
I can cite too many instances of amazing ignorance I've encountered.  One that stands out in my mind was when I went to my bank in downtown Nashville in early 2007 before my trip to New Zealand.  The teller had to get the manager to help me to get some bank cards for me that I could use overseas.  It was bizarre & I had to restrain from laughing, but they were both freaking out that New Zealand has ATM (EFTPOS) machines.   ::)  (this is all the more ironic considering that direct deposit was pretty much mainstream in NZ in the early 80s, while it is still not been picked up by a lot of businesses (I've had direct deposit only at one other place of employment since the early 90s and the place I work at now only got direct deposit three months ago). 

Of all the people I've spoken to in the past 3 years at various places I've worked or met, many of them don't even know where New Zealand is located.  And sometimes pointing out that its next to Australia doesn't even help.  The other frequent question is "Do they speak English there?"  The sad thing is, I'm amazed now when someone DOES know where New Zealand is located.  Sad.




Offline knight66

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Re: "Dumb and Dumber"- Are Americans hostile to knowledge?
« Reply #7 on: February 17, 2008, 08:37:01 PM »
I am quoting myself from another thread. This happened in the UK about 30 years ago.

"A long time ago, when I was a young manager, I had a group of people three of whom happened to be called John Smith. Sitting working, I happened to hear the daftest of the trio, and frankly, it was a close run race, say; 'So that's why they called the month October.' I then asked what they were chatting about.

JS the Egregious 'Well, hundreds of years ago, there was this plague of octopus. They called it the year of the octopus. But once the year was ended, they were so sad, they decided to rename one of the months, so they would never forget the plague. So they ended up with October.'

I pointed out that October was the eighth month of the Roman calender. Immediately JS shot back; 'Nah, it is the 10th month, so that's rubbish....look, Octopus the word starts, O-C-T-O. October, the word starts O-C-T-O.......I rest my case.

I decided that such stupidity was almost treasureable, I just smiled; we all got back to the task and for all I know John Smith The Egregious still believes his fairy story. No one on the entire team thought the octopus explanation unlikely.

There are some people you cannot help.

I rest my case."

Mike
« Last Edit: February 17, 2008, 08:38:36 PM by knight »
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Offline BachQ

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Re: "Dumb and Dumber"- Are Americans hostile to knowledge?
« Reply #8 on: February 17, 2008, 08:59:41 PM »
Not only are citizens ignorant about essential scientific, civic and cultural knowledge, she said, but they also don’t think it matters.

Thankfully, most people are NOT ignorant about classical music ......

greg

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Re: "Dumb and Dumber"- Are Americans hostile to knowledge?
« Reply #9 on: February 17, 2008, 09:12:31 PM »
Thankfully, most people are NOT ignorant about classical music ......
;D ;D ;D
i remember listening to my headphones on the school bus a few years ago and people would try to talk to me about it.
some of them would invite me to join them in the woods at night, to do whatever they do. They're like, "we do just what you do, we play guitar, drink Kool-Aid and listen to classical music"...... (yeah right)..... "And which composers would we listen to? I don't know any of them." (i give him a few names, can't believe he can't even think of Beethoven or something)..... :P

then someone else keeps on saying stuff like, "you got that mafia music today?" (he called classical "mafia" music). Cool, but not cool at the same time lol.

M forever

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Re: "Dumb and Dumber"- Are Americans hostile to knowledge?
« Reply #10 on: February 17, 2008, 09:35:35 PM »
I had a few similar experiences.


"Mike, where are you from?"
"From Berlin."
"Is that in Russia?"


"Mike, where are you from?"
"From Berlin."
"So you are French?"


"Mike, I hear you are from Germany."
"Yes."
"Do people there speak a different language?"
"Yes. It is called German".
"Oh."

and on another ocasion:

"Mike, where are you from?"
"From Germany."
"Do people there speak a different language?"
"No, they also speak English, but with a German accent, like in the movies."
"Oh, interesting."


All of the above are true.

Offline Dungeon Master

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Re: "Dumb and Dumber"- Are Americans hostile to knowledge?
« Reply #11 on: February 17, 2008, 10:19:27 PM »
We spent 2 months in Canada and USA a year ago.

It struck me that the television in the USA had ONLY shows from the USA. Also, news programs featured ONLY stories from the USA (and I think you will agree that stories about Iraq are actually stories about the USA).

Canada was marginally better in its global coverage, but not a lot, unless you tuned in to the Government subsidised stations.

In Australia, we get TV shows from (of course) Australia, and (of course) USA, but also England, Scotland, Ireland, New Zealand, and there are is one national (free to air) TV station that broadcasts TV shows (series and movies, with subtitles) from everywhere around the world - in fact it is uncommon to have an English-speaking show on that channel.

Not only that, our News shows (especially the Australian ABC and SBS channels) feature stories from all around the world - usually the first 10 minutes is dedicated to Australian news, the next 10-15 minutes on international news and the final few minutes are sport and weather.

Maybe we were tuning to the wrong channels in the USA, but while we were there, it seemed like the rest of the world simply did not exist!

cheers
Rob
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greg

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Re: "Dumb and Dumber"- Are Americans hostile to knowledge?
« Reply #12 on: February 17, 2008, 10:33:48 PM »
We spent 2 months in Canada and USA a year ago.

It struck me that the television in the USA had ONLY shows from the USA. Also, news programs featured ONLY stories from the USA (and I think you will agree that stories about Iraq are actually stories about the USA).

Canada was marginally better in its global coverage, but not a lot, unless you tuned in to the Government subsidised stations.

In Australia, we get TV shows from (of course) Australia, and (of course) USA, but also England, Scotland, Ireland, New Zealand, and there are is one national (free to air) TV station that broadcasts TV shows (series and movies, with subtitles) from everywhere around the world - in fact it is uncommon to have an English-speaking show on that channel.

Not only that, our News shows (especially the Australian ABC and SBS channels) feature stories from all around the world - usually the first 10 minutes is dedicated to Australian news, the next 10-15 minutes on international news and the final few minutes are sport and weather.

Maybe we were tuning to the wrong channels in the USA, but while we were there, it seemed like the rest of the world simply did not exist!

cheers
Rob
well, it depends on which channels you get.....
If you have cable or satellite, they do have channels with news from other countries, i used to watch news about Japan (in English) all the time. The newscasters had some pretty thick accents, too, and one of them i felt sorry for since he'd trip up nearly every other sentence when speaking.  ;D (he seemed embarrassed and nervous all the time) They also had German news, too, possibly others though i don't remember what since i haven't had satellite tv in a few years.

As for regular channels, you're normally not going to get much coverage of international news. And if they do cover that stuff, the average person isn't going to watch that when they can watch American Idol instead. Regular news channels mainly cover local news and wouldn't ever have time for other stuff (how could they, when every day there's so much crime to report- drive by shootings, bank robberies, murder, to much to mention...)

Offline Dancing Divertimentian

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Re: "Dumb and Dumber"- Are Americans hostile to knowledge?
« Reply #13 on: February 17, 2008, 10:49:35 PM »
It struck me that the television in the USA had ONLY shows from the USA. Also, news programs featured ONLY stories from the USA...

Generally that's true (on the open airways) but the one worthwhile exception is PBS (Public Broadcasting Service). My home town station (Dallas) goes in for a lot of British television, starting with a nightly viewing of the BBC World News. There's also an eclectic mixture of comedy (all sorts, Black Adder is a fave), drama (Mystery!), and variety (Antiques Roadshow), etc... 

PBS is probably how most of the US got to know Monty Python.

I can't recall if they've ever programed anything from Australia, though...



Veit Bach-a baker who found his greatest pleasure in a little cittern which he took with him even into the mill and played while the grinding was going on. In this way he had a chance to have the rhythm drilled into him. And this was the beginning of a musical inclination in his descendants. JS Bach

greg

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Re: "Dumb and Dumber"- Are Americans hostile to knowledge?
« Reply #14 on: February 17, 2008, 10:55:59 PM »
oh yeah, can't forget the BBC channel!
(which you get only if have cable/satellite, of course)

also, there's the History Channel & several others on cable

But I think that normally if people have cable they watch MTV instead. Never understood why.

Offline Florestan

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Re: "Dumb and Dumber"- Are Americans hostile to knowledge?
« Reply #15 on: February 17, 2008, 11:25:52 PM »
"Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent." - Victor Hugo

Offline Hollywood

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Re: "Dumb and Dumber"- Are Americans hostile to knowledge?
« Reply #16 on: February 17, 2008, 11:36:55 PM »
It really makes me sad how dumb many of my fellow Americans can be.  :'( Just watching Jay Leno's "Jaywalking" proves this fact. ::) I then heard the other day the results of a geography quiz given to some American high school students around the country and 8 out of 10 of these students could not find Canada on a map. How sad is that?  :-[
« Last Edit: February 18, 2008, 11:46:10 PM by Hollywood »
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Offline Sergeant Rock

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Re: "Dumb and Dumber"- Are Americans hostile to knowledge?
« Reply #17 on: February 18, 2008, 01:00:11 AM »
I had a few similar experiences.
"Mike, where are you from?"
"From Berlin."
"Is that in Russia?"

In 1983 I returned to the States after three years in Germany. I was driving through Arkansas in a car that still had army-issued license plates. I pulled into a Burger King. The kid behind the counter saw my car through the plate glass. He wanted to know where I was from.
"Germany," I said. "I'm a soldier. I was stationed there."
"Were you in the war?" he asked.

He was serious.   :D

Sarge
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Mahler, you ought to go see it.
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Offline Florestan

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Re: "Dumb and Dumber"- Are Americans hostile to knowledge?
« Reply #18 on: February 18, 2008, 01:01:31 AM »
Laughters and fun aside, I don't think Americans are a priori "stupid" or "hostile to knowledge". I believe those people in the video have never been offered an opportunity to have knowledge and value it in the first place, thanks to the relentless war on reason, education and authority fought by a (sadly) enormously influential leftist intelligentsia (not only in US but in Europe as well). Furthermore, the natural isolation of the US, making possible for the average American to live her / his whole life without meeting a single foreign citizen, plays no small part. I suspect also that the US mainstream visual media (just like virtually any mainstream visual media everywhere) is dedicated to infotainment and crap and a serious coverage of international affairs, be they political, economic or cultural is conspicuously missing.

A few years ago, a Romanian TV hosted a similar weekly show, asking people in the street to answer questions about history, geography, literature etc. I can assure you that the answers were no better than those in the above video. (Of course, later the producers admitted they broadcasted only the hilarious and wrong answers, but not the right ones). I'm sure that today people in the streets of Bucharest would fare only slightly better than the Americans. (I remember some people being asked "Where is Argentina?" and answering "Near Spain").

I lived in France for almost two years and met there people whose knowledge of French geography was fragmentary, to say the least. Not to mention that a lot of people there confound Bucharest (the capital city of Romania) with Budapest (the capital city of Hungary) and are convinced that Romanian (a Latin language closely related to Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and French) is a Slavic language. (Not surprisingly, I also found out that leftism is rampant in colleges and campuses; IMHO, there is a direct connection between cultural leftism and decadence of education)

So this ignorance is, I believe, more or less a general phenomenon. The Europeans fare better, but not that much, than the Americans due to their history, which forced them to come in close contact with foreign peoples, languages and cultures.
« Last Edit: February 18, 2008, 01:56:01 AM by Florestan »
"Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent." - Victor Hugo

Offline Tapio Dimitriyevich Shostakovich

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Re: "Dumb and Dumber"- Are Americans hostile to knowledge?
« Reply #19 on: February 18, 2008, 01:32:36 AM »
"Mike, I hear you are from Germany."
"Yes."
"Do people there speak a different language?"
"Yes. It is called German".
"Oh."

and on another ocasion:

"Mike, where are you from?"
"From Germany."
"Do people there speak a different language?"
"No, they also speak English, but with a German accent, like in the movies."
"Oh, interesting."


All of the above are true.

Cannot be true. ;) The americans I knew didn't answer "Oh", or "Oh, interesting", but rather like: "Wow, that's faaaantassticcc!!!", "This is hillarious!!!!!" "lets start some fireworks on this" ;)... So, a positive answer after their failing in the end...