Saturday, September 05, 2009

What Student Could Learn From the Education Address

There is certainly one aspect of this tempest in a teapot that students could benefit from, they have cat-bird seats for the decline of modern political discourse.

Now, American politics has always been a rough game. And the insults and accusations have even involved trading charges of adultery (see the war between Jefferson-Hamilton in those esteemed days of the founding fathers).

But the immediacy of modern communications, compounded by the declining standards of the major news networks, has allowed the sideshows of politics to be elevated to acceptable dialogue.

There have always been heated debates over contentious topics. These debates often draw in the fringe, like moth to a flame. It's why meetings about Airline security are interrupted by 9/11-truthers claiming President Bush was part of the CIA conspiracy. It's also why folks who claim the government will off everyone over 65 who gets sick show up at Congressional town hall meetings and work themselves into a froth.

Yet in the past these claims were treated for what they were: baseless accusations that evolve from an overheated imagination. The media would listen and even check out those things that could be checked out, even if it sounded outside the realm of possible ("It's true! The law says everyone will be required to donate one kidney. Everyone!"), and would dismiss the rest (trust me, if you have ever attended public meetings as a member of the media, you will meet no end of people with pamphlets and theories-all as convinced as former Governor Sarah Palin of their correctness).

Now, however, the fact that a charge has been made is reason enough to let it stand in the daylight. Engaging reason and asking for evidence draws accusations of bias-something no mainstream journalist is apparently able to stand up to.

To go even further, to stop providing a forum for those who consistently repeat false statements is apparently even more heinous, verging on black-listing. Just because it is a prominent figure blowing smoke, doesn't obscure the truth any less.

This is not to place blame on journalists entirely. Those with an axe to grind have found the modern media a fine whetstone. They have learned how to game the system and have turned its some of its fine attributes (openness and even-handedness) against itself.

Others have simply built their own Trojan horse and let it lose in the world of journalism. They can then reference their own broadcasts as justification for continuing the spiral. The ultimate in self-reference.

The ultimate in dust-jacket credibility.

If students of today are going to have a shot at having a future in which they can be proud to get involved in public life, they are going to have to learn the value of critical thinking, the skills to educate themselves about an issue, and the confidence to stand behind their ideas.

The current climate of public discourse is currently providing them with a template not for the rebirth of civil society but for its further cheapening.

- Murphy

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