What a difference an education makes

Years ago, I think I was still in undergrad school, I began to notice and talk about a distinct difference I pick up between people with a masters degree and those with only a high school education. For some reason masters sticks in my mind but it could have been just a bachelors – one way or the other a college education. It seemed to be in the way people formulated ideas and concepts and the way they framed things.

Fast forward and the nation is now beset with a dramatic cleavage between educated and non-educated voters. I am facing a situation with my neighbor who is a high school drop-out who did well in the economy of the 60s and is a cogent person but lacking in a number of ways that make it difficult to have him see what non-conservatives are getting at. He is a Trump supporter. At some point I will have to point out that there are some things he needs to know about.

But those are facts. Lots of people think being educated means knowing a lots of facts. No. Education gives you the means to think about things and gather facts on a reasoned basis. So this task of gently pointing out my neighbor’s deficits is made more difficult by the vagueness of the distinction between educated and uneducated people. Above I said I had noticed a ‘distinct’ difference, and that is true; but as you try to define the differences it gets into matters of how people approach an issue. That’s very different from having facts in an arsenal you can unleash. It is about as useful as rhetorical skills: the real division lies in that mushy area of how you frame things.

So that conundrum, dealing with a proud and intelligent man who just doesn’t have the education to conceive of our government, our federal system, our foreign alliances, and so forth, got me to thinking about just what does happen in the process of getting an education. For me, it is an accumulation of procedural knowledge. ” It can be the “tasks specific rules, skills, actions, and sequences of actions employed to reach goals” a student uses in the classroom (Cauley,1986).” (Wikipedia)

And, “In cognitive psychology, procedural knowledge is the knowledge exercised in the accomplishment of a task, and thus includes knowledge which, unlike declarative knowledge, cannot be easily articulated by the individual, since it is typically nonconscious (or tacit). Many times, the individual learns procedural knowledge without even being aware that they are learning (Stadler,1989).” (Wikipedia)

Note this last, procedural knowledge as understood in Cognitive Psychology, is just the thing followers of CI methods or non-intervention methods of language teaching/learning are talking about.

The question is how does one “pick up” this procedural knowledge? What is an attractive face? You may hear someone pointing to a lift of the chin or a tilt of the nose and some research psychologists will say it is the symmetry of the face, but individuals usually give up at some point and say, “He’s just pretty.” (No, they wouldn’t say that about a man, only about a woman, but a man would be “just good-looking”)

One area of knowledge I find essential for understanding the world in the geopolitical sense is geography. As I talk about Iran’s attempted domination of the Middle East, I find myself scrambling for a clear picture of Iran’s physical location vis-à-vis other countries. I only vaguely know Turkey lies to the west and Russia to the north, and Afghanistan to the east, so the other Middle Eastern countries must lie to the south. Oh yes, and Iran and Iraq had a terrible war, so Iraq must lie on the border, the southern border, of Iran. But nothing more certain than that – oh, and the Gulf of Oman and the Hormuz Straits are somewhere in there.

That’s pretty weak but one hell of a lot more about Iran than your average bear could come up with. Now that was articulatable knowledge and procedural knowledge often lies below that surface. As we discuss geopolitics I have in my head an almost unconscious knowledge of where South America is but I can be fooled by something as simple as which lies further west, like Reno is west of San Diego; how can that be since California is on the ocean, as far west as you can get, and Reno is in Nevada, an interior desert state?

But, due to geography, it is. The images we carry around in our heads have to be constantly rearranged as we channel new pathways. But that takes us back to the same question: how do we channel those pathways? What can I do to solidify my ‘sense’ that Reno is west of San Diego and Iraq/Syria are south of Iran? Let’s take a look at what I DO know about those regions and why I know it. For instance, I do know that the California coastline dips to the east as it goes south. I also know that the interior of the western U.S. is crazy vast. Some of that I got by driving it.

The geography of the Middle East is just as hazy as how I learned what I know. I recall teaching my Russian class that our hysteria over the Soviet missiles in Cuba was thought hypocritical by the Soviets since we had many such missiles on their southern border with Iran when the Shah was in power. More recently the war in Afghanistan made me aware that Iran is on Afghanistan’s western border.Now, checking a map of the Middle East, I find that Syria and Iraq are also to the west of Iran. Very vague indeed. Military planners must have these maps memorized.

And yet there are many things I know about the Middle East. But there are many more things I don’t know about science. For some reason I have no skepticism whatsoever about evolution. It’s just there. BUT, I have read a few books dealing with aspects of it. Physics and chemistry are pretty much unknown territories to me but that is a far cry from people who think the moon landing was faked b/c they can’t imagine a person on the moon. So do I just have more imagination than they do or have I imbibed some knowledge that allows me to comprehend the process in the broadest possible outlines  by which scientists go a person on the moon? Yes. It’s reading thousands of articles in magazines and newspapers over decades that dribbled the knowledge into me.

But why was I not skeptical of this dribbling, i.e. of what was dribbled? Aha! Maybe here is the crux of the matter: context. I found that people whose knowledge and wisdom I had reason to respect presented this to me, i.e. the editors of book reviews who functioned as a kind of peer review system for articles placed in their publications. While the research that tells me slaves were transported in small ships across the Atlantic is not the same in all parts as the research that tells me my wife’s cancer might be stopped by radical surgery, nevertheless I am able to recognize the outlines of the same process at work, empirical science or whatever you call it. IOW, it seeped into the entire web of knowledge I possess as procedural knowledge: I know that medical researchers rely on the evolution of viruses and microbes to develop healing processes just as I know census takers utilize statistics to very accurately measure populations whose members they don’t do a head count on. I took one course in statistics and squeaked through. But I got far, far more knowledge of how statistics works than the average high school drop-out has.

As we troll our way through all the fields of knowledge (the 1974 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica has a volume they call the Propedia, which lists these branches in pretty minute form so you can find your way into the encyclopedia), we realize there has to be a unifying operations manual for all this. What the West came up with during the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution was an empirical approach to knowledge. The majority of educated people realize that there are other approaches, many of them valid (I started to write “quite valid” but that is a bit condescending in tone, something those of us who are materialists tend to take on). Art, religion, experience in life, all have their own approaches that work in their realms; it’s just that science works amazingly well in a large number of spheres that are very important to all of us. Experience in life might get a politician to the point of convincing voters to back measures to combat climate change; if not, religion will aid us in facing the end stoically.

My bet is that the majority of Trump supporters and conservatives in general slept through that part of their school classes that taught the scientific approach. Here is an example of how an understanding of it can change behavior, as told to me by a psychiatrist: years ago hysterical paralysis was a common presenting complaint in doctors’ offices and psychiatrist were often called on to deal with it. However, as biology classes at the high school level became part of people’s life experience, an understanding of how nerves work in the body went along with that. And so as people realized you could not have just a paralyzed hand without the rest of the arm served by those nerves being paralyzed as well, this symptom got rarer and rarer. Even people who had not had a science class picked up from others that certain bodily processes are impossible, no matter how many “I once knew a person who….” stories they had heard.

Sadly for our society, even general knowledge of geography, economics, biology, statistics, history and language has not percolated far enough. Millions still send money to televangelists to heal them when we all know the best thing for them would be to give that money instead to the pharmaceutical companies who would poison them. Between the forces of superstition and greed, a big chunk of our population is screwed.

When I think back to what caused me to think about matters in an organized manner, I recall all the “term papers” I wrote. Not all were term papers as such. In high school I was asked to enroll in a new advanced English course my senior year titled Essential Ideas. We wrote a paper a week in a kind of Great Books approach. Other classes had required term papers and my first college course was in English where we wrote at least one term paper. Many followed over the advancing years.

There are several factors in a paper: the theme or topic, the organization of that, the evidence for your conclusions, the details which solidify understanding of the theme and support the conclusion, and other elements I have left out I’m sure. I hope these blog items are evidence that I do know how to perform expository writing. And so it is this channeling of thoughts into words and on into a form or format that will offer the clearest presentation of your ideas that we call expository writing.

Right now I am reading an article in Foreign Affairs by Wendy Sherman who headed up the negotiating team in the Iran nuclear deal. We know that the diplomats and experts who made up that team held degrees and had had experience in such negotiations, such negotiations meaning regarding nuclear material. They also understood the ramification of steps like sanctions, military maneuvers, loading up allies on our side, proposing partnerships, and so on. Some of them no doubt knew something about the psychology of their counterparts on the other side.

What was lacking in that team was hawks and haters, people who reflexively hated Muslims and Iranians. In such a case, the negotiation would never have got off the ground. What Trump was able to do is deride the deal to his followers, who had no idea what background is required to enter into such negotiations. It seemed eminently sensible to them for Trump to pick Jarad as diplomat to this highly volatile and stubborn situation. This, of course, is exactly what tyrants and dictators do b/c they create so many enemies: they select people whose greed and corruption are as great as their own and who stand to lose greatly if they fail to please the demagogue. Their competence is totally beside the point and besides, the Trump followers are entirely unable to discern competence.

A personal aside here: my personal anguish is still great when I think of missing what Hillary Clinton could have provided. No one I know of or can think of had or has anything like the competence she has.

OK. Sniffing and stiffening up……

For me personally, I am without doubt that my employers’ insistence that I read several organs of book reviews like Saturday Review, New York Times Book Review, London Times Literary Supplement, and others provided me with a very broad exposure to just about everything. What stands out for me is the way most reviews discussed either the author’s life or the life of the subject or active participants in whatever was discussed in the book. The book reviewed may have been about nuclear physics but the lives of the physicists were sure to be covered. Not to mention the historical details that intruded into every discussion. Knowing that an ethnic group around the Chesapeake Bay used seashells to slice off the fingers of captives brings into perspective the wide scope of man’s cruelty to man. It becomes very difficult to characterize a whole people or era as this or that when you’ve read numerous tidbits to the contrary. The Pueblo Indians could be quite nasty and the seventeenth century French courtiers could be sent home if they couldn’t dance well.

Moving to another perspective on what characterizes an educated person, I mentioned in another blog item the “innumeracy” of television viewers taken in by the Trump/Fox story of the “caravans” headed toward our border. Some pundits have declared Trump to be a political genius, the way he distracts, sows chaos, blames The Other, undermines the authority of his potential detractors well before-hand, poisons the well on every issue, and knows exactly where the hearts of his followers are. I am not so sure. To me, his tactics, while they work with a select group and not even the 40% who vote for him, bespeak more of what most bullies do: they respond out of a bottomless pit of self-loathing and simply use on their followers what works on them. And what works on them is fear, hate, simple solutions, and mindless activity. IOW, Trump is as afraid of Mexicans as his followers are.

It just so happens that these bullying tactics work well with a segment of the population, and, judging by the results of the just past election, not so large a segment as he might have thought. His reactions to election losses (which become a victory in his huffy-puffy way of denying reality) plus the looming Mueller report have unhinged the man. You thought he was unhinged before? Watch now. (I am writing this in the middle of November 2018) Trump has described himself as a germophobe (is ‘germ’ a sexual orientation I haven’t heard about?) and the constant refrain of the caravaners bringing everything from small pox to leprosy with them sounds, again, like Trump reflecting his own worst fears. After all, a four term Republican congressman in Kansas was, to use Gail Collins words, brought down by a gay Native American woman who is a former mixed-martial arts fighter. Anything can happen now in Trump’s world and probably will once Mueller delivers his report to a Democratic House.

I go into all this about Trump as part of how people get educated to use the Trump voter as an example of how lack of education manifests itself. Surveys and polling all show that Trump voters typically have a lower education level than do non-Trump voters. Note below I make an argument that not everyone in this country was touched by the Enlightenment.

Earlier above I mentioned the hysterical paralysis phenomenon and how it disappeared because people with a high school education were incapable of believing your hand could be paralyzed but not the rest of your arm because they knew a bit about the nervous system. What else might people not be able to think? A dividing line seems to be the Enlightenment. Countries that either went through the Enlightenment or avidly embraced it when they found it e.g. the Japanese, seem to have a Copernican view of the world, an understanding based, as above, on some sort of empiricism. Countries in Europe that missed the Enlightenment, Russia, Spain, Portugal, Greece, appear to have struggled, at least until recently, with basic Enlightenment concepts, including empiricism. I have a feeling that historians will excoriate me and consign me to the dust bin of history or at least to the fringes of academic discourse, but allow me to continue.

This sense that countries that did not experience the Enlightenment never quite recovered from that, never quite caught up to countries that had. One might argue, continuing my Trump theme, that whole swaths of the American public missed the Enlightenment, i.e .rational government. Notice certain religious denominations here, in particular one founded in this country as one of its original contributions to world religions, insist the foundational documents of our nation come from a god, not from the minds of Enlightenment enlightened founders.They may not believe in hands-only paralysis but they are not sure about Constitutional law if it doesn’t conform to their belief system.

Oddly, some of the arguments for how Nazism arose in Germany invoke this same notion. While I’ve read several books on German culture including some that focus on the manifestations of fascism there, it is not an area even I will tread in. I bring this up only because I am pointing to the fact that this idea is not original to me. Yes, to bolster me claims a bit but also to make clear I am borrowing 95% of what I say from persons deeply immersed in the fields pertaining to this idea.

The Enlightenment gave the world, those who chose to embrace it, a vision of order possible in nature, in government, in economics, in language, in medicine, and in human society and human affairs generally. With all its complexities, we could figure the world out if we followed procedures worked out by scholars, thinkers, academics, experimenters, scientists, inventors, doctors and mavericks. The mavericks is no sop to the stereotype of the wild-eyed scientist but a recognition that leaders in breaking up old paradigms were often very much on the margins.Their courage and even their failures and disgrace pushed us farther. Let’s take an example from a field I know a little about.

Late in the 18th century, a British judge serving in India had studied Sanskrit and noticed amazing similarities between it and Western languages like Latin, Greek, English, and so forth. He posited a distant but very real relationship among these languages. Eventually, others pushed this tree of language to cover most of the languages stretching from India to Ireland, the Indo-European language family. This was done through scholarship that still takes your breath away. Academics who mastered not just the standard or literary languages of their time but the rural dialects of same, since many clues to these intricate relationships lay in forms no longer or never found in the language of the elites. One scholar wrote a book on Hindi dialects in the 1880s that is so good it is still cited in bibliographies as THE source and this man apologized for not getting it out sooner because his duties as head of the Church of England in India and later Canada kept him quite busy. Yuh think? How did they do it? Danes, Russians, English, French, Germans, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, and all European countries and eventually other countries outside the European orbit contributed to this scholarship.

But just documenting the fact that tw- (2) is found in English as two, twine, twin, twist, between, etc. but more widely in Latin duo, Russian dva, Greek duo, Hindi do, and so forth was only the beginning. The rigorous method they developed, the historical-comparative method, led to the foundation of linguistic science. By the end of the 19th century and on into the 20th century, colonization had led to investigations of non-Indo-European languages and the discovery of diversity undreamed of. Historical connections were uncovered by comparing word borrowings e.g. we realize African languages penetrated the Americas via the slave trade as we observe a Wolof word like ‘heppicat’ taken into American English as ‘hepcat’, ‘hip’, ‘cat’, ‘hip-hop’, etc. And attempts to find the patterns of language in the mind led to cognitive science allied with psychology and neuroscience. That connects to cyber science to inform artificial intelligence design. All this because some well-educated English judge in India could not help but notice patterns and could not help but investigate them.

It is that drive to investigate, to find patterns, that pervades what we call the Modern World. And it is that Modern World that finds itself, much to its surprise, in conflict with traditional life-ways and thought.

A major element in tracking developments, change, alterations, and so forth is the recognition that everything changes at once. At times, there is a correlation, and at other times there appears to be no correlation. An example of a failure to appreciate a correlation along with a failure to appreciate change (and by ‘appreciate’ I mean ‘take into account’) is when a Fox News host, Tucker Carlson, observed that if the demographics of Texas keep changing, there would soon be no need to hold elections because between California and Texas the Democrats would have all the votes they needed. He was making the correlation between Mexican-Americans and voting for Democrats, a reasonable correlation to make. Where he went off the rails is by projecting this pattern into the future, as if the GOP would be helpless to turn the tide by enticing more Mexican-American voters into their party. We have no idea what will happen over the next few decades other than that there will be more Mexican-American voters in Texas and I’ll be dead. The Republicans, in the voice of Carlson, seem unable to imagine themselves reaching out to Mexican-Americans even though they have successfully courted the Cuban-American vote. And that, too, is an example of change, as the Cuban-American population grew younger the voters grew more liberal in their attitudes and more Democratic, as befits a minority group.

The 2018 mid-term elections displayed just how rapidly matters can shift. Have you ever wondered why pollsters don’t poll the same individual persons in order to figure out why one day the polls show 20% of Republicans believe immigration from Canada is our biggest threat and two months later it’s down to 2%. What happened? I have a sneaking suspicion that the first time around they polled people who were coming out of a sports bar at one in the morning under police escort and the second time around they queried the Chamber of Commerce in Boise. Why these shifts? Will the Trump base shift their attitudes on immigration? Right now, 50% of Republicans believe crazy shit, Info Wars shit. Why is that? Is there something about Republicans that pulls them toward crazy things like Area 51. Wouldn’t it be great to start a rumor like, “We’ve been looking in the wrong place. The alien craft is in Area 52.” Then they’d want to know where that is and we’d give them a secret map (along with a decoder ring) showing that it is next to Area 51.

Perhaps the key is what I have been talking about: education. Back to the polling, it turns out lots of Trump supporters do not have a lot of education. OTOH, that is not entirely true. It was also said that they were low income but that is not true. I hate to say it but they might poll Trumpsters by asking them to show their library card. By demographics most of them will have an AARP card, but a library card? I have four in my wallet at all times, like, you know, I’m packin’, ready for the new age.

And all this talk of education brings us to education, schools, teachers, curricula, textbooks, and so forth.

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