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Ignorant, arrogant and proud

Mar 10, 2014 - By Randy Tucker

Too often, that's the basic profile of John Q. American Public.

We live in an era of sound bites, largely devoid of context, substance or reliability. The recent Russian incursion into Ukraine is a clear case of it.

With the pundits expounding on the issue from all the cardinal points, the real issues get cloudy. It is evident that most of these "experts" know little of the geographical and historical background that led to this situation. Most attempt to tie it to American politics, how it affects the mid-term elections this fall, how it weakens the Obama administration, and even more mundane topics on the fringe of the issue.

News flash, boys. It is not about us.

I know that's nearly impossible to believe in the self-centered, jingoistic world that is the present day USA but it is true.

A conversation with my grandfather, Eugene Gasser, when I was in fifth grade comes to mind. We shared an interest in geography and history. He was quizzing me one afternoon on the geography of the Black Sea region.

He was describing the horrors of World War I and asked me what the stretch of water separating Turkey from mainland Europe was called. I said, "The Straits of Bosporus." This was correct, but my grandfather quickly pointed out that the Dardanelles were considered the main separation because they bordered the Mediterranean entrance to the Sea of Marmara and ultimately the Black Sea itself. He described the idiocy of the British Gallipoli campaign in World War I as they killed tens of thousands of men trying to pry the Turks from the heights that controlled the Dardanelles and boxed in Russia's only warm-water port.

Probably not the kind of conversation most grandfathers have with their grandsons, but I was enthralled with his knowledge and knew that he had been to these places himself.

Maybe my experience with geography was unique, but in discussing it with many of my friends, it was more commonplace in the 1960s than modern revisionists would like you to think. The glaring lack of geographical knowledge and the absolute arrogance of people proclaiming how proud they are of not knowing anything about the world they exist in is much too popular in the public parlance.

This ignorance is only exacerbated by our sound-bite "experts." Several people made the clueless comment this week that "Obama wrecked the military, and now we can't even invade Russia and straighten them out."

Invade Russia? Straighten them out? It's a good guess that these people don't realize that the Land of the Czar covers 11 time zones. For that matter they probably don't know what a czar is.

The Russian Bear has seen its share of would-be conquerors, and all have failed. Attila's movement died on the Russian Steppes. Hitler fell to defeat trying to take Russia. Napoleon never got past the gates of Moscow.

Russia isn't Afghanistan, Iraq, Korea or even Vietnam. The Russians are formidable, resourceful, indefatigable, self-reliant and frightening on levels that few people can fully comprehend.

Maybe one too many Rambo movies has replaced reality in the minds of these people.

We can lament the loss of geographic knowledge, the woeful absence of history from our public schools, and the overall dumbing down of each succeeding generation, but the truth is that this is what our elected elite chose for us.

A population that knows nothing of its past, knows little of the present and which must be constantly entertained, is a population easy to placate and manipulate.

The rise of the testing mentality coincides neatly with the demise of overall knowledge in our children. Testing concentrates on one methodology in determining math and reading ability in young people. It does nothing to establish an educated, involved citizenry, the kind of citizen that Thomas Jefferson wanted to see in his fellow Americans.

Jefferson once said, "An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people."

You'll note that he didn't mention testing, curriculum design or national standards. He just described an educated population.

It is interesting to note that most of the elected elite of the ruling class in America openly ignore history, geography and political science in our public schools. But, on another level, they all take advanced coursework in these disciplines themselves and make sure that their children are inculcated properly in private schools.

If the subjects were really that unimportant, why would Stanford University have 55 full-time history faculty, and Harvard 51. Yale? 100. These often are regarded as the three greatest universities in America, but their composition doesn't equate with the interest in history at your local school, community college or university.

These are the institutions of leadership, the schools that produce senators, presidents and national policy makers. Why the disconnect between the world of public education and the world of those who will someday lead that public?

You don't need a degree from a prestigious university to acquire a good understanding of the world. Everyone has the opportunity to gain and improve knowledge, beginning at the local library. But it does take effort.

So when the guy next to you starts regurgitating what the talking heads on TV told him this morning about Russia, simply respond "Warm-water port." It will catch him off guard.

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Editor's note: Staff writer Randy Tucker is a retired educator.

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