Think about This as We Approach January 6, 2022

We all remember what took place in Washington D.C., USA, on January 6, 2021.  There was a violent insurrection at the nation’s capital.  Since then, America’s political crisis has grown in breadth and depth.  Today, political analysts of all stripes are sounding the alarm.  Many fear that the nation is heading down a dark path.  Strong action is needed to keep the country (and the world) from heading further in this dangerous direction.

When historians finally come to grips with what’s taking place right now, many will conclude that one of the primary causes was the long-standing deemphasizing of education in the United States, thus leading to the dumbing down of the country.  Teachers have historically been some of the most underpaid professionals in America.  Often, due to this fact, the best and brightest don’t want to become educators and there are chronic teacher shortages as a result.  And it’s not just about the number of teachers available to enter the workforce.  As schools try to find enough educators to meet their needs, they often end up watering down requirements and hiring those who are less qualified, meaning it’s a crisis of quantity and quality.

When a nation no longer has the intellectual wherewithal to make good decisions about how to govern itself, it can (and often will) act in ways that are self-defeating.  Democracy is premised on the idea that politics and economics should be conducted “by the people” and “for the people,” but what happens when “the people” lack good judgment?  In such cases, action by the people can turn out to be action against the people.

We all know that misinformation played an important role in what took place on that cold day in January nearly a year ago now.  Of course, obscurantists operate the world over, and social media provides a megaphone to purveyors of untruths.  Here’s the rub, though.  Misinformation is only dangerous when people fall for it.  A public armed by knowledge and empowered by the ability to think critically doesn’t necessarily swallow everything its fed.  Such a citizenry is capable of sorting through and sifting.  A nation that can’t tell the difference between a conman and a statesman is a danger to itself and to others.  The mind that can be preyed upon by conspiracy theorists is a vulnerable one.  America is an incredibly weak nation at the moment because too many of its citizens are gullible and engage in wishful thinking which is another way of saying they’ve turned their backs on reason.

Any nation’s strength is rooted in its ability to embrace rationality and think critically.  It’s through reason that we understand our interconnectedness and take action that fosters the common good.  Those who reject good thinking (and are hostile to the arts and sciences) often demonstrate a kind of callousness.  For it’s the intellect that activates our feelings and even gives us the ability to love.  We only feel kinship (and the love that accompanies such feelings) after we understand the nature of this kinship. 

Teachers not only provided us with information; they help us learn how to think, live, and be good people.  We neglect and disrespect those who carry out these important missions at our own peril.

Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.

If you’d like to see some of Troy’s art, have a look.

37 thoughts on “Think about This as We Approach January 6, 2022

  1. I agree with you about the super important and I would say also strategic role of teachers.I also agree that they are underpaid (statistics say that in Italy teachers’ salaries are among the lowest in Europe). I also think that misinformation is a big problem nowadays because of the massive use of social media. And it is precisely because of that that we would need excellent teachers to help us develop critical thinking.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Crisbiecoach. In America, the teacher situation has literally become a crisis. We have some “educators” who themselves need to be educated. Priorities are totally messed up. We pay professional athletes and celebrities (they provide a service; it’s called entertainment) millions while we pay those who literally shape the coming generations almost nothing. In English, we like to say, “The chickens are coming home to roost.” Our foolishness is now catching up with us. We have produced a nation that is intellectually incapable of managing its affairs. People don’t know history, geography, philosophy, the basics about how government works–and they can’t distinguish between an opinion and a fact–and we are entrusting the nation to such a citizenry. I don’t see how the US survives this crisis unscathed. Unfortunately, similar dark actors and forces are afoot in Europe too. Do you see similar things happening in Belgium and Italy?

      1. Unfortunately yes, the situation is more or less the same I would say all over Europe, at least within the EU. In Belgium there are too many problems linked to the fact that such a small country is formed by other even smaller countries, fighting to get the biggest chunk of money from the federal State. And they are also overwhelmed by fake news. In Italy, as said previously, teachers are underpaid. Very knowledgeable educators from the South don’t want to go to the Northern part of the country, because they couldn’t make a living with such a low salary (how could I blame them, they are absolutely right, there is a huge difference in the costs of living). The result is that skilled teachers cannot teach because they wouldn’t receive a good pay to be able to teach away from home. Meanwhile, football players earn as much as the whole GDP of Burkina Faso, just to mention one poor country. And politicians in most of the cases they cannot take decisions and they decide not to decide. What I see coming is countries from the Far East taking the lead, and let’s hope only taking the lead…

      2. More and more American educators are finding that they have to leave the country to receive respect and good pay. That’s what I did. Ironically, I got better pay and treatment when I moved to the “developing world”–I hate that term–than I ever received at home, in “rich” America. At least in many poorer countries, there is a realization that education matters. In America, we’ve forgotten this and are paying a very heavy price. If the political situation in the USA deteriorates, we will look to Europe to help. (America helped Europe in WWII and we may need to have the favor returned in the future.) Here’s the saddest part of all this: The US is really a very progressive country. We want universal healthcare and good public transportation and such, but the powerful interests have really taken control of government so that the desires of the people are nearly completely ignored.

      3. This reminds me of the Netflix series called Black List where there is The Cabal a sort of worldwide network that gathers the most powerful people of the world. They want to bend democracy values to their needs that basically mean money and power. The more I watch it the more I see it close to the truth. As we say in Italian: Reality overcomes fiction.

      4. Hi. There are definitely some powerful forces allied in this ugly and dangerous move toward autocracy that we’re seeing in many parts of the world. Let’s hope the forces for good are equally as powerful and determined. Thanks.

  2. Political parties of both sides are feeding misinformation. I recently went over this in a discussion about free speech. Unfortunately, misinformation is also free speech. Knowledge is the only weapon we have against it. But when there are teachers pushing misinformation because of their political leanings we also have a huge problem.

    1. True. But I only have one quibble. Not all misinformation is equally dangerous and corrosive. Misinformation that pushes for policies that would result in great tolerance and social justice isn’t quite as corrosive as misinformation that aims to disenfranchise and scapegoat. Are you American? If so, you’ve likely heard that even some teachers are spreading dangerous anti-vax information and such. Like I same in a previous comment, in the US we some educators who themselves need to be educated. thanks for the comment.

  3. “Here’s the rub, though. Misinformation is only dangerous when people fall for it.” . . . . so very true Troy.

    The dilemma lies in the preponderance of polarized information disseminated daily to sort through objectively,intelligently and apolitically in our increasingly divided nation.

    In ‘days of yore’ when I was growing up America faced wars, health, social and political issues not altogether uncommon than those we face today, but we confronted them in a much more unified “…agree to disagree…” ‘We’ mode than today’s radically divided “…I’m right, you’re wrong…” ‘Me’ mode . . . may God help us!

    1. Now that Humpty-Dumpty has had his big fall, do you think he can be put back together again? I guess I have this recurring question in my mind. Do people actually believe all the rubbish that’s being shared or do they know it’s false and pretend to believe it because it helps foster their political agenda? Thanks for reading and commenting, Fred D.

  4. Such an interesting post, Troy! I think you have such a great point about education and solving the shortage of teachers and emphasis on education. It feels to me that being educated has gotten a bad rap of being elitist in our country, further undermining the effort to create an educated populace. God help us!

    1. Hi, Wynne. There has long been a streak of anti-intellectualism in American culture. Just think how often children are afraid to demonstrate (in a public way) that they are smart. If they do, they’ll be called “brains” and “know it alls” and “nerds” and such. A country that belittles the intelligent is treading on thin ice. I’ll never forget what it was like when I was living in Poland. At the end of every news cast, they would spend ten minutes reporting on the arts. I can’t imagine such a newscast in America. I guess we are what we think (and what we think about), right?

  5. Education has been the political ground zero for any attempt to shape society at least as far back as the Revolution. Compared to their British brethren, American children were exceptionally literate. The little schoolhouse on the corner was an American Institution. Teachers were thought to be high status even if they didn’t get paid a lot and often lived in the homes of the children they taught.

    The founders thought it vitally important that the ordinary citizen read and write. Having a literate population was an important factor in making the revolution possible. They believed it would be even more important for it to succeed. The Northwest Ordinance which set aside a tract of land in each township for the construction of a school, even when the land was still mostly untracked wilderness, was a nod in this direction.

    Keeping the slaves illiterate was another important use of educational policy to shape culture. The South wanted to prevent a revolution and understood keeping the slaves ignorant was essential to this end.

    Eventually, as the country became larger and more industrial, the Prussian method of education was adopted in urban areas. It involved tightly scheduled classes moving from one subject matter expert to another with behavior regulated by bells. It was thought that this would produce good soldiers and good industrial workers.

    There is nothing new about using the educational system to design the kind of citizens we want. It doesn’t always work this way but they keep trying.

    My personal feeling is that many school curricula are being held hostage to the politics of the day. If you are in a conservative area, there are things you aren’t allowed to teach and things you are required to teach. If you are in a left leaning area, there are things you aren’t allowed to teach and things you must teach. These differences, for example “intelligent design” and “critical race theory,” become hot button topics that overwhelm the education discussion. Neither of these has any bearing on a student’s ability to reach a logical conclusion independent of what they are taught. They are stubby tails wagging the big dog.

    Education isn’t about transmitting knowledge and teaching the younger generation how to think critically. It is about teaching the younger generation what to think. But I really don’t think that is the cause of our current condition. It is a symptom. The cultural divisiveness causes the failure of education and not the other way around.

    1. As usual, I’ve learned something new (about the history of education in the US) from your comment. You’ve certainly got an interesting take. You argue that “the cultural divisiveness causes the failure of education and not the other way around.” I’d like to hear more about that because your idea is quite counter-intuitive. Thanks for the comment.

      1. The educational system has become weaponized in the battle between the progressives and the conservatives. Both sides believe that schools need to teach children a particular worldview so as to create more religious conservatives or to create more secular progressives. As the battle heats up, what I believe to be the most important aspect of education – learning how to solve problems – gets lost in the crossfire.

        It may well be that the culture wars have created a false perception of a crisis in order to promote particular “solutions.” The American educational system has always been spectacularly successful for those in good schools and a miserable failure for those in bad ones. I don’t see progressives or conservatives making proposals that would actually improve the performances of the poor schools.

      2. If the real purpose of teaching is simply to have someone move information from one place to another–like out of a book and into the heads of others–then a lot of people could teach. Teachers really start conversations that help people look inward and outward. They help students formulate good questions. (Knowing things is less important that having the desire to know things.) Too few folks really understanding what education is and the roles that teachers and students play. The point you make in paragraph one is an interesting one. Thanks.

  6. Although I’m sure you’re right in your analysis, I don’t think better educators are going to help at this point. We’re beyond that now. We’re on a spiral down that cannot be stopped and will force us to our demise, both culturally and physically.

    1. Your vision is about as dark as mine. I actually think there’s not much (if anything) that can get us out of our current situation. I think that it’s nearly guaranteed that we’re about to face something cataclysmic. I just don’t know what that’s going to look like? What form does the “demise” you write about take? Thanks for the comment.

      1. Troy, I think we’re living through the last days of the Roman Empire again. We have the pandemic and the political strife. What come next?

  7. So much of truth in here and mind opening insights. Sadly, we are indeed in destruction mode without our knowledge and fall for online conspirators. I wish critical thinking was taught in schools which would have made a damn difference in today’s world.

      1. Yes I am from India, it is the same like other countries but in the name of government policies and lobbyists nothing seem to move ahead or see any changes. Educators are lacking the ability to bring awareness to the common people. They are drowning in their positions to sustain the livelihood. That’s how it is.

      2. Well, in terms of cultural views you may find it attractive and intriguing. Expect the unexpected is what it is and might amaze you with a spectrum of heritage values. It’s good to know that you welcome ideas about the other countries.

      3. I’ve always been interested in other countries. I’ve lived in five and started collecting stamps when I was a young child. I loved getting little bits of postage from all around the world.

  8. Thank you for this profound and thought provoking post. Clearly, we need an intellect in order to operate in the world, but when we spend too much time in the head, we lose sight of heart and soul. The intellect can easily pull the wool over our eyes and cause us to forget that it is the heart, not the head, that breeds the love and compassion necessary to heal what ails the world. May hearts be joined as one!

    1. I would argue that the head and heart aren’t as separated as some think. We are able to love only when we intellectually learn to value others and get that we are interconnected. This realization (which begins as understanding and in the brain) helps us FEEL. We feel and love because we can conceptualize the notion that because I have suffered I need to feel bad when others suffer. I think our minds, bodies and souls (if there is such a thing as a soul) are integrated. Illness comes when the mind and feelings no longer work in harmony. Thanks for your comment.

  9. Troy, I wholeheartedly agree with this brilliantly-written post. I would like to add that, not only are public school teachers underpaid, they are constrained by stultifying curricula, endless teaching to the test, mountains of paperwork, and regulations about what topics of discussion are allowed in the classroom.

    Good teachers are more than technicians. No amount of money can compensate teachers for the loss of academic freedom. If we hope to attract gifted teachers to the profession, and if we hope to inspire and motivate students, awaken their creativity, and develop their judgement, changes need to occur.

    One good thing that came out of the pandemic is the proof that computer learning does not replace live teachers and live interactions with fellow students.

    1. Hi, Cheryl. I love this sentence: “Good teachers are more than technicians.” I couldn’t have said it better. But so many see the profession that way. They think teaching is just “giving information.” They don’t realize that there is so much psychology and performance art in what teachers do. They best educators have a style that enthralls students. I’m watching with horror at how politicized education is becoming. In Texas, the Republicans in the state legislature are doing “audits” of books in school libraries. They are concerned about those that are too explicit or deal with controversial subjects in ways that could make some students intellectually “uncomfortable.” What they really want is to whitewash–pun intended–history. Gotta make slavery look like it was really in the slaves’ best interests and such. What’s next? Book burnings?

  10. As a former Literature teacher and political speech writer (not in the US) I agree with the idea that educators need better education but that is not just a present problem. President Reagan bemoaned the fact that the US was falling behind in education. The question must be asked,How many of that generation became teachers? What would be the outcome of at least two generations learning outdated information but not how to think? How will the US compete with countries that prioritize competency over weaponry?
    As a former speech writer, I can say unequivocally that B.S is easier to create than destroy. The ‘Sound Bite’ news cycle means that by the time some BS has been debunked the public’s attention has moved on. Is there a demand for more factual information delivery and if there were how would a nation of non-critical thinkers process it?
    My opinion as an outsider, is that the acceptance of ‘news’ as a commodity and reasoned thinking as a liability has been a feature the US since the 1990’s. The present situation was virtually unavoidable.

  11. Hi, jdelancy. Outsider views are more than welcome! It must have been a great experience working as a speech writer. You certainly must have mastered persuasion when you were doing that work. We all know that America is moving in an autocratic direction and that leaders in authoritarian governments target education and intellectuals. There is nothing more powerful than critical thinking. I expect the pressure on education and educators to become more profound as dark forces ascend. What can be done to turn this around? What do you think?

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