But it is apparently tolerated and promoted everywhere else. Educational standards cannot be improved until adults begin to model the education values that they loudly espouse."
Do Adult Leaders Model The Educational Values They Espouse?
By Joseph Ganem, Ph.D.
It has become fashionable for politicians and pundits to criticize schools for lax standards and poor teaching. But, many of the same people who make a big show slamming teachers and schools, also display contempt and disdain for educational values. Do they really expect our children to value what they do not?
Consider the trait of intellectual honesty, which is vital to academic discourse. An intellectually honest person constructs arguments based on facts, not by demonizing people who hold opposing viewpoints. Relevant facts that contradict an argument are acknowledged and addressed, not purposely omitted or distorted. Pursuit of the truth is the goal, not validation of personal beliefs.
But public discourse has degenerated into an "us versus them" contest in which facts are irrelevant. Politicians and pundits argue for their side by cherry-picking facts and twisting arguments in ways that would never be acceptable in an academic setting. Students who write and debate in the manner of today's politicians and pundits would receive failing grades.
In fact, intellectual dishonesty has become so pervasive in public discourse that it has given rise to an entire genre of comedy programming. Comedy Central's The Daily Show and the Colbert Report mock intellectual dishonesty using a simple comedic formula. Lest you think that these comedy shows are irrelevant, many of my college students tell me that this is the only news they watch. Which is not an unreasonable choice given that the news offered by the major networks has degenerated into prurient tabloid journalism. But, what the students see on these comedy shows is not a flattering portrait of the adult leaders in our society.
These shows have a steady and inexhaustible supply of comedic material. The formula is simple: a video is played showing a politician taking a stand on an issue, followed by a video of the same politician taking the opposite stand on the same issue. The comedian then cracks jokes that play on the cognitive dissonance.
For example, in a skit on the Daily Show, an actor dressed as a professional wrestler parrots Democratic arguments against Senate filibusters made while the party enjoys majority status in the Senate. The same wrestler switches persona to parrot Democratic arguments in favor of filibusters made when the party had minority status. The message is clear; senators are as sincere as the wrestlers seen on TV.
On the Colbert Report, Sarah Palin is shown calling for White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel to resign because he used the word "retard" in a meeting. Audio is played from Rush Limbaugh's radio show in which he makes repeated use of the word "retard" followed by Sarah Palin's defense of Limbaugh's use of the word.
Night after night this goes on. Congressional Democrats promise "ethics reform" in one video, while in the next video these same Democrats refuse to acknowledge their own ethical violations. Republican indignation over deficit spending is juxtaposed with Dick Cheney's claim made when he was vice-president that "deficits don't matter."
Journalists are also lampooned. A telling moment about our culture came in John Stewart's interview with MSNBC financial journalists Jim Cramer on The Daily Show. Cramer defended his poor stock picking advice by claiming that the CEOs of the failed companies that he recommended lied to him. When Stewart suggested that he not take at face value what CEOs say, Cramer responded with a bizarre defense. He said: "I'm not Eric Sevareid. I'm not Edward R. Morrow. I'm a guy trying to do an entertainment show about business for people to watch."
The irony of this exchange is breathtaking. Cramer defended himself by asserting that he needs to entertain an audience that would tune him out if his talk became too technical. So a comedian is asking relevant questions while a journalist pleads that he doesn't ask questions because he needs to entertain.
The fact is our public discourse is so rife with intellectual dishonesty, that the politicians and pundits are fooling no one. The humor in these shows is that the people being lampooned apparently believe their own pronouncements. It is like watching an inept magician, whose tricks are obvious, but is oblivious to that fact. The audience laughs because the want-to-be magician is clueless.
This transparent intellectual dishonesty is not lost on youth, who see calls for higher educational standards for what they are, self-aggrandizement for adults, not concern for children. In fact many politicians openly denounce educated people as "elitists" while at the same time demanding more education for our youth.
Schools cannot be cultural islands. We do not tolerate intellectual dishonesty from our children in our schools. But it is apparently tolerated and promoted everywhere else. Educational standards cannot be improved until adults begin to model the education values that they loudly espouse.
Joseph Ganem, Ph.D., website here, is a professor of physics at Loyola University Maryland, and author of the award-winning book on personal finance: "The Two Headed Quarter: How to See Through Deceptive Numbers and Save Money on Everything You Buy". It shows how numbers fool consumers when they make financial decisions.
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