Education and Dialogue
Whether on television, on the radio, or in writing, contributors and the public constantly call for an elevation of the level of dialogue surrounding a wide range of topics. While this cry is now almost a cliché, it is incredibly important that we increase the sophistication with which we discuss national and international issues. However, this change is unlikely to transpire under our current system. Sure, individual minds can be changed. Sure, individual people can be told why their argument is fallacious or their statistics are flawed. However, until there is a much deeper understanding of the tools of debate within the general populace, the level of dialogue will not be sufficiently raised as to take the real steps toward the meaningful discussions our country needs.
It is no secret that the education system in our country has many major flaws which hurt the students who later become the voting public. The standardized testing system is ineffective and leads to stifled student engagement, funding disparities among schools are rampant and lead to policies that allow the reinforcement of inequality (and de facto racism) under the guise of school choice, many districts censor thought and fact when it doesn’t agree with the general worldview of the community, and many people leave high school without the intellectual or technical abilities to be successful in either college or the real world. The list goes on, and anyone reading this will have additional points and anecdotes to back them up. What it boils down to, however, is that we are making a citizenry who are vastly unprepared to think critically about the world in which they live.
This isn’t a soapbox for a sweeping, novel plan for education reform (I am not qualified to make that sort of suggestion), but I firmly believe many of the problems with both our education system and the level of national dialogue would be solved in a cascading manner by increasing the focus in primary schools on understanding statistics and developing critical thinking skills. Perhaps there could even be a system put in place with community colleges, universities, etc. to provide a small tax credit to citizens who take free courses on statistics or critical thinking. The logistics of paying for it or its feasibility aside, a system for teaching these subjects would lead to a voting public who are far more equipped to deal with understanding an objective reality and distinguishing between fact and philosophy. Having those skills would lead to better debate, better discussion, and a better country. While you cannot mandate people use these skills in the real world, at least nearly everyone would have the tools to use.
I am not advocating for the rise of the intelligentsia, and I do not intend to sound bookish or intellectually snobby. I do, however, think it is absurd for people to think that our country can continue to prosper and improve if we can’t even agree on what a fact is. In an era where people hungrily consume “alternative facts” to reinforce their narrow worldview, the need for education has never been greater. Step one is giving people the tools to understand their world. It should be second nature for every citizen to point out a fallacious argument. It should be second nature for every citizen to call out a misleading statistic. It should be second nature for every citizen to use facts to inform their philosophy rather than using philosophy to inform their facts.