Terminators, Sowell, Background Knowledge, and Our Dumbed Down Culture

The deliberate dumbing down of our children:

OK, so this is another eclectic piece – or at least another piece with an eclectic title! But if you stay with me, you will see how it all ties together. This article is about the education wars, and how so many people today know little or nothing about basic, general knowledge.

Indeed, one problem with today’s failing educational standards is that far too many people are cast adrift in the world, knowing next to nothing about anything. Yes, they may well know all about popular culture, and films like the Terminator series (more on that in a moment), but as to basic historical, religious, social and ethical knowledge they may well be utterly clueless.

Most folks today know all about the latest Taylor Swift album, what Kim Kardashian might be up to, or when the next instalment of some popular Netflix series is coming out. But ask them about current events, international relations, historical events, or basic philosophical and theological issues, and they will wonder what you are talking about.

Examples of this are far too easy to come by. Let me share just one. It comes in the form of a meme – one that appeals to pop culture and historic Christian creeds. It goes like this:

(Man talking to a youth in a phonebooth): Are your parents Reformed?

(Youth): Yes.

(Man to woman at the other end of the phone): What is the chief end of man?

(Woman): To live, love, laugh.

(Man to child): Your parents are with the Lord.

When I shared that online, I added these words: “One of course needs to know about both Terminator 2 and the Westminster Shorter Catechism to enjoy this”. And one would need to know something about sloppy, sentimental humanism as well.

As to the famous 1648 Catechism, most Christians at least should have heard of it. It’s very first Q&A goes like this:

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

As to humanism, living, loving and laughing (however they might be defined) is as good as it gets. As to the 1991 film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, the particular scene being parodied can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sy9DueBpHx8

While almost all young people will be aware of things like Arnie and the Terminator films, likely most of them will never have heard of the WSC, or have the slightest clue as to what it is about. In this meme, and with so many other things, a modicum of general knowledge or background knowledge is needed to make sense of the world.

But kids today are rarely getting this in Western schools. Home schoolers certainly would be, but most other kids are simply being massively dumbed down. We have deliberately denied our young people – and not so young people – a basic understanding of what we all must know, be it about history, morality, religion, literature or culture.

This of course has not happened by accident. It has been quite deliberate and intentional. The radical left – which in the main is in charge of our education system – knows the value of depriving a generation and more of students any basic knowledge and understanding. Instead, they just pump them full of propaganda about progressive causes.

Thus when students leave high school or college they may still be more or less illiterate, innumerate, and unable to tell you what the Magna Carta is about, what is in the US Declaration of Independence, or when the Russian revolution occurred. But they will know all about sex education, drug education, radical sexual agendas, and even death education.

To have real understanding about anything of importance, we need to have some prior, general knowledge. As Mortimer Adler had argued in his important 1940 volume, How to Read a Book, understanding is based on prior knowledge. Having a broad awareness of historical and other knowledge is the key to learning and growing intellectually.

And as he said in his 1989 book, Reforming Education: “Whoever passes by what is over his head condemns his head to its present low altitude; for nothing can elevate a mind except what is over its head; and that elevation is not accomplished by capillary attraction, but only by the hard work of climbing up the ropes, with sore hands and aching muscles.”

But enlarging the mind is not the aim of so much of Western education today. We are not teaching our students how to think, but what to think. As such, propaganda and indoctrination have replaced genuine learning. Thankfully not everyone has been happy with these trends.

Thomas Sowell on modern education

The hugely significant Black American economist and social commentator Thomas Sowell is one such person. He has written on so many important issues, including the state of contemporary education in the West. He has penned entire books on this topic, including Inside American Education (1992), Black Education: Myths and Tragedies (1972), and Charter Schools and Their Enemies (2020).

There are so many quotes we can offer here on this, but here some of his better ones:

“The purpose of education is to give the student the intellectual tools to analyze, whether verbally or numerically, and to reach conclusions based on logic and evidence.”

“One of the painful signs of years of dumbed-down education is how many people are unable to make a coherent argument. They can vent their emotions, question other people’s motives, make bold assertions, repeat slogans– anything except reason.”

“A recently reprinted memoir by Frederick Douglass has footnotes explaining what words like ‘arraigned,’ ‘curried,’ and ‘exculpate’ meant, and explaining who Job was. In other words, this man who was born a slave and never went to school educated himself to the point where his words now have to be explained to today’s expensively under-educated generation.”

Image of Inside American Education
Inside American Education by Sowell, Thomas (Author) Amazon logo

“Our whole educational system, from the elementary schools to the universities, is increasingly turning out people who have never heard enough conflicting arguments to develop the skills and discipline required to produce a coherent analysis, based on logic and evidence.”

“Outside the world of education, few would be confident, or even comfortable, claiming that it is a lack of self-esteem which leads to felonies or its presence which leads to Nobel Prizes. Yet American schools are permeated with the idea that self-esteem precedes performance, rather than vice-versa. The very idea that self-esteem is something earned, rather than being a pre-packaged handout from the school system, seems not to occur to many educators.”

“That educators who have repeatedly failed to do what they are hired to do, and trained to do, should take on sweeping roles as amateur psychologists, sociologists, and social philosophers seems almost inexplicable—except that they are doing it with other people’s money and experimenting on other people’s children.”

“The problem isn’t that Johnny can’t read. The problem isn’t even that Johnny can’t think. The problem is that Johnny doesn’t know what thinking is; he confuses it with feeling.”

“Today’s educators believe it is their job to introduce children to sex when and in whatever manner they see fit, regardless of what the children’s parents might think. Raw movies of both heterosexuals and homosexuals in action are shown in elementary schools. Weaning children away from their parents’ influence in general is a high priority in many schools.”

“Education is not merely neglected in many of our schools today, but is replaced to a great extent by ideological indoctrination.”

“Too much of what is called ‘education’ is little more than an expensive isolation from reality.”

“Whether blatant or subtle, brainwashing has become a major, time-consuming activity in American education at all levels. Some zealots have not hesitated to use the traditional brain-washing technique of emotional trauma in the classroom to soften up children for their message. Gruesome and graphic movies on nuclear war, for example, have reduced some school children to tears—after which the teacher makes a pitch for whatever movement claims to reduce such dangers. Another technique is the ambush shock: A seventh-grade teacher in Manhattan, for example, innocently asked her students to discuss their future plans—after which she said: ‘Haven’t any of you realized that in this world with nuclear weapons no one in this class will be alive in the year 2000?’”

“In short, too many American schools are turning out students who are not only intellectually incompetent but also morally confused, emotionally alienated, and socially maladjusted.”

“Academics are a special-interest group. Their special interest is to get their production costs paid for by other people [notably the taxpayers] and to give their product a good image so that it will sell. Whether their product actually helps the consumer afterwards is secondary, at best.”

“Just as any moron can destroy a priceless Ming vase, so the shallow and ill-educated people who run our political parties can undermine and destroy from within a great civilization that took centuries of dedicated effort to create and maintain.”

One way to address this lack of general background knowledge is to begin reading important books. And any volume by Sowell would have to be included in this mix.

[1522 words]

4 Replies to “Terminators, Sowell, Background Knowledge, and Our Dumbed Down Culture”

  1. Thank you Bill. As one who loves history and always studied it, I was horrified when the Education Dept removed it as a subject and merged it with general studies. I can see now the deeper damage as our identity and history as a nation was eroded. Also, we have lost the history of the indigenous people, the first settlers , and of those who developed the nation and fought for justice. So much is blurred (e.g. Learning about those who introduced schools, hospitals, health facilities and social reform.)
    The history and heroes of WW1 and 2 are not known well, nor the development of sheep and cattle industry, farms and agriculture or building of cities. Facts like Govt protection of industry and agriculture have been forgotten. The family unit was esteemed and protected and education and a career valued.
    We have become such a mixture in our nation- and have lost much of our traditions that were good and respect for the ones who tilled the land, who fought for Australia to keep it free from communism and who fought against Hitler in WW2.
    Home schooling may be one of the few ways to develop the skills and values needed, and to teach literacy, research, and how to think.

  2. A remark made by Laura Dodsworth, the author of ‘A State of Fear’, published during the Great Covid Panic, has been haunting me for some time: ‘…a government advisor told me that the behavioural scientists are “very pleased with themselves” and Britain is seen as leading the way in how to manipulate people. There is skipping in Whitehall corridors. The public have been proved to be incredibly sheepish…’ (https://www.thefreemind.co.uk/p/the-news-is-being-nudged). I see a connection with what you are writing here. I did not know how bad things were.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *