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Knowledge Is Power

John W. Pinkerton


I consider part of my responsibilities as a freelance essayist is to attempt to discover and articulate the causes of humans steadily moving toward Hell in a hand basket.

I’ve written essays on incompetence and  stupidity and their possible causes and consequences.  However, I recently realized I’ve overlooked another cause of the discombobulations in our society, the lack of knowledge.

At one time in our nation’s history, we could depend on our public schools to provide the basic knowledge that we all need and did it in a pretty uniform manner.  Our schools did a good job of teaching basic math, reading, writing, civics and history.  I met very few folks with a high school education or some portion of a high school education who were members of the Greatest Generation who didn’t have these basic skills.

I was part of public education for thirty-five years: I watched as we did a poorer and poorer job of teaching these basics.

I believe that parenting skills after WWII began to decline.  Parents today don’t seem to share what they know of the world with their kids.  As I’ve said before, once kids learn to make their sandwiches for themselves, meaningful communication between parents and children is over.  Parents have a responsibility to pass on to the children the knowledge of the world they have acquired through their lifetimes.

You can be the smartest little dude to ever come out of your town or village, but if you don’t know anything, the smarts are wasted.

An ignorant woman I worked with tried to explain to me why we needed a course in folklore so we would have an alternative to Senior English.  Using small words, I explained that there are some elements of our culture which all kids need to be taught: Shakespeare and Twain are a couple.   At least it gives them a couple of starting places which all kids at least know what your talking about if these names are mentioned.

The same principle applies to American History and World History and Civics: some points of which need to be taught to all.

If teachers go off willy-nilly teaching whatever they feel like teaching that day, they put kids at a disadvantage in the future.

I am still shocked when I mention something from our history which I consider to be common knowledge and the response by the folks addressed are blank stares.  I casually mentioned, “Lose lips sink ships,” when conversing with a seemingly intelligent fellow about 20 years my junior.  “Huh?”

I don’t know if you are familiar with Watters of Fox News.  He sometimes randomly asks people on the street questions about history or politics.  The results are quite funny…and sad.  Most folks don’t have a clue about any of the questions.   Once the question on a college campus was, “What does the Mason-Dixon Line divide?”  Of several, one student had the right answer…sort of. 

In order to make good decisions in life, you must have real knowledge…not just feelings or attitude.

One thing of which I am absolutely certain is that I know almost nothing, but I do what I can to learn.  The Greatest Generation gained knowledge primarily through reading.  Any time I find a kid who is a great reader, I take hope for the future.

One thing I learned while teaching was that some folks have little or no interest in learning…not even a little curiosity that extended beyond their next meal.  Some of these folks weren’t very smart, but some had pretty high IQ’s.

If it were up to me, I’d release these folks from the state requirement that they attend school.  If they don’t care to learn, they can do this at their parents’ home just as well as at school.

I suggest that young folks put less emphasis on their feelings and attitudes and greater emphasis on gaining actual knowledge.