Facts and Truths have taken a real hit this past election cycle. Lies dominated and directed the conversations and the results. When I taught English, my students had (139 characters) to defend their statements with at least three facts from the texts they read when they wrote their 300+ word essays. Today Twitter writers can’t defend their posts and provide facts in their allotted 140 character posts. To Make America Great Again we must Make America Smart Again. America has been dumbed down since NCLB. That president didn’t get the popular votes either and look at what happened. Before NCLB, we used essays and some Multiple Choice questions to assess our students. Since NCLB, we have seen fewer essays if not no essays and more Multiple Choice questions on our assessment tools. Analogies have been eliminated from the SAT exams. Metaphors are essential in higher order thinking. With Multiple Choice questions we lose the ability, as assessors, to see why and how a student makes a choice. With an essay we see thinking and problem solving going on. When I used Multiple Choice as assessment tools, I provided a few lines for the students to explain each of their choices. By asking for explanations, I had some access to their thinking and problem solving. The problem with Twitter, as a form of communication and as a form of media used by millions for their information, is that it is limited to 140 characters, which limits vocabulary use, as most evident in our president elects’ tweets and the lack of supporting facts. In researching the question of his vocabulary, I discovered a number of sites that deal with it and the consensus is that Trump’s vocabulary is around a fifth or sixth grade level. No wonder he has trouble reading some of our news media whose reading levels are at a higher level. (312 words)
I don’t blame Trump or his supporters; I blame our educational system. When we abandoned essays for more MC tests for our assessment tools, we began the dumbing down of America. When we stopped asking ourselves to defend and prove our points with facts, we lost an important part of our discussion. We were looking for a quick and easy way to assess and to move on. Education was taking a beating and resembled the business model of doing more in less time. It seemed as if we were in a rush to get some place quicker. Where that was and why is still unclear to me. Education takes time as does conversation and debate.
The proof of this failure is all around us. Manufacturing and industry failed in this country because workers were incapable of keeping up with the technological changes that required more education and better reading skills. Computers began replacing human workers and too many humans were incapable of interacting with these dumb computers. We see it on a daily basis when we go shopping or drive on our roads: self-check out with fewer cashiers, EZ Pass instead of toll takers, and self-serve gas pumps. Count the number of checkout lines in a store and notice how many are closed. Start at any super store, which are some of the worst employers in America. We went from a manufacturing country to a service country to a computer age self-service country in a lifetime. “Made in America” is not a common label on what we own. We changed how we interact moving from human contact to computer interfacing. Just stop and watch people walk down the street, drive a car, sit at a bar or in a restaurant, and on a date. The common element is a hand held. We are losing our humanity.
Progress demands a better education by all of us, for all of us, so we can create new kinds of jobs and then people them. We don’t have the education to do that nor the desire to be educated. I was shocked when I discovered that less than a third of Americans graduated from college. That is a very important and alarming fact. It is totally contrary to what Jefferson had expected of us as Americans. He considered education our most important tool in preserving a democracy and helped define what it meant to be an American. He started the educational system in Virginia. Just the opposite has happened. I am still shocked at how the Rust Belt couldn’t retool and go from mining and producing one industry of energy to producing another form of energy: coal to solar and wind. Other countries have done it well, smoothly, efficiently, and successfully. So what kind of jobs will Trump provide?
Twitter and Facebook are the new tools and are responsible for the continued dumbing down of America. Posts on these two sites are not fact checked, are not written from authority, and are pure opinion. It takes time and work, some times hard work, to write an essay that is fact based, researched, read and reread as opposed to tweets that are opinion or gut feelings or rumors that are too quickly posted. A friend of mine read me a post from one of his friends, who was a Trump supporter. The post had more than a few incorrect statements. The most glaring mistake was “the people spoke when they elected Trump.” Actually, the people spoke and voted for Clinton and not Trump. The Electoral College elected Trump. No one corrected this incorrect statement and the continuing conversation with other “friends” merely allowed this incorrect fact to continue uncorrected. A non-truth became a truth in their minds. When I suggested to my friend he write and point out this incorrect fact, he said he didn’t want to embarrass his friend and would do it when he sees him. YIKES!!! The poster has already embarrassed himself and the others who failed to do the fact checking and have perpetuated a lie that has become a truth to them. This is how we got here folks. Don’t let facts get in the way of friendship or the truth. Peer review has to work better.
How is Trump going to fix those workers’ lives that work less than forty hours a week, not allowing them benefits, so employers save money? How is he going to help those workers who have two or more jobs and still can’t make ends meet because employers want to save money and keep most of it for themselves? How is he going to put more Americans to work when they can’t read well enough to get these jobs that require some education. Coal isn’t coming back. We have to retool and that is going to require education, a better education than two thirds of Americans have. Trump can’t fix this. He settled a lawsuit brought against Trump University, so he clearly has little knowledge about education. Americans have to fix this by staying in school or by going back to school. Perhaps he should consider free education.
To be great we need to be smart. We can’t blame others for our woes; we have to blame ourselves. Heck, the immigrants have always outworked the Americans already here. That’s history folks. Just look back on our history to see how the immigrants built America. Upon retirement I reflected on my career in education and one insight was that I found myself far more impressed with the industry of my public school students than with my private school students. America is not near the top of the charts in world education achievement. To make America great we have to make America smart and that means more and better education. If we make education free, that investment, which we will get back ten-fold, will make us smart and then great.
I am going to sport a Make America Smart Again hat and promote CyberEnglish as the tool to help us be smart again. CyberEnglish demands of its students thinking, researching, problem solving, and producing; not twits who can only handle 140 characters. If we are going to make America great again, we have to make America smart again. It’s all about education, stupid.