October 28th, 2010 10:36 EST
Education and Heroism Hinge on Openness to New Idea, Not Rigid Belief Systems
And the tragedy of smart-ass journalism
To lose sight of the grandeur of what we don`t know is a tragedy. Ideology is a blindfold, and ideologues are enemies of democracy. We are witnessing this tragedy unfold in our body politic, which is sick with too much conviction and too little knowledge.
One of the majesties of The New York Times is its healthy respect for what we don`t know, for what its reporters don`t know, for what is concealed from them and therefore from us by our preconceptions, our received ideas and the mendacity of our leaders. The Times stands in ever more stark contrast to an American press polluted by decadent British sensationalism. We might think about that the next time Independence Day rolls around.
Fox News is the foremost producer of this tragedy, striving day after day to convince Americans that they know more than they know, more than Fox ever intends to explain. It strives to instill in Americans a sense of being right rather than being interested in new ideas, in contrary ideas. And this sense of being right cannot but help the demise of American education. Education is not about being right. It is not about going about in the world armed with a handful of self-righteous convictions. It is about discovery, about being wrong and reeducating oneself, righting oneself; it is about learning how to learn, not how to close one`s mind to facts and ideas that don`t comport with comfortable misconceptions.
The disastrous No Child Left Behind initiative of the Bush Administration is a direct result of a predilection for ideology over knowledge. Teaching to the tests, as our teachers must now do to satisfy this ill-conceived program, has buried them in paperwork, drowned their most innovative ideas, and stifled inquiry and development. It came from ideologues and it strives to turn educators into ideologues. School should not be about the little we know but the vastness of what we may yet learn. Glory lies in what remains to be discovered around the corner, not in what we have already been told. Teaching to tests is an abject failure of education, whose purpose is to open our minds to the splendor of the unknown. Teaching to the tests proves a squalor of the mind, a lock-step rigidity that will assure our place as a second-rate nation.
When ideology triumphs over inquiry we wallow in the disasters that befall our politics. Ideologues have convinced a broad segment of the public that the national debt and Washington`s social programs have ruined the country when in fact the corruption that has raised property taxes to crippling levels is a local issue, as Florida`s Amendment 4 controversy suggests. This dirty political trick is a direct result of believing know-it-alls and fanatics who fulminate about one thing after another instead of believing people who respect what they have yet to figure out. To look towards Washington for the source of all our ills is the same as denying child abuse under our noses or blaming the schools for our failures as parents.
Instead of looking for scapegoats we should celebrate everything we don`t know, all the problems that await solutions, all the facts that have it within them to change our minds, all the cures we have yet to develop, the discoveries that await us, the incredible power of our minds to absorb far more than we seem willing to absorb. People who hurl a few facts at each other like rocks are Neanderthals. People who think their belief systems are answers to everything are Cro-Magnons. The wonders that await us are stars compared to the candle of the past. But we won`t see them if we insist on being right. Insisting on being right is based in fear; it takes courage to revel in what we don`t know, in all the ideas and facts that might change our minds. The calcified mind is the enemy of the state.
The flip-flop issue cooked up by the press and the politicians is a prime example of intellectual cowardice. When we revere a leader who never changes his mind we lick the boots of a fool and an intellectual coward, and unfortunately it says all too much about ourselves.
Much of television, and Fox in particular, shuts us down to the grandeur of changing one`s mind in response to light shed in dark places. It is what we don`t know that is so promising, that holds out the hope of improvement and creativity. What we do know is chump change compared to all we have yet to learn. To insist on being right is to assert one`s right to be a boob. Americans are big on rights; they should be as big on examining the facts. For example, a majority are going to the polls next month actually believing President Obama has raised their taxes when in fact he has lowered them. Worse yet, they seem to believe that Republicans, who have presided over large-scale tax increases at the state and local level, will lower their taxes. What is this about? One explanation is that the Republicans, feigning to be mad as hell and riding the fuming Tea Party train, know that many people just plain enjoy being mad. It`s so much easier than weighing one piece of evidence against another. Being mad is the GED of politics compared to a college degree, which requires a little study.
The more the American press turns to Fleet Street decadence to boost sales and advertising, the more Americans cast their notions in cement and beat each other about the head in the hot and ignorant desire to be right. Playing the booboisie is the cynical game of a degenerate press that doesn`t give a damn about its constitutional mandate.
It is not unlike turning our faces from the stars because they pose too many questions, because there are too many unknowns. The Times, its pundits notwithstanding, continues to revel in what it doesn`t know, and it continues to tell us what has yet to be examined. Read, for example, Gretchen Morgenson`s heroic efforts to parse the the mortgage crisis or to explain the enigmatic workings of Wall Street. She is always at pains to tell her readers what remains to be discovered or fathomed.
Compare this to the smart-asses at Fox who would have you believe they know everything and whatever they don`t wisecrack about isn`t worth mention. This isn`t journalism in the American tradition, it`s brainwashing. The universe is grand and challenging because of what we lies ahead, and we can meet that challenge only by diving into the sea of our ignorance to bring up the treasures of new and daunting ideas. If we call this flip-flopping we might as well give the republic back to the British. The politicians and pundits who never change their minds, who never flip-flop are dullards, not heroes. But too many of us have come to regard them as heroes. We would never have gone to the moon or photographed Mars if our scientists and astronauts had been unable or unwilling to change their minds according to new circumstances.
Keep this in mind the next your hear one of Fox`s nut cases rant as if any damned fool knows the earth is flat.
Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.
His book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal Latté first prize in fiction in 2008. His poems have been published in The American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, poemeleon, The Same, and other journals. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.
Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal Latté`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com