Top Leaderboard, Site wide
Left Masthead
October 25, 2016
Truthdig: Drilling Beneath the Headlines
Sign up for Truthdig's Email NewsletterLike Truthdig on FacebookFollow Truthdig on TwitterSubscribe to Truthdig's RSS Feed


Truthdig Bazaar more items

Print this item

America the Illiterate

Posted on Aug 31, 2016

By Chris Hedges

  A dog-costume contest in 2008. (Tina Fineberg / AP)

Chris Hedges is on vacation and will return to writing his weekly Truthdig column on Sept. 5. While he is on break, we are republishing some of his past columns. This one originally ran on Nov. 10, 2008.

We live in two Americas. One America, now the minority, functions in a print-based, literate world. It can cope with complexity and has the intellectual tools to separate illusion from truth. The other America, which constitutes the majority, exists in a non-reality-based belief system. This America, dependent on skillfully manipulated images for information, has severed itself from the literate, print-based culture. It cannot differentiate between lies and truth. It is informed by simplistic, childish narratives and clichés. It is thrown into confusion by ambiguity, nuance and self-reflection. This divide, more than race, class or gender, more than rural or urban, believer or nonbeliever, red state or blue state, has split the country into radically distinct, unbridgeable and antagonistic entities. 

There are over 42 million American adults, 20 percent of whom hold high school diplomas, who cannot read, as well as the 50 million who read at a fourth- or fifth-grade level. Nearly a third of the nation’s population is illiterate or barely literate. And their numbers are growing by an estimated 2 million a year. But even those who are supposedly literate retreat in huge numbers into this image-based existence. A third of high school graduates, along with 42 percent of college graduates, never read a book after they finish school. Eighty percent of the families in the United States last year did not buy a book. 


Square, Site wide

The illiterate rarely vote, and when they do vote they do so without the ability to make decisions based on textual information. American political campaigns, which have learned to speak in the comforting epistemology of images, eschew real ideas and policy for cheap slogans and reassuring personal narratives. Political propaganda now masquerades as ideology. Political campaigns have become an experience. They do not require cognitive or self-critical skills. They are designed to ignite pseudo-religious feelings of euphoria, empowerment and collective salvation. Campaigns that succeed are carefully constructed psychological instruments that manipulate fickle public moods, emotions and impulses, many of which are subliminal. They create a public ecstasy that annuls individuality and fosters a state of mindlessness. They thrust us into an eternal present. They cater to a nation that now lives in a state of permanent amnesia. It is style and story, not content or history or reality, which inform our politics and our lives. We prefer happy illusions. And it works because so much of the American electorate, including those who should know better, blindly cast ballots for slogans, smiles, the cheerful family tableaux, narratives and the perceived sincerity and the attractiveness of candidates. We confuse how we feel with knowledge. 

The illiterate and semi-literate, once the campaigns are over, remain powerless.  They still cannot protect their children from dysfunctional public schools. They still cannot understand predatory loan deals, the intricacies of mortgage papers, credit card agreements and equity lines of credit that drive them into foreclosures and bankruptcies. They still struggle with the most basic chores of daily life from reading instructions on medicine bottles to filling out bank forms, car loan documents and unemployment benefit and insurance papers. They watch helplessly and without comprehension as hundreds of thousands of jobs are shed. They are hostages to brands. Brands come with images and slogans. Images and slogans are all they understand. Many eat at fast food restaurants not only because it is cheap but because they can order from pictures rather than menus. And those who serve them, also semi-literate or illiterate, punch in orders on cash registers whose keys are marked with symbols and pictures. This is our brave new world.

Political leaders in our post-literate society no longer need to be competent, sincere or honest. They only need to appear to have these qualities. Most of all they need a story, a narrative. The reality of the narrative is irrelevant. It can be completely at odds with the facts. The consistency and emotional appeal of the story are paramount. The most essential skill in political theater and the consumer culture is artifice. Those who are best at artifice succeed. Those who have not mastered the art of artifice fail. In an age of images and entertainment, in an age of instant emotional gratification, we do not seek or want honesty. We ask to be indulged and entertained by clichés, stereotypes and mythic narratives that tell us we can be whomever we want to be, that we live in the greatest country on Earth, that we are endowed with superior moral and physical qualities and that our glorious future is preordained, either because of our attributes as Americans or because we are blessed by God or both. 

The ability to magnify these simple and childish lies, to repeat them and have surrogates repeat them in endless loops of news cycles, gives these lies the aura of an uncontested truth. We are repeatedly fed words or phrases like yes we can, maverick, change, pro-life, hope  or war on terror. It feels good not to think. All we have to do is visualize what we want, believe in ourselves and summon those hidden inner resources, whether divine or national, that make the world conform to our desires. Reality is never an impediment to our advancement.


New and Improved Comments

If you have trouble leaving a comment, review this help page. Still having problems? Let us know. If you find yourself moderated, take a moment to review our comment policy.

Join the conversation

Load Comments

By KDelphi, November 11, 2008 at 10:56 pm Link to this comment

She—Let me phrase that another way—we will have our “consumerism culture” removed by the planet’s circumstances,and the circumstances of countries more powerful, and we wil have to CHANGE and we might as well get about it now.. We can do it ourselves before circunmstances dictate. But, we do not have much of a history of doing that.

Report this

By KDelphi, November 11, 2008 at 10:50 pm Link to this comment

I will check this link after I post it to make sure it goes to the correct place. This is what I used before. And, as I said, it is NOT cut and dried, just as yours showed something else.That is why I tried to compile what I had read instead of posting a link. (Plus, I lost the link when my pc logged off)I read other posts taht had different stats.I’m pretty sure I could find one showing US literacy and educational levels even worse—and better—but I tried to go for the middle.{13A13846-1CA6-4F8A-B52E-2A88576B84EF}/FRN.horserace.01.30.07.pdf+G8+literacy+rates&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=us

You know I am not that great on pcs and I have a crappy one. That was hardly the point of my last post.

I disagree about “consumerism”, and I think we wil be forced to change it soon—and I hope that we do.

But, I am not Nostra-dumbass.

Now, I wil check the link.

Report this
Outraged's avatar

By Outraged, November 11, 2008 at 10:43 pm Link to this comment

Re: Shenonymous

Your comment: “Problem is Outraged, textbooks, good or not measuring up to expectations, are selected not by schools or teachers, but by school districts and school boards. And so it goes.”

Yes, this is basically true.  It depends on the particular school district as to how much weight they put upon the opinion of their faculty members.  So then, why for so long have they requested or required such an inaccurate presentation of matters in their textbooks.  Also, how can schools NOT become dysfunctional systems when their premise(education) has been used to distort the facts or ignore them.  On the other hand, it could be argued that they were successful in distributing a false representation of facts.  This would also qualify as a dysfunction in the context of the premise of education? 

In addition, the statistics from your earlier comment quoted from the OCED cited, “Numbers indicate the percentage of population aged 25-64 that have attained a tertiary level of education (OECD Countries).”

Was the word “tertiary” yours or theirs?  The definition:

American Heritage Dictionary:
“Third in place, order, degree, or rank.”

Usually….we don’t denote things considered tertiary as an example of excellence or even meeting standards.  It is normally imbued with the condition of sub-par, especially in this context.  I wouldn’t want “a tertiary education”.

Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, November 11, 2008 at 10:34 pm Link to this comment

I visited the site you just listed.  Where exactly are the statistics for ranking the countries for having the best education?  There are no statistics there KDelphi! 

But if I might just clarify what you wrote a bit.  You do not agree that we “cannot remove consumerism from out [sic] culture.”  But you emphatically assert that it has BECOME our culture.  I think that is what I was saying by saying it cannot be removed.  Now it is just a phantasmagoria to think it will even be reduced.  What will change is the way products are packaged so that there is less waste.  And that in itself will generate a whole new generation of advertisements that will produce more revenue to the corporations, that is, consumerism.  It might cost more but that is the breaks the consumers will have to bear.  So what else is new?  That means humans will have to earn more.  That means corporations will have to pay more.  It is a vicious circle. 

The thing is, if we two are to effect any change in consumerism, how can we, you and I,  affect the entire population?

Report this

By KDelphi, November 11, 2008 at 10:14 pm Link to this comment

She—Yes, textbookos chosen by schools boards, etc. and therein lies the problem. I’m sure you have heard of the case in Colorado where the school board (with members of the Discovery Institute) challenged the school’s right to teach natural selection as the only scientific option. Wait—was it Oregon? No matter.

The teachers (mostly science) banded together to stop them, but, it ended up in court, where the Dr. Behe of teh DI ended up looking like a fool.He looked even more foolish on teh Colbert Report and C-SPAN.

The principal went in at teh start of the school year to find cases of teh book “Of People and Pandas” which had been donated, as the courts had ruled that they could not be bought.

If people want their children to learn this drivel—they shoudl do it at home. But, if that is all they are learning, they wil be a burden later and we have a right to intervene.Just as we have a right to intervene when parents ar “not parenting”.

Faith based initiatives and charter schools just do more to spread outside influence around the local schools, and it is , so far, often religion based. In the South, charter schools are often run by ministers and Bible School teachers. And teh military academies. And we had at least 3 “charters” make off with $500,000 each,without ever opening a school at all!Now, we have passed a school levy, which , of course, I voted for—but it wil raise our property taxes.So, often, when it looks liek these “programs” like NCLB are, harmless, at best, people who know better often end up cleaning up thet mses.

“Parental involvement” is optimal—when teh parents are “optimal”. I just think that there are alot of parents who either do not knwo what is best for their kids (they do not “own” them, as is so often supposed in the US)and some who just do not care.Many, many more are either unedcuated themselves or are working too hard to have much time to devote to PTA, etc. The money currently given to charter schools could be used more effectively in social programs to provide day care, school lunches, “Children’s Services” , but in a new way—one where the parent is NOT ‘afraid ” to call and say that they are overwhelmed.Where they can call (or be called) and get one on one assisstance with whatever is causing them to not be able to parent.

Just a suggestion.

Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, November 11, 2008 at 9:51 pm Link to this comment

Folktruther -  You say individuals are real but a population is an abstraction.  How about two individuals, are they real? or 2 hundred.  Or 2 million. The CONCEPT of a person, or a billion persons, is an abstraction; it is an abstraction with REAL content.  There are abstractions without content, such as the supernatural.  They are different kinds of concepts.

Yes of course two or 200 or 2 million each are real.  Isn’t that implied in my answer?  Of course it is but for some reason you wish to miss seeing it.  That’s okay.  It is expected.  Of course if you are talking about Person as an abstraction as in ‘The Person who walks on the Great Wall of China…,’ it is an abstraction with real content. But it isn’t meaningfully real until one of those persons is named.  That is, it achieves content by being named.  Again that is what I said and you are just restating what I said.  And you and Outraged are unable to see it.  Fine again.  Yes there are lots of abstractions that may be called concepts, as abstraction, which is a distinctive mental process.  But even the idea (concept) of “supernatural” has at lease one member, or members depending on whether it is a single supernatural thing, or are multiple.  I am supposing you mean a deity of some sort.  Once named, even if ghostly, it is a ghostly instantiation of it.  It is something that can be checked out to be there or not (always not, I suspect).  But the idea of the supernatural is even more not ‘there.’  It is always a mental construction.  It is only there in the mind.  It is sort of like Unicorn or square circles.

To say that an abstraction has no content then it is also to say it is nothing and hence it is frivolous to present it as an example.  If you cannot name a member of an idea, then that is an idea without content.  Please name one of those empty abstractions, concepts.  Let me try this:  space is an empty concept but time is not.  Does that work or is it simply a semantic proposition?  For instance, one cannot know space unless a particular space were specified.  The same thing happens with the notion of time:  until a quantity of time is specified, time does not have any concrete existence.  That does not mean it does not exist as an abstract thing It means it does not have a spatiotemporal physical existence. Time is an abstract concept.  According to Stephen Hawking, astrophysicist and cosmologist, there is no such thing as time in a metaphysical sense.  It is constructed from the human imagination.  Hence it is a hypothetical construct.  The idea of time exists as an abstraction.  But times exist as real entities.  I.e., it is 8 o’clock, where 8 o’clock is a real existing thing but has no physical character.  And since time is always in motion, it is even more difficult to grasp any particular time except upon reflection.  And where does that leave us?  Are those the kind of empty concepts you are talking about? 

Anyway this was fun and happy to continue if you wish to argue more.

Problem is Outraged, textbooks, good or not measuring up to expectations, are selected not by schools or teachers, but by school districts and school boards. And so it goes.

Report this

By KDelphi, November 11, 2008 at 9:51 pm Link to this comment

She-I do not agree that we “cannot remove consumerism from out culture”—I assert that it has, in fact, BECOME our “culture”. There might not be much left of it if people just decided to stop “consuming” so much—will be forced to. Good. Because at the rate we are spreading our “culture”—the planet will not survive.

I thought everyone wanted “change” so much. Why pursue samo/samo US Imperialism, samo/samo free mkt economy without regulations, samo/samo military bases, etc.

Here is where I go the stats that put us at fifth…but not in all things. It is from the UN, so probably reliable—-like I said, it is a mixed bag.It includes many facets that would be impossible to summarize here. What I noted before, is the gap in the uS between poor and affluent communities. I do not think that NCLB can (nor should) address this. I can only go by what I’ve seen in my own community.

Teachers I knwo do not like it. It has been very segregating here.The state has been ripped off by many people, with no teaching experience, (under Gov Taft—just as useless and harmful as his ggf). Faith based schools abound. The Junior ROTC has moved in—poor kids get uniforms, good food, better classes and DRILL—I do NOT want my TAX money going to train minotrity Junior HIgh kids to go to war. Period.

Report this
Outraged's avatar

By Outraged, November 11, 2008 at 9:02 pm Link to this comment

Earl Lee states in his essay, “School Textbooks, Unpopular History vs. Cherished Mythology”

“The goal of history textbooks is to convey a “cherished mythology”- a consensus view of history full of inaccuracies and misrepresentations.  In public schools, history becomes what the majority of people think it is.  And even though there has been a good deal of progress in terms of expanded coverage of women and minorities, many of the dirty little secrets are left secret”

But these things are not necessarily relegated to history books, we see these same things in a more undermining way in most textbooks.  Many times by the lies of omission but also by the injection of aggrandizing of non-information…“information”.

In addition,
Earl Lee’s, “Libraries in the Age of Mediocrity”.,M1

Report this

By Fadel Abdallah, November 11, 2008 at 8:41 pm Link to this comment

I find myself disagreeing with Chris Hedges generalized statements about the illiterate and semi-illiterate America. In fact, if we follow the technical definition of literacy, America would rank among the top countries in the world on this issue.

However, I would put it differently by saying that American literacy does not lead to wisdom or translate into commonsense. And I would add that part of the problem is that American efforts and time investment regarding literacy and general culture are noticeably imbalanced and narrowly focused. For example, in regard to issues related to TV, Hollywood culture and sports, Americans are excessively literate and are capable of wasting much precious time.

On the other hand, in regard to international issues, world cultures and world history and geography, Americans do exhibit a high level of illiteracy. This is due to weakness in American educational system. And the latest example is Sarah Palin who was running for one of the highest office in the country.

For example, when I was in graduate school at the University of Minnesota, in the early 80’s, at the height of the American hostage crises with Iran, I was shocked to notice that a colleague about to earn a PhD in history did not know that Iran was not an Arab country.

Here on TD, for example, there are people who exhibit embarrassing ignorance when they say that the Arab-Israeli conflict is five thousand years old! I just read this on one of TD threads.

Report this
Outraged's avatar

By Outraged, November 11, 2008 at 7:54 pm Link to this comment

Re: Shenonymous

Your comment: “Numbers indicate the percentage of population aged 25-64 that have attained a tertiary level of education (OECD Countries).”

The source you cite is questionable, of course this would depend upon your vantage point or ideology and exactly what the premise was for citing it.  According to SourceWatch:

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) “groups 30 member countries sharing a commitment to the market economy. The OECD plays a prominent role in fostering governance in corporate activity.

So from MY vantage point, your numbers are specious.  However, it does lend credence to my assertion that there is too much corporate influence in our textbooks,our schools and our educational institutions.

In addition, Folktruther’s summation is accurate.

“You say individuals are real but a population is an abstraction.  How about two individials, are they real? or 2 hundred.  Or 2 million. The CONCEPT of a person, or a billion pesons, is an abstraction; it is an abraction with REAL content.  There are abstractions without content, such as the supernatural.  They are different kinds of concepts.”

Report this

By straight_talk, November 11, 2008 at 7:19 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“But I did not find his messages manipulative. Rather I found them inspiring; the word manipulative implies a cynicism which I for one simply don’t see there.
For me, genuine inspiration is the opposite of manipulation…”
~ Newspeak

I agree wholeheartedly. First, what choice did Obama have with regard to his mode of communication given the very points in Mr. Hedges’ article? If you want to help change to occur, first you have to win. Obama is highly literate, and the style and content of his speech reflect this. The mode of communication, images, etc. in no way obscured this easily observable reality. I was happy to see that those who earn more than $250,000/year and voted went 60% for Obama. These are the people whose taxes Obama plans to increase. Smart people.

Those dummies who happen to be in the middle class and bought McCain’s propaganda that he was going to take their money and give it to the poor don’t deserve the tax breaks Obama’s going to give them. If they’d had their way, they wouldn’t have gotten those tax breaks and would have continued as the suckers they are, always voting for people who take their money and give it to the super rich. I suppose they prefer giving lots to the super rich to giving even a little to the poor. Good grief! And to think almost half of us in this nation fall into this deluded category.

John Dean put it well. He was Nixon White House counsel and a close family friend of the Goldwaters. I love it that conservative Republicans like him and the son of the late ultra-conservative William F. Buckley voted for Obama. Dean even wrote an article saying that if our nation rejected Obama, he would have to wonder if we’re competent to govern ourselves. I think almost half of us are indeed NOT capable. Buckley’s son wrote an article as if it were an apology to his deceased dad for voting for a democrat and stating that he had to because he couldn’t bring himself to vote for the likes of McCain/Palin. Smart men, even if you don’t like that they’re conservative. I’m conservative in many ways, especially fiscally and morally. Republicans, however, have totally betrayed their traditional values, even while they continue to give them lip service.

Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, November 11, 2008 at 7:00 pm Link to this comment

KDelphi-what I meant by consumerism becoming a genetic affliction, and I’m sorry I didn’t make it more clear,  was a metaphor for how it will be impossible to remove consumerism from the culture.  And you are also absolutely correct the US is not first, but it is second more educated per capita than others. 

As I mentioned to Laura Schneider, we are nitpicky here. But I won’t offer my palms for the nails this time.  While the USA is not first, it is not fifth either.  The rank of the best educated countries in the world by country based on the percentage of the population research provided April 1, 2008 are on a study done in 2007:

1 - Canada - 44.0
2 - United States - 38.4
3 - Japan - 37.4
4 - Sweden - 33.4
5 - Finland - 33.3
6 - Denmark - 31.9
7 - Australia - 31.3
8 - Norway - 31.0
9 - New Zealand - 30.9
10 - South Korea - 29.5

Numbers indicate the percentage of population aged 25-64 that have attained a tertiary level of education (OECD Countries).

Source: Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development
Unless it dropped three positions since 2007, which is highly unlikely,  it looks like the United States is even better than being 5th.  A bit closer to my earlier rant.

Report this

By Susan Sunflower, November 11, 2008 at 6:56 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Actually, I would call it “functional literacy sufficient to meet their needs.”

The ability to look up a new medicine they have been prescribed ... to follow assembly instructions or a recipe, to compare a newspaper page contrasting candidate positions, to investigate a diagnosis or information about an intended or recent purchase (electronics, etc.)

Someone mentioned computer manuals and their history does seem to represent the parting of the way between “literate” and some sort of “community” knowledge” or learning (I know the manufacturers like to call it “intuitive” but intuitive represents very low level computer function ... which is where I would guess 99.9999 percent of users function ... regardless of how many hours they spend online or working on their computer in their job.)

I learned on manuals and learning to use the manual was about 75% of the task, but I learned what functions were named, and I learned by “browsing” about other functions I didn’t know existed. In my work place I was a power user back in 1985 (on a MAC at that time) ... When I supervised and trained for several years, I found no one would touch manuals and several—many—said they NEVER used manuals—they would just asked a co-worker… I went crazy with this coffee-klatch approach ... where one worker’s “question” would stop 2-3-4 co-workers at their work, to “help” ...

I think I have read that they have had to “dumb down” recipe instructions on things like cake mix, bisquick ... Actually I have seen recipes altered to a “one-step” miracle which to preserve food qualities should be stepped.

Most folks alive today probably wouldn’t care about the difference between Rice-A-Roni and handcrafted pilaf… for instance… and the latter would be deemed “too complicated”

I suspect most people don’t know how to defrost meat in the microwave and probably don’t know that frozen food directions aren’t alway on “high” .. The frozen food industry is having a terrible time with the new salmonella/e coli extra-cook time ... Hence Stoffer’s new “quick” line of food that shave off newly required 3-5 minutes of cook time.

It’s not ALL about literacy ... it’s about bigger, faster, louder, spicier, bolder ... etc. etc.

The few people I see who read “constantly” mostly read junk as they work their counter jobs ... romance, thriller ... but yes, they read and buy many books ... factor that.

Report this

By KDelphi, November 11, 2008 at 6:26 pm Link to this comment

Nannie—That is the quote I was looking for! Thanks!How goes it??

Who said all spiritual people are illiterate or dumb or unlearned? Not me. Examples from teh past can headly be examples for today—Voltaire lived in a very different time. If Hedges believes his religion until the day he dies , he stil has some very good writing, life experience, etc. and I wil continue to read him. I wil not insist that anyone accept my religion or spirituality (they are not the same) The Catholic religion woud NOT say the the use of “God” is passe, I dont think.

She—I was replying to YOUR assertion that “consumerism is gentic”—I was stating that it is NOT. Consuming ( for survivial and maybe a little more) is genetiic, But, not to the extent the US has.

As to being “fifth”—I was replying to your statement that the uS is the “most educated in the world”.Not realy bad being fifth. But it is not—first.

diamond—alot of people voted this time. I do not know if that means that they are literate or knew exactly what they were voting for,. I certainly didnt. I guessed.

Random—good luck on being an MSW. YOu will love it—but some here on here will say you have “issues”.I think it might be better to be a LISW(Licensed Independent), and you can open your own practice. But, you also, cannot take medical insurance nor Medicaid, unless you work with a cetain HMO—but that may be Ohio, NH, and FL. If you are an MSW, you MAY open an office, but , mostly , you will be working “under” an MD (psychiatrist) and, when you clash in opinion, the shrink’s will trump yours, even if you know the client better. It is frustrating. If I had it to do over—LISW

Report this
Leefeller's avatar

By Leefeller, November 11, 2008 at 6:11 pm Link to this comment

After reading many posts, it seems almost unanimous, Hedges’s should have been addressing common sense, instead of literacy? 

Must give Hedges credit, he has promoted much enlightened response.

And I thought after the election we would have nothing to discuss. Refreshing insight on abilities of reason.

Thank you TD.

Report this

By colin2626262, November 11, 2008 at 6:02 pm Link to this comment

i guess i shouldn’t try to be a satirist…American Fascists is actually a pretty good book

Report this

By Simon, November 11, 2008 at 5:25 pm Link to this comment

Ignore this note; just changing my settings.

Report this

By ocjim, November 11, 2008 at 5:11 pm Link to this comment

While there is a great deal of truth in What Mr. Hedges is saying, I don’t know if he characterizes another force gripping our society that is a product of neocon policy.

The Bush regime so effectively polarized Americans that even the learned can’t seem to separate the stereotypical negative images painted of the Bush opponents. Neocon talking heads have characterized liberals with this dogmatic aphoristic tripe so long that a whole sector of society can’t seem to escape this inflexible trap of emotional garbage.

Many have the the skill to analyze and understand information but the paradigm negative thinking and repetition of emotive words and images won’t allow it.

Spreading unity and the welfare of the many over the greed and enrichment of a few that has stifled us since Reagan may have been spent by the awful exploitation of the many by the few.

This greed and corruption has probably planted a great deal of mean-spiritedness among the people. We have to marshal these dark forces toward a unified effort. Maybe Obama can do this. Certain McCain/Palin were doing the opposite.

Let’s just hope that McCain-Palin-Bush-Cheney didn’t reap enough anger, hate, fear and resentment to destroy positive leadership.

Report this

By diamond, November 11, 2008 at 4:42 pm Link to this comment

Leefeller: illiterate literally means someone who can’t read or write. What Mr. Hedges is saying is tha in spite of the awfulness of American education overall, most Americans do learn to read and write but they lack the skill to analyse and understand information. These skills are traditionally acquired through tertiary education. But then there are people like Tom Paine and William Blake who were what they call ‘autodidacts’, or self educated, who prove him wrong. Tom Paine never saw the inside of a university but that didn’t stop him reasoning and writing in a way that changed the world. William Blake went to Pars art school at ten but had a sketchy education to say the least. That didn’t stop him creating literary and artistic works of universal and timeless value. Even when you see a comment on something like truthdig where the person uses grammar and spelling that brings tears to my eyes they can still make good points and can still say George W. Bush and Dick Cheney should be put on trial for murder and that the war on terror is bullshit. They’re not fools. On the other hand there are plenty of highly educated people who are fools,  and do enormous harm if they get power. Yes, John Yoo and Paul Wolfowitz, I mean you.

Report this

By Natascha, November 11, 2008 at 4:33 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is a brilliant, powerful essay, Chris Hedges.

I agree with you completely.

What confounds me is the amount of anger that many commenters here have thrown at you for expressing these ideas. 

I am also dismayed that some commenters seem to think (or believe) that any religious belief or faith, of any kind whatsoever, is a sign of stupidity or even psychosis. I am a literate, thinking, thoughtful person who reads quite a lot, (literature, political science, social science, philosophy, science, history, etc. etc. ) but at the same time have a profound, unwavering spiritual center, or anchor, in my being, or my psyche (or whatever you choose to call one’s deepest self.)  There is no contradiction between deep spirituality and the ability to reason and think. Indeed, my deep faith gives me the will to live, and gives purpose to my life. 

I appreciate Chris Hedges’s comment about Voltaire being the most famous man in Europe in his day.  Yet even he, great iconoclast and free-thinker that he was, held a deep, pure, nonideological faith in “God” or a benevolent supreme being.  (The word “God” seems archaic for our current purposes, I think.)

From the Columbia Encyclopedia, Fifth Edition:

In order to obtain Christian burial Voltaire signed a partial retraction of his writings.  This was considered insufficient by the church, but he refused to sign a more general retraction.  To a friend he gave the following written declaration:  “I die adoring God, loving my friends, not hating my enemies, and detesting persecution.”  An abbot secretly conveyed Voltaire’s corpse to an abbey in Champagne, where he was buried…

Report this

By howardmk, November 11, 2008 at 4:26 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

When the literati chose style over content as the focus of modern literature, literacy essentially ended.  And when they made “character” their god, the door was permanently closed to its return, because the only place they could go with “character” was from one asylum to the next, to ferret out deeper and weirder psychoses with which to create the truly novel characters demanded by their chosen regime. All of which left “content” to the lesser luminaries (i.e., romance writers et al).  The point is, don’t look to books for anything very much more meaningful than what you’d find on a billboard.  The moment someone declares thus and so to be the one and only highway to higher truths, they’ve sentenced society to a comic book world.  That’s just the way it is.

Report this

By COGITO!, November 11, 2008 at 4:13 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As much as I welcome Hedges’ observations, many of which I wholeheartedly endorse, I am not certain that his ‘dismal state-of-affairs’ could be expected to be ameliorated in a democratic, free-market!! society.

Many of the responses that follow his piece sound elitist, ethereal and academic.

Report this

By Nannie, November 11, 2008 at 4:12 pm Link to this comment

” What did you learn today?
Did you learn how to believe? or…Did you learn how to think?”

~ Seventeen Traditions ~ by Ralph Nader

Report this

By Random Pictures, November 11, 2008 at 4:04 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I grew of age in the fifties, before teachers fully understood Dyslexia. At 11 years of age I was unable to read.

My mother knew I loved animals, so she began reading me “The Jungle books” I struggled to learn to read by myself, finally, my mother tried using a mirror. she would hold the book toward her full length mirror in the hall, and taught me to read over her shoulder.

I have a B.S. from C.C.N.Y., a MEd from Columbia, and I’m working on my M.S.W. here at U.N.H.

Without someone to push me along, I would be just another ignorant Christian.

Report this

By booklover, November 11, 2008 at 3:34 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Great discussion!

I have been a volunteer reading tutor for ten years, working with kids from 1st to 3rd grade.  Many of these youngsters, even those from well-to-do homes, do not have parents who read to them. And I’ve worked with some great teachers who appreciated the help.  One very successful experiment was having a 2nd grade class write letters telling about themselves to the 2nd graders in another public school.

On the plus side, go to the children’s section of any public library on a Saturday morning and see the large number of small children enjoying themselves there.  I particularly enjoy seeing the young dads with their little future readers.  These are the intellectually curious youngsters who will fare well in our society.  And it’s all FREE!

Suggestion for President-Elect Obama:  Ask the TV networks to provide some free evening air time.  Then urge popular sports figures, people like Tiger Woods, Andre Agassi, Serena and Venus Williams, et al. volunteer to do spots showing them reading to small children, giving tips to parents, etc.  That would have a big impact.

Report this

By optipessi mist, November 11, 2008 at 3:22 pm Link to this comment

Chris H.

You write that the illiterate will retreat further into irrational fantasy as everything collapses around them.

I would suggest that you are the one retreating further into irrational fantasy if you haven’t already updated your resume and started making phone calls to your job network contacts.  This article alone has taken your journalistic standing down a few notches with Truthdig editors as well as wherever your writings are syndicated.  Nothing travels faster than bad news.

Report this

By colin2626262, November 11, 2008 at 3:20 pm Link to this comment

Does reading make people happy?  I don’t think so.  By the way, here’s an excerpt from Chris Hedges’ upcoming novel:

The world was in shambles, and it was heading for a disaster of horrific proportions.  The ignorant, childlike illiterates were letting the evil corporate masters get away with murder.  The mainstream media, the culture itself, reeked of shallow entertainment, masquerading as enjoyment but which was really propaganda and sinful intellectual squalor.  Oh, humanity.  When will you learn?  When will you stop watching television and start reading Hannah Arendt?  For God’s sake, the U.S. empire is going to implode and become a police state soon, if that hasn’t already happened. 

Take to the streets, hold up banners of Ralph Nader, become militant progressives, and also don’t forget your true Christianity, not the false Christianity of right wing evangelical fascists who hate gays and doubt Darwin (those kinds of Christians are not only fascists, they’re just plain stupid).  Then a voice comes from the sky, a heavy, authoritative voice, one that comes from a downturned mouth on a face with wire rimmed glasses.  “I am Hedges,” says the voice.  “Listen to me.  I come from Colgate and Harvard Divinity School.  I used to report for the New York Times.  I hate necrophilia and war, which I sought out as a war correspondent all those years.  I know the truth.  The truth shall make you free.”  A small voice responds from the earth.  “What are you talkin’ about, man?”  That’s my voice.  There’s no answer from above.

Report this
Leefeller's avatar

By Leefeller, November 11, 2008 at 2:56 pm Link to this comment


Just a thought, I suggest stupidity and ignorance are not the same, Hedges, I believe was addressing Ignorance as the uneducated or Illiterate.  Stupid for example, would be someone like Bush who went to school, had the opportunity and did not learn, Palin may be the same.  One could be highly intelligent and be ignorant at the same time and not capable of learning certain subjects. 
Did Hedges use the word stupid?  If he did I am wrong.

For arguments sake, one could say an illiterate person is anyone not as literate as you?

Report this

By Folktruther, November 11, 2008 at 2:51 pm Link to this comment

Shenonymous, I’m trying to be tactful here, since you have to teach all those little Texans, many of them possibly with rattlesnakes under their lttle Stetsons.  But its not my best quality.

You say individuals are real but a population is an abstraction.  How about two individials, are they real? or 2 hundred.  Or 2 million. The CONCEPT of a person, or a billion pesons, is an abstraction; it is an abraction with REAL content.  There are abstractions without content, such as the supernatural.  They are different kinds of concepts.

As for my daughter, we would certainly send her someplace else if they weren’t ideologically all the same.  So we simply warn here that every important thing they are teaching her is probably wrong.  She is Jewish so she has to get good grades or else they will kick her out of the religion. (I assume they same conditions hold for East and South Asians.)  But we warn her not to believe any of it, it’s all just Education.

Report this

By diamond, November 11, 2008 at 2:21 pm Link to this comment

If Americans are so stupid and ignorant, Chris Hedges, why did they line up for hours in queues that went around the building and down two blocks to throw the Republicans out of government? No, they didn’t vote Ralph Nader or the Greens into government but millions of them certainly weren’t taken in by Sarah Palin or John McCain. If they’re so stupid why are the newspapers dying because readers don’t believe anything that’s in them any more? Why are the ratings for current affairs shows in a downward spiral? And the young who you claim are dammed because they don’t read are the ones who saw through the lies about 9/11 and the war in Iraq before anyone else did.

My father left school at thirteen during the depression and went to work on a chicken farm. He earned almost nothing but he sent it all home to his parents. A generation later his daughter was a lawyer and married another lawyer who had three degrees (not one) to his name. One weekend the lawyers’ car wouldn’t go so they took taxis the whole weekend. When my father was in town they drove him to the abandoned car and he got in and spoke the immortal words, ‘It’s out of gas.’ Don’t confuse lack of opportunity with dumbness. Those who think refusing to educate Americans unless they come from the ‘right class’ is done deliberately to keep the working class in the dark about what’s being done to them by politicians and lobbyists are absolutely right. But the internet has changed the elite’s stranglehold on information and they don’t like it one bit. I love books and I read voraciously but when I want information quickly I turn to the internet. Especially for the truth about politics. Reading a newspaper now is frustrating beyond belief because they’re not informing me. I know more about terrorism and the Iraq war and what’s going on in Afghanistan than they’re ever going to want to tell me. The last straw for me was when the CIA put that video out of the ‘Black Beard bin Laden’. I laughed in disbelief as all the media outlets in the world simply ran with it as if it was really him. Anyone with a functioning pair of eyes could see it wasn’t. Then there was the ‘Big Bad Russia’ black comedy of the invasion of South Ossetia which was sold as the invasion of Georgia. The media went on selling this until their position became untenable. Now they admit Georgia invaded South Ossetia first but still portray Russia as a threat to the world, as if it was still the fifties. If you want stupidity I suggest you take a good look at the media: and they have no excuse since most of them have the education that they’re only too happy to prevent others getting by pushing right wing policy positions for all they’re worth. Don’t assume that if people are educated they’ll vote for a third party. It hasn’t worked that way in countries where people get a good education paid for by the state out of taxes.The greens are not in power anywhere in Europe and it’s not because people are too stupid to vote for them.

Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, November 11, 2008 at 1:55 pm Link to this comment

KDelphi. is there anything that says America has to be number 1 in literacy?  Just a thought.  Being 5th isn’t so bad.  I might have thought with all the bs going around we would be well next to last if not last.  I mean given the number of people that live here!  30631353 and counting.  Consumerism and genes??? genetic???  way…elll, I guess a case could be made for it, but I don’t think so either.  Consuming more than one needs is excess and definitely not natural.  It is learned behavior, Skinnerian to be sure and calculated by those who provide the goods and services (Internet, for instance).  I didn’t say dollars rule as a natural order of things.  That’s silly.  It is also learned. But it is a game well learned.  You are the first to admit there is a greed that exists in the world today, and especially among the corporate heads and feet in America?  No?  Yes you do. You are always complaining about it.  Are you arguing just for the sake of arguing?  What other rat race are you talking about?  The ‘we’ you talk about is who exactly that can start with getting rid of Rx drug advertisment?  I think that was something I already brought up.  Hmmmm.  Well the we you talk about is not just you and me.  The ‘we’ includes the corporations who want to perpetuate the advertising.  Now how are you going to get everybody’s Uncle Louie to divest his money in the corporate stocks of Viagra?  And corporations live for dividends.  Of course ‘people’ want advertisements.  KDelphi, only you and I don’t want them.  We just don’t count. It is in the numbers, I already told you that.  You see dearheart, when the unnatural is around for so long, it transforms into the natural.

Thank you for allowing me to say that.  I gotta go for awhile but I’m certain to be back later.  “Youse guys” are so interesting.  This has been one of the best forums in along time.  We have to thank Chris Hedges too.  I never thought I’d ever say that one.

Report this
JimBob's avatar

By JimBob, November 11, 2008 at 1:34 pm Link to this comment

Yeats said it far more precisely.  Such a cheerful message, yes?

We’re going through a period that has been created and perpetuated by economic excess, as America with six percent of world population consumed 26% (or whatever) of its resources.  This will not continue, and the ability of individuals or groups to glide across the surface of such opulence with minimal brain skills will not continue, either.

Report this

By Roget's Tenth, November 11, 2008 at 1:30 pm Link to this comment

Mr. Hedges, as one who admires your courage and brilliance immensely, I find this article extremely disturbing, although I must admit the ideas you present seem to becoming increasingly prevalent on the intellectual scene. Both Morris Berman and even Al Gore have written extensively about this subject. Being both 21, in college, and a server at a fairly popular restaurant, I am always dismayed by how little interest or importance my peers display for reading. It has become something that is taken for granted in this country. At my job, I am always baffled by middle aged and professional looking adults who absolutely refuse to read the menu, and ask questions that could easily be answered with a close skim of it. However, I am also an Obama supporter and do believe in his sincerity, especially after watching so many of his interviews and reading The Audacity of Hope. His message was powerful not only because of the optimism it inspired in me, but also because I saw that he held the intellectual capital to follow through on many of his promises, particularly the ones concerning the renewal of our alliances around the world. I don’t think I can be faulted for that. Therefore, I don’t think it useful to blame the electorate for voting for a candidate they deemed as competent and genuinely concerned for this country’s future. Instead, I think we should encourage our friends (and, in your case, your numerous readers) to stay relentlessly informed and alert, and not allow rhetoric and blind affection to replace actual policy once Obama is in office; and that the presidency is ultimately only a job, and if whoever holds it performs his duties poorly, he deserves the wrath of his country’s criticism. But if he does it well, the praise shall be immense. This, I think, will be the best route to take.

Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, November 11, 2008 at 1:23 pm Link to this comment

I’m sure I did not suggest nothing was real. Please reread.  I said the Ideals or abstractions were not real, only the instances of them are real.  Individual ideas are the only real instances of the Form Idea.  I too am too much of a phenomenologist to suggest ideas are not real.  I feel real, for instance.  And so does my cat, especially when he is a pest besides a pet.  But the concept Cat is only an abstraction and only exists as real in the sense it is a real abstraction, that is, is an instance of an abstraction, not that there is a real abstract cat.  Is that more clear?

I very much agree that bringing into the classroom ‘experts of the subjects’ is a virtue to teaching.  I did exactly that in my classes and it was always, each and every time, a wholesome experience for both the students and myself. And the visitor expert had a marvelous time as well.  Many people have talents that they are more than willing to share and would not think of charging for their time.

Report this

By KDelphi, November 11, 2008 at 1:11 pm Link to this comment

She—when I was looking up and posting stats, my pc shut down. Oh, well, it was a mixed bag, anyway. In general, it seemed to show taht we are (when compared with other G8 nations—but also Bermuda?)below 4 countries in literacy (Norway, Switaerland, Canada, and Bermuda). On math and science we are “mixed”—it is not a cut and dried set of stats that I can type in. I am just inferring.It was The Center for Public Education at UNESCO.

One stat that stood out dramtically was that of the uS gap between the affluent and poor, in the uS—worst of any G8. I know you will say that it is not true, but, I suspect that where most of you guys teach, etc, things do NOT look like they do in a poor urban school districts like here.

I fail to see how “consumerism is genetic”—yes, “consuming” is. But consuming more than we need, to the exlusison of those that have none—I submit that this is not genetic, nor “normal”.The “apes” we descend from (I believe that many were “rational” and could “reason”—we didnt just wake up as some “special being”—so can dolphins, dogs, and parrots,etc.)were social (die otherwise)and didnt tend to hoard. Apes today do not until they are in captivity. How can you say that “dollars rule” in a way that indicates that you think that this is the natural order of things?? What did we do before dollars. Before gold was arbitrarily deemed the “standard”.?

To be quite honest, I am just not “put together” for the US rat race, and I suspect that a lot of others arent either. I didnt go into social work for dollars (nor you into teaching. I would assume).You think teachers are poorly paid—check out teh civil service level for social work! But, I thought I would have my pension, etc. I dont “want more dollars”—I want everyone who is my countryman to have the neceessities of life. A country as deeply divided by class as teh US is now, will not long survive.

Past the necessites and a little comfort—for most people , the desire is just not there. Further, I think that when it is, it is placed there intentionally—from childhood. “Enough”—-is it ever?? It had better be. We are consuming the rest of teh world out of planet and home!

Maybe people liked Shakespeare for blood and guts—but you dont think that his insight into the human condition helped?  They didnt have special effects then, they didnt have “fake blood”. It wouldve had to have been a mental image (as you say in “Titus”)But, what about the comedies? The dramas like “Shrew”? I do not like blood and guts movies, unless it suits the story, but I do like Shakespeare, in book, film and play—I know that that is a sheeple thing to say—but I just do.

It is not “natural” that everyone in teh US must “hit the ground running”—it is imposed by society for the good of capitalism on steroids. No country in the history of the world has every consumed so much, nor felt so entitled.How can anyone still feel that our “Merkin way of life” can continue?? Why would you want it to?

“Advertising” is “natural”—we CANT stop it? Well, we could start with Rx drugs like every civilized nation on earth—or do you like all those Viagra ads on tv and in your mailbox?WE invented it—we can uninvente it. I just dont think people want to—or they are convinced it is “the only way”. It is not only not the “only way”—it is an impossible way to sustain life.

boredwell—The inference of class, is intentional. It is not evidence of your “illiteracy”.

“Faith, “hope” “change” are all just concepts. There is nothing that necessarily flows from them.

I think Hedges is just struggling with his Catholic past and his denical of teh reality he knows—despite his book “I Dont Believe in Atheits”—which is the only one I havent read. Give him some time. He is very bright and questioning—those kinds of people dont remain strongly religious forever.

Report this

By Stephen Smoliar, November 11, 2008 at 1:09 pm Link to this comment

I appreciate your comment about teacher competence;  but, once again, I find myself on the trail of a deeper flaw.  If the most important behavior we can acquire is my aforementioned art of conversation, why should the conversation setting be one of a single teacher in a room full of students?  If you want to teach writing, why not bring a practicing writer (such as a journalist forced into retirement) into that conversation?  In the face of the current unemployment mess, my guess is that there are any number of “subject matter experts” available to participate in such conversations without having to jump first through the obligatory certification hoops.  (The certified teachers can deal with those facets of the conversation, along with the subject matter itself.)  Who knows?  The very dynamics of the conversational engagement might stimulate more participation on the student side of that invisible wall through the classroom.

Philosophically, I suppose that my advocacy of conversation is also sustained by Wittgenstein’s argument that we acquire our concepts through the “language games” in which those concepts are engaged.  I am too much of a phenomenologist to get into arguments over whether or not ideas are “real” (as Shenonymous claimed).  However, the conversations are real;  and, at the end of the day, that is probably all that really matters.

Report this

By DD1979, November 11, 2008 at 12:47 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Indeed this really is worrying, I was in America recently and the amounts of “stupid” people clamouring on about the future of mankind was incredibly ridiculous- there are thousands of people who genuinely believe that god favours the “USA” over the rest of mankind…..the divide between the “stupid” and the critically intelligent grows ever wider these days, and there are no end of opinion leaders out to exploit this.

It’s critical we beat as many people around the head with books we can find, independent thought depends on it!! Remember these moronic but significant minority vote also have the right to vote…..poor USA.

Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, November 11, 2008 at 12:43 pm Link to this comment

Ya, but the word elephant only takes on real meaning when you are taking bites out of an instance of one.  That only holds if one were to eat one.  If one were to just see one, it could have an existence of a different sort.  But then seeing is not always seeing something real, as in if it were pink.  I think that is my point. You are right,  “surely no one knows everything.”  I would defy as did Plato that anybody can “know” anything. But that is moot in the world of conjecture to which most people unsuspectingly subscribe and to what we are more or less doing here.  ‘Understanding,’ now that is another whole ballgame.  Nevertheless, within one’s words is the entire history of man, even Hedges’.  If statements are not up for evaluation then we should all just pack up and go home.  We get to be nitpicky around here.  Oh,... we are home, at least most of us.

I see I did not actually answer your question Laura Schneider.  My purpose was to reply to Folktruther’s comments about my saying American ideology and American population are not in the realm of the real and are hypothetical conceptions. I somewhat protracted that response, I agree.

Report this

By Joe Frisina, November 11, 2008 at 12:19 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Chris, your article is very disturbing. I knew in High School that they did not require enough writing. That was the early seventies. When I went to college I took as many writing, and speech courses as I could to catch up, or maybe it was my zeal to become more literate. I have been a voracious reader all my life. I read at least fifty books per year. I am really appalled at the state of literacy in this country. I did not know it was this bad, and it makes me feel sincerely, very sad! Education in America has to change and require writing.
I will pass your article on to aleast 250 aquaintences.
Thank you,
Joe Frisina, B.A. Lit. & Phil. Pitt.‘80
Smethport, PA

Report this

By SusanSunflower, November 11, 2008 at 12:18 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It will be interesting to see the results of the New Orleans post-Katrina “charter school” public school experiment ...

Of course I’m skeptical ... Education, like prisons, health care and road maintenance, police and fire departments are big budget items that have been under “privatization” pressure many years under republicans ... Will Obama reverse or do a re-look at these policies? doubtful, too many competing priorities.

I’ve question the sustainability of charter schools—this recession should be illuminating in this—It’s hard to evaluate the effectiveness of any program that is constantly being “relaunched” or “reinvented” or “refocused” ...

Like “No Child Left Behind”—a lot of effort seems to go to “administration” and evaluating and bidding on various competing “product lines” ...

There was an article last spring about an intensive literacy program—millions of dollars over several years—that amazingly showed NO RESULTS AT ALL.

Don’t know what’s wrong but it’s very very deep if a multiyear, multimillion dollar showcase program produces no results.

Report this

By Laura Schneider, November 11, 2008 at 12:17 pm Link to this comment


What is the purpose of your discussion of the greater “Truth” as being the sume of its parts (each individual truth or true fact)?  You eat an elephant one bite at a time.

Surely, no one knows everything or can understand everything (at least not all at the same time!), but you don’t have to know everything to know something, and Hedges is not taking on the history of man, just a cultural observation that does have some basis in fact and truth.

Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, November 11, 2008 at 12:11 pm Link to this comment

Folktruther, you only prove my point, explicitly.  Your daughter is one person, her teacher is one person, your nieces are persons.  They are separate parts of the population.  They are not abstractions.  But ideologies and populations are.  Ideology is a set of ideas.  A set of one or more ideas. It is ‘the’ idea or ideas that are real. Ideology is merely a mass noun and the same for populations.  The word population is a mass noun.  It does not exist except for the individuals that create it.  It is in these individual existences where the real resides.  The same goes for the word American.  American is a proper noun of someone who is a citizen of America. I know I need not tell you that, but I am making a point. To say the word American is ambiguous.  But Chris Hedges, or if you don’t like that example, whoever you name, is an instance of being an American. Using the definite article, an.  The same thing goes for Truth with a capital T.  The Truth is made up of real truths.  The Truth is the ideal, using the indefinite article, the; a name for the mass of truths.  You cannot grasp the whole of Truth.  This is not brainwashing as you imply.  These are making the distinctions that exist within reality.  You have to think bigger, man.  Reality is the whole of the real.  The Abstractions or separate Ideals only are shadows within which are the realities.  Now for some reason, I suspect you already know all of this. But thank you for letting me explain it.

I have said this before when you railed against your daughter’s school and teacher, and quality of education.  If you detest that ‘elite’ high school so much, you must remove your daughter from there at once!  To delay will contaminate her even more than she already is.  You do her a disservice as a responsible parent.  Oh, and do nail that teacher properly to a couple of crossed boards.  You have to rid the world of such vermin.  wink wink Or convince the teacher to ‘be’ a teacher.  Is that another wink wink?

Report this

By Laura Schneider, November 11, 2008 at 12:09 pm Link to this comment

One of the real sources of our academic failure in education and pedagogy is that we are not demanding competence from our teachers BEFORE admitting them into an educational program.

The solution is to make education a graduate study rather than an undergraduate curriculum.  Get rid of the “Math for Elementary Teachers” and require teachers to perform at the same levels as all other disciplines.  Likewise with English, Science, History, Geography, Political Science, etc.  If they aren’t competent enough to perform at the same level as a science major, what on earth possesses us to believe they can teach it?

This, of course, would bankrupt universities or, at least, their schools of education.  It would also demand that we pay for what we demand in increased competency.

Just a thought….

Report this

By outdoorfanatic, November 11, 2008 at 12:08 pm Link to this comment

I heard Chris Hedges speak in Princeton, while I agree with most of what he says I find it ironic that for someone that tauts intellect, facts, and rational thought has pillars for a truly free society.  Chris Hedges compares the religious right to what he calls the new atheism.  Unfortunately, in this case he allows his own clouded belief system in superstition (yes,god is superstition)to grossly compare the dangers of the religious right to atheism.  Make no mistake he only replaces on “evil” target for a simple one.  Chris, try to be consistant in your application of these virtues.

Report this

By Philosopher-Engineer, November 11, 2008 at 12:02 pm Link to this comment

This is my first posting.  I’m impressed with all the responses to Chris Hedges’s article.  Here are my thoughts:
Candidates and Their Campaigns.  The dumbed-down political campaigns are just doing
what works (unfortunately).  Change has to start in the family and flow up to the leaders. 
Challenge the next stupid platitude you hear at a get-together.  For example, when somebody in your group says “Yes, they should teach Intelligent Design in the public schools”, call them out on it.  Argue with them.  So what if a relative or coworker gets angry?  Aren’t you angry?  Don’t just sit there and take it. 
The neocon game plan uses bullying to keep the thoughtful folks quiet.  Open your mouth early & often; you’ll get better with practice

Shallow Diversions & Entertainments.  This is part of the human condition, unfortunately.  Augustine in the Confessions (fifth century C.E.) complained about vapid entertainments. Also, he was educated as a debater, but became disillusioned with the “gotcha” type questions and exchanges in debates – sound familiar?

Education System.  I must agree that there is something wrong with the American educational system.  I can have an intelligent discussion with an immigrant who has an advanced degree from a European university, but who has not yet mastered the grammar of the English language.  But I have trouble understanding many Americans with comparable education.  The Americans lack the focus to link things together and draw inferences.  It’s scary.  But if I were appointed the Czar of Education tomorrow, I would not know where to start.

Report this

By kokorozashi, November 11, 2008 at 11:57 am Link to this comment

Illiteracy, vile though it may be, has been with us all along. What’s changed recently is the ability to reach the illiterate through imagery. It’s not that we’re becoming illiterate; it’s that technology has made the illiterate more relevant. Happily, this is not a zero-sum game; methods of reaching the illiterate do not exclude methods of reaching the literate.

Report this

By Stephen Smoliar, November 11, 2008 at 11:49 am Link to this comment

nrobi, I think you are a bit generous in characterizing this stream of comments as “discourse.”  With due respect to all of the contributors (and reading them has been both enlightening and pleasing), I am reminded of the cowboy in one of James Thurber’s stories, who jumped on his horse and ran off wildly in all directions!  Wild as all these comments may have been, I think they demonstrate a key flaw in Hedges’ approach, which is to try to peg everything on the single concept of literacy.

Shenonymous has come closest to homing in on the more fundamental issue, which she characterized in terms of negotiating the world (a more constructive turn of phrase than Heidegger’s “being in the world”).  At the end of the day, we negotiate the world in terms of how we perceive it;  and what is often critically overlooked is that THE ACT OF PERCEPTION IS FUNDAMENTALLY AN ACT OF INTERPRETATION.  We have to interpret all sorts of things, including the signals we acquire through our sense organs, the kinesthetic sensations of our own bodies, and, of course, all those signs that confront us, which form the basis for the sort of semiological analysis that boredwell has in mind.

I would thus put forth the modest proposal that, if we have failed as a culture, it is because our educational system has failed to cultivate an effective capacity for such interpretation.  I would further argue that several factors figure in that failure.  The most important is that not all interpretations arrive at unchanging (analytical, if you want Kant-speak) truths.  Similarly, it is often the case that two individuals will not interpret the same inputs in the same way.  This is why I like that word “negotiating.”  The only way to deal with conflicting interpretations is to negotiate over them;  and the only way to negotiate effectively is through conversation (not necessarily, PACE Laura Schneider, through the principles of Toulmin’s theoretical take on the nature of argumentation itself).  We also need to cultivate the recognition that negotiation does not always end in agreement;  sometimes the only agreement is recognizing that the proponents of opposing interpretations can agree to disagree.

There is nothing new in this modest proposal.  Those who invoke critical thinking will probably recognize at least parts of the items I introduced.  I avoid the phrase only because I have encountered too many situations in which it has been abused to invoke its very opposite, the UNcritical embrace of some ideology.  When a phrase like “critical thinking” suffers that kind of a vulnerability, we are better off to discard it and invoke new language.

The greater problem behind this modest proposal is that it is not supported with a cut-and-dried curriculum.  My guess is that such a curriculum would defeat the very spirit behind the proposal itself.  So it may be that a consequence of my proposal would be the undermining of existing educational institutions.  As a product of those institutions, I am not sure I like that consequence.  On the other hand I have long believed in Brian Eno’s strategy of taking an extreme position and then being prepared to back away from it.  At the very least I am hoping that, by putting such a proposal on the table, I can encourage the formulation of alternative proposal, one of which may be more effective!

Report this

By Folktruther, November 11, 2008 at 11:19 am Link to this comment

Twilight Zone, it is not only in the religion of the Bible Belt that false consciousness and psuedo-education is instilled. A false sense of reality is instilled in the schoolbook history and social theory of political and social science of Educated progressives as well.

Dr Shenonymous, for example, thinks, and has stated, that American ideology and even the American population is not real, it is merely a hypothetical construct. This kind of thing is taught to the young, whose sense of reality is determined by it.

My daughter attends an Elite high school where the teacher of the world geography class pissed away the class time to avoid teaching the class about Asia, Africa and Latin American, where most earthpeople live.  The young left the class conceiving the world as being composed of Europe, America and Israel.

This kind of thing is repeated (more subtlely) endlessly in Elite schools as well as average schools.  My neices went to extremely expensive private schools and what they believe is positively grotesque.  You are quite right; the problem of ignorence is really an ideological problem.  And it extends across all classes and regions.

Report this

By Laura Schneider, November 11, 2008 at 11:17 am Link to this comment

Faith is what we believe to be true in the absence of facts or in the face of controverting facts (have to add that after GWB and his approach to Iraq).  At best, faith and religion work together to help individuals achieve balance and support from their peers.  At worst, they work to manipulate and divide and isolate us from reality.

Values are different.  Values are judgments that assign worth based on a comparison (good or bad, high or low, too much or too little, etc.).  And the values that Hedges uses to analyze this issue are not relegated to a religious group or political sect, they are called traditional values because, over time, these tenets have proven to result in a consistently positive outcome.  You don’t have to have statistics to deduce that.  The best lies are wrapped in statistics.

The war on philosophy, science and what I consider “true” culture (literature, dance, music, visual arts, etc.) is a struggle of long-standing between art “for art’s sake” and commercial art (what sells and makes a profit).  At best, they coincide.  However, exposure is one of the key problems to fine art’s lack of popularity among the masses.  Generally, people do not like that which is strange to them.

Unfortunately, “what sells” is the triumph of the superficial over the substantial.  Looking good in our current society is more important than being good.  Image and style over depth and substance.

How do we fix this?  We have to save the world (our society) one “soul” at a time.  It is a conversion, not necessarily of faith and religion, but of philosophy and lifestyle.  A value judgment that living a balanced life based in honesty and truth is the real meaning of success.

Until then, nothing will change.  We will not get the change we need, the change we THINK we want, or change we can believe in.  Remember, belief is accepting an idea as truth in the absence of facts or in the presence of controverting facts.

So far, nothing has really changed.

Report this

By 341524762, November 11, 2008 at 11:04 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

without no child left behind, we have segregated schools. get over it.

Report this

By optipessi mist, November 11, 2008 at 10:55 am Link to this comment

Imagine that Chris H.

Just a small sampling and your perspective in the light of day is at best myopic.

It brings to mind a tragic figure from Shakespearean literature. 

And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Hamlet Act 1, scene 5, 159–167

But let’s be fair.  Let us assume this is baseball.  You still have 2 strikes left

Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, November 11, 2008 at 10:47 am Link to this comment

Jaded Prole, if the left doesn’t support progressive culture, the right doesn’t even know it exists.  Except the right does have an inkling and creates foundations for PBS.  You should see them advertise their generosity right on PBS.  It’s a wonderment to behold. 

Why don’t leftists support the arts?  Because leftists are just the human part of the culture, faux or not.  Culture is an assumed idea.  It is an amorphous noun meaning it is made up of innumerable parts.  Some of those parts are artsy: fine arts, music, dance, theater, film, television, but also includes the world of other things like cars, boats, clothes, food, and so on.  It takes great effort of the artists to reach the faux culture.  It has always been that way.  Great culturists of the past, the great writers, musicians, artists, never complain that the hoi polloi do not support them.  It takes the leadership of a great state to recommend, to suggest, to convince the public to support the culture.  There is no reason to moan about the lack of support.  The Blue Collar Review, is a fine instrument bringing the news of part of the culture to the people.  But it takes money to run such a vehicle.  The staff of the magazine thinks it is doing a public service.  Thomas Paine did not have any public financing yet he helped start a war! 

One learns to become creative.  As the ancient Greeks said, “necessity is the mother of invention.”

Report this

By malairlostandfound, November 11, 2008 at 10:42 am Link to this comment

Please somebody tell me Chris made these figures up:”...over 42 million American adults, 20 percent of whom hold high school diplomas, who cannot read, as well as the 50 million who read at a fourth- or fifth-grade level. Nearly a third of the nation’s population is illiterate or barely literate…” I am not highly educated and have never been to The US, but…unbelievable…shocking!

Report this
Leefeller's avatar

By Leefeller, November 11, 2008 at 10:32 am Link to this comment

Faith blind or other wise, supports nothing that is real or proven to be. 

Hedges uses his faith as a guide for deciding on what should be, like Palin uses her God to decide for her what will happen.

Dooms day predictions have been historically many, some day one may be correct.

Report this

By The Twilight Zone in America..., November 11, 2008 at 10:30 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Is it illiteracy, or is it the pseudo-education from pseudo-science in the subjective [false] reality found predominantly in the Bible Belt Twilight Zone and the 72% of the home-schooled indoctrinated with Christian myths?

You’re traveling through another dimension. A dimension not only of Christian fiction and radical right wing propagandist lies, but of utter theological and ideological despair. A psychotic journey into a surreal land of lunacy whose boundaries in Christian myth, magic, superstition, fiction and fantasy know no limitations. That’s a church signpost up ahead: your next stop: the Twilight Zone!

You unlock this door with the key of Christian indoctrination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of Christian myth and magic, a dimension of fascism, a dimension of authoritarian personality disorder. You’re moving into a land of both religion and recidivism, of god, greed and guns. You’ve just crossed over into… the Twilight Zone.

It is a bizzaro dimension beyond that of sanity. It is an opposite dimension to reality where fiction turns into fact, fact becomes fiction, lies are twisted into truth, truth turns into lies and it all becomes quite evil. You’re moving into a land of black and white absolutes where superstition trumps science and the pit of man’s age-old fears limits the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of Sky God imagination. It is an area which we call “The Twilight Zone”.

Report this

By frazier, November 11, 2008 at 10:18 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

There are people who are just outright ignorant because they are too selfish and want to be better than the “Jones”. If people take time to help other people,especially young kids, then the USA would be a better place. “Pulling yourself by your own bootstrap” doesn’t work for most people.

Report this

By Jaded Prole, November 11, 2008 at 10:13 am Link to this comment

To begin with, I think this article is simplistic and over exaggerated. Working class people are more literate than is assumed and the edges between literacy and illiteracy are blurry indeed. Much of what passes for culture in the US is corporate faux culture—mass culture intended to dumb us down and keep us buying. Trillions of dollars support this corporate version of culture.

On the other hand, there is real culture. There are real musicians and lyricists, real artists and poets and writers with something to say and they have real fans hungry for relevant, art that speaks the truth of our lives and has a progressive vision. If you aren’t aware of that there is a good reason. As the publisher of a progressive literary magazine, the The Blue Collar Review I can tell you first hand why not. It’s because the left doesn’t support progressive culture. We receive accolades galore from the famous as well as the unknown and we have readers, contributors, and a small loyal cadre of support but we aren’t able to meet costs much less expand. What this means is that many strong writers remain unread and unknown. That progressive, inspiring literature doesn’t reach or involve many who would respond to it. It means that class conscious progressive culture remains unknown to most working people who are instead continually inundated with the reactionary, dumbed down corporate version of culture.

I do not believe that we are headed backwards to a time of pictographs but if that happens, ask yourself what you did to make it so.

Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, November 11, 2008 at 9:57 am Link to this comment

There is a third kind of truth Folktruther, your truth, which seems to be kin to the ideological truth you describe but has a personal coloration.  Your rhetorical structure of American mainstream truth is a concoction of your own.  Agreed, to hypothesize, if American ideology existed in the real world, it could be described as a tapistry of bullshit (another obscure metaphor) formulated from a view of a class-based power structure rather than from the American population, but the American population is also a hypothetical construct.  There are only individuals in the population and no survey has been taken of each an every individual, hence it is all projection.  Projections by their very nature are tainted by those doing the projection having particular intentions.  Your characterization of me, Shenonymous, and you can stop genuflecting to the Ph.D. as it is patronizinig in its core, is vague and barely perceptible.  You attack me on constructs of your own, they are personal doctrines and have no substantial basis.  Your hypothesis that false notions of enlightenment goes on in the classroom is idiosyncratic opinions and actually are amusingly without any methodology involved.  In the classroom, the minority students are treated exactly as the economically privileged ones.  Expectations are similar, and help given to those who cannot get the content exactly the same.  The minority students are not the only ones suffering from the lack of ‘specialist’ skills to use your hypothetical term.  Tests are showing minority students achieving the same if not better than “privileged” white students.

Class inequality in the classroom is actually decreasing with egalitarian treatment and expectations.  You’d better check out your “facts’ before theorizing if you want to have believability.

Report this

By Laura Schneider, November 11, 2008 at 9:56 am Link to this comment

Your article is spot on.  The reason we find ourselves in this state is a combination of Madison Avenue spending more time researching how we react to stimuli than we ourselves spend in developing our analytical skills with an ultimate goal of achieving disciplined thought processes.  Just as illiteracy is the product of our pain-avoidant-obsessed, “I-must-have-it-now”/immediate gratification social climate, our illiteracy also reinforces these manipulation techniques, which influences everything that is bought and sold, including politicians.

We have seen BELIEFS substituted for FACTS and IDEOLOGY substituted for REALITY and TRUTH.  Toulmin’s Theory of Argument is a concept in marked contrast to how our debates work now.  Madison Avenue has programmed a strong sense of entitlement in our young.  Intellectual discipline requires us to think rather than accept the meaningless sound-bites our politicians feed us in lieu of real answers, strategies and approaches to real problems.  Our current financial crisis is a product of this life strategy.  Our society’s sense of entitlement is not about basic human rights which every human being has at birth, it is about the lie that we are somehow entitled to privileges, which actually must be earned.

We obsess about the superficial and quickly lose interest when presented an argument of substance.  It is reflected in every aspect of our daily lives, especially in raising our children.  We plop them in front of the TV or a video game rather than engage them in conversation and then wonder why they don’t have a good vocabulary.  We dump our responsibilities for teaching manners and good behavior on our teachers.  And it’s never our fault when teachers can’t “inspire” our children to learn in the absence of positive parental reinforcement at home.

My students, who graduated WITH HONORS at public high schools, could not read and write in complete sentences and could not perform basic math.  Most came to me without the vocabulary or the analytical skills to understand a nightly newscast.  They did not know how our government worked and could not find their state on a map (in fact, many confused cities and states).  They couldn’t find Washington, DC.  They didn’t know the names of their governor, their U.S. representative or their U.S. senators, or who the current president and VP were. And these people were voting.

Raising the requirements for teachers or students is not enough.  Smaller class size and teacher aides have shown to improve the quality of teaching more than the “No Child Left Behind” system of teaching to tests which has failed miserably.

It comes down to values – our obsession for several decades now.  But we are remiss in teaching our children the most basic values and life skills, including short-term sacrifice for long-term reward, self-discipline, good work habits (dependability, responsibility, a desire for excellence) and the Darwinian truth of a results-driven life.

The definition of stupidity is “a poor ability to understand or to profit from experience” or “being in a stupor.”  Stupidity is a lifestyle choice, not just a state of being.  It has, in essence, become our society’s lifestyle choice enabled by Madison Avenue and the art of politics where manipulation is more achievable when the target is ignorant and lazy.  And until we as a nation and society choose differently, this “dumbing-down” effect will spiral further and further out of control.

Report this

By nrobi, November 11, 2008 at 9:43 am Link to this comment

Re: To all posters on this article;
I am truly glad to have started this discourse on the article by Chris Hedges!
Many thoughts and ideas have been posited about the premises put forth by Mr. Hedges, yet the simple truth is that Mr. Hedges, sets himself apart from the fray by his very own admission that he is among the elitist of the educated.
This along with his denigration of the “illiterate masses,”  puts him in a rather awkward position of having to continue a specious argument that does not hold water against the facts on the ground.
President-elect Barack Obama, did not use mass marketing to win this election, but used the ideas of change and hope to win this election.
Quoting Mr. Hedges:“Obama used hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign funds to appeal to and manipulate this illiteracy and irrationalism to his advantage, but these forces will prove to be his most deadly nemesis once they collide with the awful reality that awaits us.”  This is such a specious argument that I do not deign to make any comment about the premise. Other than the fact the President-elect Barack Obama, did not use these hundreds of millions of dollars to manipulate and obfuscate the truth and speak to the illiterate and irrational. Many people I know voted for the President-elect because of their intellect and rational thinking, knowing that the irrational and illiterate would choose to vote for the same type of administration that would occur under McCain-Palin.
Fear and “defeat” were the tactics used by the GOP, in the last almost 30 years and I believe that the American people have finally awakened from the nightmare of their Republican voting to see that America has been dragged down and through the gutter by those who used these tactics.
As to the posters on this article, this article has brought out the best and worst of arguments for a revision of the “No Child Left Behind Act,”  we have seen a dumbing down of the educational system since the late 1960’s and the pace of this occurrence picked up under the Republican administrations since Ronald Reagan.
I, am not alone in feeling that the cause of this rapid and most disheartening shift, is due to the fact that the elitist factions of our society, want only to enslave the worker and do this through the “skrewl” system.
Home schooling was and is an alternative to the very real and often vapid education that is received in the school systems of today. I do not advocate that all be home-schooled but there must a rapid and accelerated change in our school systems if as President-elect Barack Obama, put it, we need the jobs of tomorrow today. 
Science is often replaced by the fairy tale of “creationism” and without a solid grounding in the sciences we will not have those people available to work in the fields of clean energy, solving the problems of global climate change and other pressing social and economic problems.
My hope is that all who have posted about this article come to realize that there are solutions to these pressing problems and that we must all contribute to the cause of freedom and liberty by staying aware of what our government is doing and how they are going about it.  Should we let our guards down, as we have done the past eight years, we will then reap the very real whirlwind of societal breakdown and mass cultural change to the point that America, will no longer exist as we know it and in its place, Amerikkka, will be born. A shadow of its former self, fascistic and oppressive of the people and the government will quash and do away with all dissent from the face of this country.
One need only look at the House Resolution 1955, to see that I am correct in my assumption.
For now, thank you all for such spirited arguments and discourse.

Report this

By Bevan, November 11, 2008 at 9:33 am Link to this comment

Dear Mr. Hedges:

I admire your commentary.  Here, the last paragraph is a virtual non sequitur.  It is not Obama’s fault that he had to address as many voters as possible in order to win the election.  I don’t think that this can be fairly deemed deliberate manipulation.  I think you would agree that his soaring oratory was on a higher level than the sort that came out of the McCain campaign.

Report this

By Folktruther, November 11, 2008 at 9:29 am Link to this comment

There are two kinds of truth in the learned and mass media: specialist truth, which is largely true, and ideological truth, which largely isn’t.  The specialist truth, both the specialized truth of the schools, universities and other learned bureaucracies and the specific information of the mass media, is intermixed with American ideology in the American mainstream truth.

American ideology, to a greater extent than in other polities, is a tapistry of bullshit from beginning to end.  It is formulated from the perspective of the class-based power structure rather than from the perspective of the American population.  It indoctrinates truthers like Dr Shenonymous to support American imperalism and the oppression of the popultion, which she consciously thinks she opposes.

In her case her Educated opinions are opposed by the savages of Texas, her racist students with their little Stetsons and Bowie knives, who challenge the most elementary political decency, egged on by their parents and teachers.  Frustrated by the lack of lynching parties that they can attend, they focus on anyone who is Foreign.  This instills among the Educated the false notion that they are upholding Enlightment.  When they are actually indoctrianting their students with a different form of bigotry, especially class and White bigotry.

Since minority students usually are put off by the ideology of traditional Education, they don’t learn the specialist skills necessary to rise in the hierarchy.  The specialist skills, including literacy, are therefore in the hands and heads of the ideologically indoctinated Educated, who support power, notably class power.

As class inequality increases, the Education problem becomes increasingly unsolvable, since there is so much that subverts the mainstrream Educated truth.  Cosnequently the young become increasingly illiterate, partially as maladaptive protest against the prevailing ideology.

Report this

By Adnihilo, November 11, 2008 at 9:07 am Link to this comment

I find it ironic the author is still suffering from his own milder version of Christian psychosis as still a ‘faith-based believer’ in the imaginary Sky God myths of our ancient ancestors. However after reading his book on Christian Fascism I find the author’s ‘old school’ Christian insights into the severe psychosis of the religious right very valuable. 

It is no coincidence America’s slid into the dark ages of religious recidivism coincided with the rise of more ‘godless’ Scandinavian countries into top global ratings for human development, technology, education, democracy, freedom of the press, infant survival, health care quality, scientific literacy, and a host of other positive indicators showing their cultures as far more civilized and advanced than what is evidenced in monotheistic societies.

I’m convinced the largest problem today facing all of humanity is its inability to exist in reality rather than varying degrees of psychosis where contact with reality has been lost, or highly distorted. This inability to exist in reality stems from being taught WHAT to think rather than HOW to think. Literacy alone isn’t the problem. There are plenty of people out there with advanced degrees who still haven’t learned HOW to think despite all their education.

There is a definitive lack in critical thinking and reasoning skills amongst not only a majority of American adults, but America’s children. Nearly 40 percent of high school students in America “cannot draw inferences from written material; only one-fifth can write a persuasive essay; and only one-third can solve a mathematics problem requiring several steps.” [A Nation at Risk; National Commission on Excellence in Education]

The superior ability of Homo Sapiens, or ‘thinking man’ to reason is what separates us from all other animals. This ability to reason is what defines humanity and renders faith-based belief systems as essentially inhuman. Because the human ability to reason is what primarily defines humanity Homo Sapiens in action and definition become ‘less than human’ when they are relying on age-old faith-based myths of our ancient ancestors, or any belief system that is not based in fact, truth and reality.

Faith is when one accepts a statement as true without evidence for it, or in the face of evidence against it. Faith is an act of mental destruction. Consistently engaging faith to determine reality, facts or truth results in a complete inability to think. Eventually, even when confronted with factual evidence against a faith based fallacious reality, the faith-based mind will become so dependent on its flawed beliefs, it will reject reality, or any factual evidence opposing a faith based ‘faux’ reality. This is the clinical definition of psychotic.

Critical thinking and reasoning is not inherent in the individual, nor is it instinctual or genetically derived. It is a learned skill. Reason can exist with faith only if the world’s religious adherents can keep their faith reserved to their respective religons while learning to use reason for their reality here on earth…

Report this

By Idle commenter, November 11, 2008 at 9:00 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I find this a curious article.

Perhaps it is just me, but couldn’t this also be taken as a description of the author and the majority of people who will read this?  Just make a few changes, it’d be a hoot.

This part for instance wouldn’t need any changing:

“They will be led toward glittering and self-destructive illusions by our modern Pied Pipers—our corporate advertisers (1), our charlatan preachers (2), our television news celebrities (3), our self-help gurus (4), our entertainment industry (5)and our political demagogues (6) —who will offer increasingly absurd forms of escapism.”

Just as an exercise, mind you:

1) There were quit a few business sectors that supported Obama. Let’s just pick a couple to insert here, say Wall Street, Silicon Valley, various alternate energy concerns that are hoping for a gravy train…

2) You don’t need any help here, I’m sure quite a few names will pop up.

3) Olberman, Stewart, Maddow, Colbert… at least they are not as annoying as Hannity, Limbaugh, O’Reilly.  But they don’t realize what simplistic limited, little people they are.  Occasionally some of the right wingers kind of act like they are in on the joke.  I doubt Jon Stewart ever will be.

4) That was a joke right? The writer wrote this with a straight face?

5) Well hell.  So many. Oprah?

6) I think the definition of a demagogue is “someone loud I don’t agree with.” So I’ll go with a theme of people whose first names end with the ‘y’ sound.  Steny, Rahmy, Charly, Harry (Michigan Senate one; not crazy about Nevada Harry either though), got to be some more, but shrug?

Look I could go on and on.  Not that it is going to make a particular difference, but be informed that there are those who view this article favorably with the same sort of condescension the author has for the unwashed masses.

Not that he is wrong. He just doesn’t look at himself either.

Aaah, just the thought of the first half of this article being read aloud while one of those campaign videos played…  “Yes we can!”

To quote the great Harley Quinn:

“But this time, baybee, the jokes on YOU!”

Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, November 11, 2008 at 8:20 am Link to this comment

illiterate – adjective, descriptive of the noun America, perfectly good word and spelled correctly.  Illiteracy is the noun condition.  What exactly is your point about that, Marcy?  Isn’t it a matter of focus?  Hedges is obviously talking about the lack of knowledge and the inability to read.  It is also called analphabetism. So what? 

The real irony is that the US is one of the most educated countries in the world.  Americans certainly obsess over it a lot.  Yet the population is unable to think critically.  They may have been taught many facts but not how to evaluate those facts when applied to life. Isn’t that the main point of Hedges’ thesis above?  If you can read a label but not know what it means, you are in a kind of hell.  And if you can’t read at all, then pictures speak a thousand words.  That is a truism.  So is water seeks its own level.  Ignorance and illiteracy reduces everybody to the lowest common denominator and unable to negotiate the world that has grown megamiles ahead.  Responsibility, when one realizes one is ignorant, change it!  If one doesn’t realize it, so it goes.  See, the reality is that we only ever see two-dimensionally and infer the third or others that are theorized, fourth, eleventh…It is the ability to make inferences to which knowledge gives the edge.  Doesn’t mean even the ignorant cannot make inferences.  Making comparisons happens constantly, does my next step land on firm ground or not?  Check it out is the edict.  If you are too lazy, you might just fall off the face of the earth.  Whoa….

Report this

By Marcy Gross, November 11, 2008 at 7:39 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Ironic…. if you are writing about “illiteracy”, perhaps you could start by spelling the word correctly in the title of the article?

Today is Veterans Day, everyone.
Happy holiday and thank you, soldiers.

Report this

By boredwell, November 11, 2008 at 7:36 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Your perspective is pre-apocalyptic. Literacy and numeracy are a many spendid thing. Computer literacy and image literacy have recently been added to this classical conceptual model because literacy is fluid, not rigid, but flexible. For example, one can learn through semiology, the visual study and interpretation of signs. The first study of literacy in America was published in 1870. It is flawed and less than scientific. Therefore, the 11.2-12.4 sesquipedalian vocabulary levels used in the Lincoln-Douglas debates pertain to the candidates’ literacy not to the audience’s ability to speak, write or comprehend it.

Hired for writing gig I was told that the average literacy level was 8th grade. And the usage of two syllable words was limited to four. Reading the comments section of any mainstream blog illustrates linguistically, grammatically and philologically the ravages of illiteracy. Many are rudimentarily flawed; incoherent, illogical and incognizant.

Yet, to be fair, I’ve also read some theses in more literate rags that lack compositional integrity, too.
Literacy and its various levels infer class along with its advantages and disadvantages. My 11th grade nephew, who attends a lower-to-middle upper class school in exurbia, asked me the meaning of “overwhelmed.” This is a kid who at age 10 won 2nd place in the state’s spelling bee. This reflects two forms of literacy: one- ability to spell correctly; two- inability to comprehend a word’s meaning. Though I explained its meaning, I told him to get familiar with the dictionary! You’d think they’d go spelling adn comprehension would go hand-in-hand but…

One last note. The recent campaign produced a dizzying plethora of statistical data from polls along with reams of political analyses; fact checking; and the rendering of historical provenance. I was OVERWHELMED by it. Fact check data vary from site to site. Historical accuracy is taken out of context to conform to the contemporary. Many analyses were based on wholly circumstantial evidence. Trying to unravel the comparative value of each was time-consuming and aggravating. Alternately energized and enervated by this, I had, alas!, to face voting for 19 California propositions and so many city reforms that I became innumerate.OVERWHELMED! Again. The language was so confusing I began to realize that I was not as literate as I liked to believe!

Report this

By Johnathan Michaels, November 11, 2008 at 7:24 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Well written and intelligent with a flare for pointing out exactly what the issue is.  Some might find this insulting; others probably couldn’t comprehend the word illiterate.  You’re missing pictures of Spears, obama, or Hilton to attract them.

I don’t see a jab at the “winner” of this election but at the system of political maneuvering as a whole.  You mention slogans used by Republicans you mention their debate levels.  Many other comments have or most likely will accuse you of not being on the “obama train” as I’ve heard those around me say.

My fiancée and I discussed at length this past week the concept of television lowering intelligence.  She claims there is no fact to support that but your article has given me a rebuttal.  That it’s not so much making people’s I.Q. drop but it’s weakening the ability to think abstractly along with other media. I read constantly and was reading at college levels in grade-school. She doesn’t read unless she’s studying but we both can sit there and pick apart every word obama says and figure out how much “hope” he’s actually talking about.  We do that as equals.

I thank you for saying what I’d come to suspect but you have given me facts I can use to explain it to others.

Report this

By optipessi mist, November 11, 2008 at 7:02 am Link to this comment

By optipessi mist, November 11 at 4:08 am #

Mr. Hedges,

There is no legislation or man made law against NOT THINKING FOR YOURSELF. 

However, there is a natural law which produces two inescapable basic physical responses.  The two responses are pain and pleasure. 

There are no pre-requisites, minimum GPA, entrance exams, or tuition that bar entrance into that institution of higher learning known as the school of hard knocks.  In fact, there is NO READING REQUIRED.  There is one string attached. The school of hard knocks is like the Eagles “Hotel California”, ‘You can check in any time you like, but you can never leave…’ From the day we are born until the day we die our enrollment is permanent 24/7. 

In your article, you rail against unfounded information (print or images).  Yet, you cite no sources for the facts, figures, statistics, etc. that you incorporate in to the text of your article.  Footnotes and a bibliography would a have gone a long way toward making your point. The two source references are a minimum requirement given the subject matter of your article.
Without them your article fits best into the blogosphere.  Without them it is simply your opinion buttressed by the same source of information used by the image addicted masses in your article.  The acronym for that source of information is SWAG.  It stands for SCIENTIFIC WILD ASS GUESS

Report this

By Newspeak, November 11, 2008 at 6:38 am Link to this comment

Regarding Hedges’ comments on education and illiteracy,
and the possible influence of Obama’s election on all this:

I think that having again a president who is very well educated,
who speaks at a much higher level than most politicians
(and many pundits), who is intellectually
curious, who cares about education and as a former university lecturer understands what education can and should be, will do a tremendous amount
just by setting a good example to encourage a reversal of some of the trends of which Hedges speaks. Furthermore, I believe he will demand more of us, and that as a result we will demand more of ourselves.  (What did Bush ever demand of us other than our continued complicity and gullibility?)

Of course, I hope this will be accompanied by concrete actions reversing many of Bush’s disastrous policies.

A specific plea in this regard:
we desperately need higher teachers’ salaries but also SMALLER CLASS SIZES.
Why doesn’t anyone ever mention that? Maybe because it is “too expensive”; but as I learned from a bumper sticker, “if you think education is expensive, try ignorance!”

Anyone who has taught at any level knows that 25 students is about the maximum for really being able to control the class and interact with the students the way you should.
Adding say “just”  another 5 students makes for a huge qualitative   negative difference.

Students need personal contact with good, motivated, (so, not overworked and underpaid) teachers….
there is no easy way and no quick, cheap solution.

Throw away all the fancy PCs, do away with needless tests and return to real thinking and real teaching. So much of the rest then takes care of itself.

Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, November 11, 2008 at 6:24 am Link to this comment

Nerfballs have no weight. And eugenics is the answer of Nazism.
You think some represents all.  You are included in the all.  Unless you think your genes are better than everybody else’s.

thebeerdoctor speaks the truth about Shakespeare’s popularity. Them [sic] English folks loved gore and blood and beheadings.  Leonard Bernstein, the great orchestra conductor, composer, and musician loved jazz.  He used to listen to jazz to relax and said it was cerebral.  He also loved to dance to disco.  Wynton Marsalis, the great classic trumpeter frequently plays jazz.  Anyone who doesn’t like jazz, that is their prerogative but it doesn’t mean jazz is not a show of excellence in human creativity. 

Somliar can speak well about music, so can a few of us.  Jazz, rock, most music forms have an art to them.  Only the ignorant about music would not think so.  You may have your prejudices. But that does not determine art.  Personal preference is only a small part. Some in the music world would say it has no part.  We have had this argument before over visual art.  Is this the forum to rehash it?

KDelphi, most often enjoy and respect your opinions.  Reducing consumerism means not buying products as a nation.  Numbers count.  Your argument ‘there is only so much to consume’ is true; however it is not relevant to consumerism as an activity of the corporate world.  Much of what you say is correct but they are side issues to consumerism.  Yes there is too much of it.  Products are rammed down our individual, and collective, throats.  My point is there is no stopping the runaway train of advertising.  Again, one has to see the larger perspective.  It is the same with irresponsible news media.  It ain’t going to go away unless the numbers stop watching and listening to them.  Dollars rule.  You want dollars too, only you want them to come a certain way.  I agree with you, and Outraged, that public dollars, public commercial-free airtime, fairness, etc., is the “good” way to conduct a country such as America.  What we want will take careful crafting and time.  Convincing an illiterate public is difficult because the corporate world is competing with us for their attention.  It simply is not balanced.  To make it balanced, we have to give better arguments, better promises, evidence our arguments and promises are better.  The Illiterate Public lives in the now, carpe diem.  Consumerism is a permanent and has become a genetic affliction. What are the realistic remedies? 

I haven’t seen anyone here say Obama is not being given his media due.  Hence no conclusion exists that anyone wants Obama 24/7.

The issue about teaching will not be settled easily.  I will reduce my argument to say yes, there are good teachers, and not so good.  And the reasons have been stated well.  Often teachers are pushed through college teacher programs at a rate that doesn’t allow for them to become ejumacated!  I know this for a fact as I taught in a teacher training program for a decade.  Some of us do our very best to give them the skills to teach in the best way.  Many of them do not get it. Yet they are graduated regardless of the average GPA they might get.  While true GPAs do not a potentially great person make, it is a general indicator.  As a result you get a tons of C students. Not brilliant, average with a humdrum excitement to teach.  But the need for teachers is huge.  We are all clamoring for better education, more to be educated.  It is a fact that teachers are paid a menial wage and the best minds do not wind up in the field.  I think I mentioned elsewhere that as a substitute I make less than a McDonald’s clerk. Texas wages for subs is 1/3 that of California. Their COLA is not 1/3 that of California.  It is about equal with the exception of housing, but even there it is beginning to even up.  Why do I teach?  I love it!  I think it is the finest profession that exists.

Report this

By Newspeak, November 11, 2008 at 6:22 am Link to this comment

Hedges as usual addresses a key issue facing us.
I do take issue, however with Hedges’ next-to last sentence:
“Obama used hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign funds to appeal to and manipulate this illiteracy and irrationalism to his advantage… “

Perhaps I should ignore this; maybe it reflects a bit of the guilt and bitterness of a Nader supporter who secretly thinks Nader’s spoiler game might have helped issue in eight years of Bush.

I still remember the ignominy of
Nader missing a golden opportunity to demonstrate real statesmanship by
throwing his support to Gore at the last moment; and who knows, maybe that WOULD have made the difference…

This sentence misses the point that we are in a war for the future of our country and our world. When a Sarah Palin is able to win almost half the vote,
despite (or because of!) all her ignorance, lies and delusions (a scary thought: she home-schools her own kids!!!!) and when the likes of Rush and Sean fill the airwaves with their rightwing poisonous invective, we are in a battle for our survival. Getting Barak elected was
essential, and is a huge relief. Now comes reality, and he has a huge weight on his back of all our expectations;
Bush has left him an unbelievably huge mess he will be forced to deal with.

But I did not find his messages manipulative. Rather I found them inspiring; the word manipulative implies a cynicism which I for one simply don’t see there.
For me, genuine inspiration is the opposite of manipulation…

The two sides are NOT equal: a main reason we need the Dems in there is
to reverse the total immersion in insanity this nation has had during the Bush nightmare, which has led us to the dirty insanity of the campaign tactics of Palin and McCain, and the very real specter of an American brand of

The right wing has framed (as George Lakoff explains it) the discourse for much too long in a false way; Barak’s astuteness and that of his campaign advisors has helped re-frame the national discussion in a much more positive and constructive way.

The mainstream media has let them get away with this for far too long;
it is the battle of truthdig, and others, to let a thousand flowers of ideas
and inspiration bloom on the net, to counter not only the big lies being told but also the even bigger fundamental forces of antihumanity, anti-logic, hatred and

The counter to the rightwing hate cannot be leftwing hate.
This is what Barak seems to intuitively understand. If he can correct our course as a nation in only this small way, it can already be a great thing.

  I myself already find his election, and the way of his campaign, an enormous inspiration to try to take action and get things done, and to maintain my own standards of what is important and what is right…. there have been emails going back and forth between me and my friends, beginning or ending with the words, “YES WE CAN!!!” And my guess is, this is taking place all over the country, all over the world…

We are in a battle not only for our future, but for our very souls,
and that is the main thing that I think Barak has understood, has got right.

Beyond that, he can’t do much, without each of us. It is, truly up to us…..
let’s do it, let’s keep him honest. let’s push for change, for honesty, for integrity, but let us realize the enormity of both the challenge and of the promise.

Report this

By optipessi mist, November 11, 2008 at 5:08 am Link to this comment

Mr. Hedges,

There is no legislation or man made law against NOT THINKING FOR YOURSELF. 

However, there is a natural law which produces two inescapable basic physical responses.  The two responses are pain and pleasure. 

There are no pre-requisites, minimum GPA, entrance exams, or tuition that bar entrance into that institution of higher learning known as the school of hard knocks.  In fact, there is NO READING REQUIRED.  There is one string attached. The school of hard knocks is like the Eagles “Hotel California”, ‘You can check in any time you like, but you can never leave…’  From the day we are born until the day we die our enrollment is permanent 24/7. 

In your article, you rail against unfounded information (print or images).  Yet, you cite no sources for the facts, figures, statistics, etc. that you incorporate in to the text of your article.  Footnotes and a bibliography would a have gone a long way toward making your point. The two source references are a minimum requirement given the subject matter of your article.
Without them your article fits best into the blogosphere.  Without them it is simply your opinion buttressed by the same source of information used by the image addicted masses in your article.  The acronym for that source of information is SWAG.  It stands for SCIENTIFIC WILD ASS GUESS.

Report this
thebeerdoctor's avatar

By thebeerdoctor, November 11, 2008 at 4:31 am Link to this comment

For those who do not know who David Kelly is, he is the writer producer of television shows such as The Practice, and Boston Legal. Shakespeare was in the entertainment business, the vast number of the great unwashed who went to the Globe Theater liked the violent action, hence the “bloody guts in the room” and works such as Titus Andronicus were a real crowd pleaser, with their dismemberment and cannibalistic baking. Also Shakespeare had box office competition from a performing bear, which is also mentioned in one of his plays.
The complaint about people not listening to western European classical music, falls on deaf ears. America has its own classical music, it is called jazz. But nobody has to listen to anything they do not care for… this suppose to be a land where freedom is celebrated.
The complaints about Google and advertising? Maybe it is time to get the Firefox version of the browser, where pop-up windows are prevented, unless you choose to allow them.

Report this

By ChrisA, November 11, 2008 at 2:29 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The Dumbing Down Of America…

Thanks NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND!  Instead of beefing up to bring along those who needed help…you’ve left them ALL in the dust!

Report this

By KDelphi, November 10, 2008 at 11:27 pm Link to this comment

First of all, I really dont think that Hedges was talking about spelling, grammar or syntax. He was talking about a lack of the desire to understand the “other”.Anyone who thinks that Hedges actually thought Nader would win, is being silly. He endorsed Obama—and listeend to him a little longer.

Anyone who thinks that the media is not giving “Obama his due”, must want Obama 24/7.

She—I dont know, we had better hope to hell it is not “useless’ to try to reduce “consumerism”. There is only so much to consume! Sure we can grow more food, use “alternative energy sources” as the “optitmist” says. That wil help.But, alot of the increase in crops is due to chemicals that are already shortening lifespans.The population is growing exponentially, quanitity of food does not equate with quality, and the distribution problem is so huge—-and wil get worse as we have less and less fresh water available.The poor will suffer the most, and, I just do not think this is time for half-measures.

Whether schools are dysfunctional depends largely on where you live . I have no idea why teachers are being so defensive. I did not see one post (couldnt read them all) that said that teachers were to blame for the problem. Parents are all good and well—if you have them. If they can read. If they give a rat’s butt. If they arent working 80 hrs a week,. If they have heatlh care, maternity leave, child care, etc. Its all just smoke and mirrors without the basics.

School in the uS shoudl not be funded primarily with property taxes. This make then too dependent on the wealth of their immediate community..The schools in m y part of town keep housing prices low—that is why I bought here—I dont have kids. But a friend if mine who wanted to buy with me refused the schools. Dont blame her. We jsut passed a levy, but the schools are really bad. They have no money. Dubya even cut back on school lunch programs and WIC (women, infants and children! psyho)There is no transportation at high school.No cooling, plumbing floods, etc.

100s of 1000s on a campaign is ridiculous in anyone’s book. It is a waste of money.I dont know why , in the US, we always equate the quality of something with how much it costs. “you get what you pay for”—well, not with our govt! If you want to know the truth, I thought Obama’s final speeches saying things liek “They only had one check a month, but they gave..” He had alot more money than anyone ever needs. He souldve sent people back their unemployment or disability money.

The internet woudl be better “news” if it wasnt so googlized, propagandized on many sites, advertising everywhere (if you get free mail)and, often , ther is no way to know the sources.

I agree with Outraged—public funding, public airtime, term limits, Fairnes Doctrine (I know they have “frightened” people with it—dont let them do that, peopel).Among other things.

troublesum—I am not sure if most great musicians would agree with you that blues, jazz and rock are not art forms or are necessarily inferior to classical music.You can be very educated about a form of music and not like it.Different music for different moods. It is a matter of taste.Music, arts, films, etc. are all instruments of the soul—they cannot be objectively judged, except as to their meaning to the individual. Some blues and jazz take much study to really understand.

All form of arts can be a child’s way out of hell. We need to invest in all forms of it. It beats war.

I think that THIS (music arts dance) is a way out of our shallowness. It can change everything and make life worth living.

Zeya—What you said reminded me of the saying. “A corporation masquerading as a human being”.

“The basis of optimism is sheer terror.”  ~Oscar Wilde

Optimisn is highly overrated.

“I am not a pessimist; to perceive evil where it exists is, in my opinion, a form of optimism.”
— Roberto Rossellini

Report this

By straight_talk, November 10, 2008 at 11:19 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Since most parents these days use the TV or video games as a kind of baby sitter, you don’t get any significant parenting skills into the mix. This has led to most parents off-loading that to school teachers. The awful behavior you see on Super Nanny has now been dumped into our school rooms. Consequently, the average attrition time for public school teachers is five years and for private schools it’s still only ten. When I was a kid, many of my teachers had been teaching for anywhere from 15 to 30 years or more.

So now we have a Catch 22. We have a dysfunctional educational system and people who don’t put enough value on what it SHOULD be doing but ISN’T to pay teachers what is needed to ATTRACT competent people into the system even if the children knew how to behave themselves because their parents had some clue about how to parent. Worse, paying the hoards of incompetent teachers already in the system more does nothing to improve things in the short run.

If you think teachers are generally competent, I can tell you it’s all relative. I speak Spanish well enough to be taken for an Argentine when I’m in Mexico. I learned long ago never to speak Spanish with a high school Spanish teacher unless s/he is a native speaker. They turn red, keep speaking English, and try to get away from you because they DON’T KNOW THE LANGUAGE.

I can say the same thing about hoards of music teachers, since I’m a musician. I have watched the most miserably incompetent music majors graduate with degrees in music education and go out and teach kids how to sing and play off pitch because they couldn’t sing or play on pitch themselves or teach anyone else how to, of course.

There are so many English teachers who don’t speak correct English, math teachers who teach formulas without a clue concerning their underlying conceptual basis, etc. So it’s a truly sick situation. I feel lucky to have gone to school way back there when I did. I didn’t appreciate then just how wonderfully competent many of my teachers were, and neither did I appreciate just how well behaved my fellow classmates were.

Report this

By straight_talk, November 10, 2008 at 11:15 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“I agree with someone who said on this forum, literacy begins at home.  If the parents appreciate good education and abilities, then the children, students, usually do too.”
~ Shenonymous, quoting someone else and agreeing

I also agree, with a few notable exceptions. I have witnessed many times in my 64 years how the children from families who speak poor English continue to speak poor English even after getting Master’s degrees and even doctorates. Linguistic habits reinforced every day at home die very hard and schools seldom have a strong enough impact to countermand this, especially when it comes to language.

I see more literacy here than I do in most forums, perhaps precisely because the nature of the article attracts comments from more literate people. I have noticed in most comments to articles in general that the level of literacy even of those who bother to read and write in the first place is generally very, very low. The ability to engage in rational discourse is even lower.

It’s interesting that when I was in college in the 1960s I was told that newspaper articles should be aimed at the 8th grade level. I notice comments here have reduced that to the sixth grade or lower. Worse, what used to be the sixth grade level when I was in school is now the 8th grade level.

I got my master’s degree decades after receiving my B.A. at a school that rejected four out of every five applicants and the freshmen coming in were still shockingly ignorant and illiterate compared to what I was expecting as judged from my undergraduate years. I was told by some professors about what they called “grade point inflation”, which meant that a 2.75/4.0 GPA in 1967 was maybe roughly equivalent to a 3.5/4.0 GPA in 2000.

I do find the quality of teaching also to be vastly inferior if we just make a broad sweep across the board. Again, there are notable exceptions, of course. A major problem I see is what teachers in elementary and secondary education are paid. It’s not competitive for people with any real smarts unless they’re just ready to sacrifice financially for the pure love of it. I have always loved to teach, but haven’t been able to afford to do it. The salaries are just too darn low.

So what does this tell us? Teachers are traditionally considered professionals, but they don’t make anything like professional salaries. Part of that is inherited from the very obsolete idea that teachers are generally married women who are earning a second income in an ancient economy that supported one breadwinner as sufficient. That’s sure no longer true on any front.

Another problem is that an illiterate society doesn’t value education. People who don’t value something won’t pay for it. So there is a huge lack of political will to pay teachers salaries that attract highly competent people. Another piece of the story is that often both parents work or there is only one parent. In either case, they don’t have much time to be with their children.

Our parents read to us every night from when we were barely old enough to talk. After we were old enough, that is, in the first few grades of elementary school, they often read from classical works of literature that were not so deep as to be inaccessible to intelligent young children of highly literate parents.

Report this

By NERF, November 10, 2008 at 11:00 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

this has been going on for years. i used to work for a tv network daytime, we would get letters everyday from illiterates, who think that our soap opera characters are real people.

who do you think is watching idol or dancing shows.

meanwhile china is producing 1000 engineers every week.
do the math. 

eugenics is the answer.

Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, November 10, 2008 at 10:39 pm Link to this comment

There is no seeming about it Outraged, I definitely asserted schools are not dysfunctional.  You haven’t really produced any evidence that they are.  General declarations are not substantiations.  And substantiations would necessarily be on a one by one incidence or you would be committing the fallacy of inclusion.  Teachers are held accountable which is given witness by the incessant testing (TACs) that goes on.  And my comment that literacy ‘begins’ in the home does not say that it ends there.  There was no implication that teachers do not have the responsibility to hone that skill.  Which really is the intention of teaching in the first place.  It is a given.  Seems to me you are dwelling on insignificant distinctions.  Which you may do.  But it is such a waste of time.  But suit yourself.

If the illiterate are “never’ going to understand, Sammy J, then what exactly is the argument? Why bother trying to make them.  Wouldn’t it be just another pissing in the wind exercise?  But then, some people love to do that.  Yes, the illiterates are missing out, yes, they are being robbed.  You are not quite correct that good thinking skills are not being taught in colleges.  I happened to have taught plenty critical thinking classes, and there are in every institution of higher learning a philosophy department that teaches a sequential set of logic courses along with all the other “thinking” philosophy classes.  It is not colleges fault if students come to their halls effete and uninterested.  I didn’t find that kind of student in my classes by the way.  No one is breaking anybody’s arm to go to college and if someone finds it too boring, then they are simply wasting their money and their time and will become boring individuals at the same time.  So what?  The world can handle boring people.  Those who do get the most out of classes what is offered will be the ones of the world who are mentally enriched people.  Also, you don’t seem to realize there is a retention system that evaluates teachers of colleges and universities that makes sure the teachers and instructors are providing the best content in their classes.  This process occurs every semester.  And students as well get to evaluate their teachers.  It is difficult to tell exactly where you are getting your attitude. 

However, the excellent Guardian article provided by Left points out several problems in education that is external to the teachers and that is the strong arm control the school boards have on the education process as far as content, and the advent of the influence of religion on education.  Particularly education of a diverse ethnic population such as found in the United States.  Teachers are not able to teach.  Aside from extolling the virtues of the teachers where I teach, there is that anti-rationalism aspect to the classroom each and every one I’ve been in that has a Bible in plain sight.  And occasionally a stack of religious books.  Teachers talk religious-associated activities with students and promote a particular religious point of view during class time.  The case made for the anti-intellectualism by the “right-wing” elite is a well taken point.  The article is much appreciated.  This one is much better than Hedges by the way and the similarities are not as close as you think.

Report this

By SusanSunflower, November 10, 2008 at 9:57 pm Link to this comment

Sort of interesting, when Team Obama won the primary, they persisted in hectoring and sniping at anyone expressing any doubts about “their guy” ...

now, he’s won the election and they are still sniping ...

Bad winners then, lousy winners now ...

Report this

By Tom Peters, November 10, 2008 at 9:50 pm Link to this comment

Whether you are professional Journalist, or had to take the class to check off a box of needed classes, I seem to remember one item in the class, that at the time struck me as odd, so I will call it Step 0.

“Write your articles at the sixth grade level, so as to appeal to the greatest number of readers”.

My guess, they did it just for the sake of selling more advertising.

Why are you so surprised that the monster created by your profession has now multiplied and mutated? It now includes broadcast and the internet as well.

Journalism, as a profession, needs to take ownership of this problem and begin the change, starting with a step 1.

And fear not, the uneducated masses will once again become current on their reading and comprehension skills (Perhaps even to the 10.5 grade level).

Report this

By Left, November 10, 2008 at 9:42 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I hope I am not going to be blasted, if someone find grammatical errors. English is not my first language. Irony is,  this is not first time to notice that people commenting extremely important topic on this way.
Lastly, recently I read article from George Monibot in Guardian here is the link:

Similarities are not accidental! I guess.

Report this
Outraged's avatar

By Outraged, November 10, 2008 at 9:30 pm Link to this comment

Re: Sammy J

Your comment: “The problem is fundamentally a cultural one. And the illiterates are being robbed, by those who dictate consumer culture, of an aspect of life which is, arguably, the current apex of humanity. The ammount of knowledge available to us all is staggering - unfortunately, and as a concomitant feature of this, it requires excellent parsing skills to draw any good out of all of it. These skills are not being taught even in our colleges,” (emphasis mine)

I agree.

Report this

By OGP, November 10, 2008 at 9:15 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

On a parallel subject, when the human brain gathers information by reading words on a page (or screen), the information enters through the left hemisphere, the rational part, and will be processed on a thoughtful, analytical basis. But images received by watching pictures on a screen are processed by the right hemisphere, the emotional part, which reacts on a gut level, using more primitive, lower brain stem functions. Thus, one of the unintended side effects of the switch Americans have made from READING the news to WATCHING the news is that we are thinking less and reacting more.

Report this
Outraged's avatar

By Outraged, November 10, 2008 at 9:07 pm Link to this comment

Re: Lefeller

Your comment: “As far as predictions go, I know I predicted Naders loss, but like most who said Nader did not have a chance, we are all now illiterates?”

You are “pole vaulting” to conclusions here.  Is it that for YOU simply because Hedges supported Nader he hasn’t any premise on ANY topic…?  I would call that an ideological assumption.  Or the ol’ “I’m right, cause more people did what I did…specious in it’s own right, and downright groupthink in reality.

Report this

By Sammy J, November 10, 2008 at 8:53 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Unfortunately, the illiterate caste of which Hedges speaks is never going to understand what they are missing out on. The problem is fundamentally a cultural one. And the illiterates are being robbed, by those who dictate consumer culture, of an aspect of life which is, arguably, the current apex of humanity. The ammount of knowledge available to us all is staggering - unfortunately, and as a concomitant feature of this, it requires excellent parsing skills to draw any good out of all of it. These skills are not being taught even in our colleges, unless you go in for one of those hippie liberal arts degrees, and even then you have to invest alot of determined effort, or else you come out able to say you have read “Hamlet”, but darned if you can remember who the protagonist in the play was. I hate how astute Hedges always is - yet, maybe, there is hope for our culture if we can instill in people the importance of literature and history. The most frustrating part of this is that I know there are already people rolling their eyes at this, thinking “literature?” Or maybe they’re not, but if they were reading it, they would be.

Report this
Outraged's avatar

By Outraged, November 10, 2008 at 8:49 pm Link to this comment

Re: Shenonymous

Your comment: “It is patently not true that schools are dysfunctional regardless of Outraged experience.

I don’t feel you’ve qualified your assertion as in, “regardless of Outraged experience”.  It seems you are asserting that schools are not dysfunctional…. I disagree, however your premise that “teachers work hard” is only ONE aspect of the larger forest.  And I’ve not dissed teachers in general, however there is a measure wherein they TOO have not been held accountable.  Even in this, they TOO are in the system, which was in a larger sense, my premise.

Your comment: “I agree with someone who said on this forum, literacy begins at home.  If the parents appreciate good education and abilities, then the children, students, usually do too.”

This assertion is specious.  One could say yes and no and still NOT be wrong.  This argument becomes the “integrity of the individual” argument, which is… as it should be, valid.  Therefore, what you are claiming here is that “the parents need to instill this in their children…however you are also claiming (inadvertently) that teachers cannot.  Both, are false.

Report this
Leefeller's avatar

By Leefeller, November 10, 2008 at 8:41 pm Link to this comment

Hedges reminds me of an old man complaining about those damn hippies and their horrible music back in the 70’s.

Hedges sour grapes over Nader’s loss again. Is this the third time Nader has done this? I suggest their is something wrong with Hedges ability to use reason.

As far as predictions go, I know I predicted Naders loss, but like most who said Nader did not have a chance, we are all now illiterates?

For some reason I feel the exact same way about the McCain supporters.

Report this

By Joe the Educated, November 10, 2008 at 8:27 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“Obama used hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign funds to appeal to and manipulate this illiteracy and irrationalism to his advantage”

Marxist: Heretics Via the mechanism of Marxist Irrationalism we have returned once more to the era of burning of heretics and books.

Didn’t Sara Palin want books banned from her library?

The Republican Party is more guilty of playing up to peoples fears and ignorance. Thats why they lost.

Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, November 10, 2008 at 8:23 pm Link to this comment

Interesting personal site Smoliar in that you have a google icon to advertise in the upper right corner.  No problem here though, I just wanted to point out the ubiquitousness of consumerism. Regardless of how small.  It strikes me as somewhat a useless exercise to think consumerism can be reduced.  In what realistic ways does anybody think that can be done?  The genie is out of the bottle.  Doesn’t anybody watch regular television? Yeah like most Americans who don’t make more than $40,000 a year. Besides how would one ever know what to do about male erectile dysfunction?  How about supporting your local PBS station for about $200 a year?  Would that make a difference?  Probably not.  Advertising is everywhere.  Even PBS these days.

The actors in Greek tragedy were hired and paid by the state and actually assigned to the poets.  It cost plenty of money to pay three skilled professional actors, to train the chorus, to get good costumes, and to create effective scenery. Nothing changes.  Actually the Athenian theater was financed by the state from taxes paid by the wealthiest families.  Sounds like that is what President-elect Obama wants to do.  Subject the wealthy to liturgies (special taxes) to fund major public expenses.  Seems like too sensible a way to conduct life.  We could learn a thing or two from the ancient Greeks.  The thing is, the ancient Greek wealthy accepted paying these taxes willingly, go figure! because it was a public service and because it allowed them to gain popularity and distinction.  Now what Americans would do that?

Part of what Hedges says is true and part is not true.  And Virginia 777 is right.  She probably teaches school as do I.  It is patently not true that schools are dysfunctional regardless of Outraged experience.  But it is true that high school students cannot read.  As an early retired university professor who could not stand staying home, I substitute and I teach every grade from pre-K to seniors in high school and I teach any and all subjects.  I get to see what the teachers teach in the entire range of classes.  In the long time that I have been teaching here, I have been impressed at the hard work the teachers do.  They have always had the most impressive lesson plans.  In the lower grades there is a huge emphasis on reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. Less time on the arts! But at least they are not banished.  You would think that by the time these students got to high school they would all be model literate students.  But that is not the reality.  High schools do not always get the matriculated students that are taught in the school district lower grades and students are moved around incredibly by their parents. A lot of these students are either immigrants or with immigrant parents and reading was not a high priority from where they came. I am appalled at the general lack of reading skills among the high school students and it seems like the teachers are running backwards. However, the teachers in every single class whether it is English or not, even shop, require the students to read, often read out loud, and write.  It is remedial for a great many of the students.  The teachers are doing the best they can.  And these students are tested up the wazoo!  Literacy is a serious business in my school district.  I agree with someone who said on this forum, literacy begins at home.  If the parents appreciate good education and abilities, then the children, students, usually do too.

Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, November 10, 2008 at 8:22 pm Link to this comment

More support for the schools is mandated if an empowered public is desirable.  Hedges is right that the illiterate are manipulated and exploited.  However, he is wrong that all political leaders no longer need to be competent.  This election proved that.  Obama is highly educated and articulate.  Whether he is competent remains to be seen but because of he has intellectual skills there is the promise that he is.  It is not a post-literate society which implies hopelessness.  We teachers work our collective butts off to prevent that from happening.  Hedges comparison between the Lion King and Hamlet is untenable.  The stage presentation of Lion King was a stunning tour de force in dancing, stage art,  makeup as well as music and dialogue.  Hamlet has a completely different intention.  We do not know to what degree the hemorrhaging economy can be stopped. We have to wait and see.  At least the hysteria seems to have stopped. 

Hedges criticism about the millions of dollars spent in the campaign is rhetorical and would need analyzed rather than railed against.  Those millions of dollars apparently is what it took to get past the same neocons rightly being demonized. 

The criticism about Americans’ inability to think critically is only wrong if it is thought the election outcome was wrong.  Hedges would have liked Nader to have won.  Because Nader didn’t even make a blip doesn’t mean the vote went wrong or that Amerian voters were illiterate.  The Naysayers always want to color a worse picture than what is really the case.  He wants to say America is dumming down because of the language skills of presidential debaters.  His strawman arguments about Voltaire and Mickey Mouse are silly at best.  Newspapers are being pushed to the margins because of the effects of the Internet and nobody wants to read their bland offerings.  The number of advertisements in newspapers is unconscionable and the express reason why I stopped buying news in paper form.  That doesn’t mean I’m illiterate.  It is just that better news is had on the Internet.  Hedges once again is giving the sky is falling journalism.  But then we don’t expect him to change, do we?

Report this

By mgriff20, November 10, 2008 at 7:51 pm Link to this comment

Excellent critique, Mr. Hedges; your analysis is devastatingly accurate!

Report this

By SusanSunflower, November 10, 2008 at 7:45 pm Link to this comment

I have thought that part of the reason for this “illiteracy” and this “apathy” is the fairly intense social danger of expressing an opinion, hey, about anything, that has not be vetted by the prevailing group think, MSM, status quo/“conventional wisdom” (which is often bleakly negative and conservative).

My whole life, I’ve always found it very difficult to find ANYONE TO TALK TO ... the internet is “great” for that again it tends towards preaching to the choir, echo chamber (with a few nuts and obsessives thrown in to make actual “CONVERSATION” difficult)

The “wrong” opinion voiced aloud—again McCarthyism alive and well—can be devastating.

I’ve been there, I’ve been punished. It’s real.

The problem is that for most people it’s seen as “not worth it.”

Shut up and drive.

Report this
Outraged's avatar

By Outraged, November 10, 2008 at 7:42 pm Link to this comment

Re: Virginia777

Your comment: “It is not only false, it is harmful and racist to call our public schools “dysfunctional”.

I agree with KDelphi, in that I don’t ascertain that that is what Hedges was claiming.  I also think our public schools are dysfunctional.  I’ve certainly been a victim of it.  But I was also curious as to your premise that it was a “racist” and “harmful” comment.  I don’t see that way, can you elaborate?

It IS a many faceted issue.  As in… students who are not “ready to learn” or undernourished or not well-rested, faculty who do not challenge students, students who see school as a sentence and not an opportunity, schools which endorse conformity and not creative/intellectual exploration, parents who believe the 3R’s are all that is needed, parents who feel that every petty little thing is paramount (the all mountains-no molehills set), propagandized textbooks (most often the lies of omission),  testing attached to funding, suppression of teachers’ knowledge of a topic, corporate bombardment in educational materials .....I could go on.  However, these things CAN be addressed and necessary measures taken.

I choose to home-school my children for several of these reasons, although I am adamantly FOR public education.  In fact, I feel that education NEEDS to become more open, in EVERY aspect.  Let my children take those courses for which I am not the best teacher, allow parents easy access to books, teachers, courses and materials.  In the area where I currently live home schooling is “a crime” and the ideological premise the school system adheres to, DENIES access….why?  We can work together.

In addition, we’ve set up this sort of “one size fits all” mantra with even the youngest of our students.  Again…why?

From my perspective, schools should be as open to parents as libraries are to the public, but they’re not.  They are as closed as they are arrogant of their abilities.

Many times I’ve been questioned (especially “back when”) whether my children would be able to “relate to others” or “function in the real world”.... LOL.  The fact is my children ARE and always WERE in the real world, number one.  And those who questioned my decision couldn’t qualify the ability of the publicly or privately schooled masses to rise to the challenge of “the real world” anyway.

So they say.. the proof is in the pudding, and in that context I can assert only this, some they will and some they won’t (don’t get me wrong some went to college and well..some didn’t…not that that is necessarily good nor bad).  However, my children all read regularly as young adults…. and this is the beginning of knowledge.  They also THINK, (it was a requirement) lest you find yourself on the dark side of the moon and you’d be remiss as an offspring of this ol’ lady to venture into that vacuum.  LOL

Was I tyrannical is this regard…?  Well…let’s not be judgemental…Let’s think of it more as illuminating…..LOL What would my children say…. they love me, and I love them (on our “good days”).  Hey… we’re all THINKERS, so it makes for interesting “conversation”.....

Report this

By Dane lewis, November 10, 2008 at 6:54 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Honestly i do believe it. Starting with my family and friends of which i have come up with 40 every single one has read a book. in fact i do not think i can recall any one i have ever meat that could not read (at least no one over the age of 2)

Report this

By Timbo, November 10, 2008 at 6:39 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)


Well now, I think you just nestled yourself right into the author’s category of people who lack adequate comprehension in this society. Did you read the article? I didn’t note anything in the text about racial tolerance.

How did you get to the conclusion that labeling our nation’s school system as “dysfunctional” was a racially based attack. If you read it again, and try not to focus too much attention on the emotionally charged words (Grrr…I know, I know), you’d realize that the numbers speak for themselves and they say that our culture’s degradation is in part a function of its poor literacy condition.

You get an F- for the day, because you read things that aren’t there.

Report this

By Stephen Smoliar, November 10, 2008 at 6:05 pm Link to this comment

Zeya, actually the addiction is to the whole complex of consumerist behavior, many aspects of which you cited.  However, we need to realize the extent to which the Internet has become a major driver (pusher?) of consumerism;  and, of course, the leader of that pack of drivers is Google (whose CEO is now one of Obama’s economic advisors)!  It may be unfair to compare Google to a drug dealer, but it may still make for a useful literary trope!

Report this

By KDelphi, November 10, 2008 at 6:02 pm Link to this comment

Stephen Somoliar—I made a mistake in the posting…here is one of the links to the sites I have on my desktop—I am sortve trying to remember what ilttle Danish my father and gf taught me, so I have these liniks on my desktop. I AM NOT A NATIVE BORN DANE—my father was. (I rather wish I was).My post was a compilation of posts I had on the word. I put quotes aroudn it but neglected to include links, and apparently copied one phrase, as if I was saying it myself. Sorry.


From sites, experiences there ( I did work study) and family—yes. Conducive to conversation would be close. But there is no literal tanslation. It has to do with humility, comfort, warmth (get cold up there!), and forthrightness. But, stil…lol

Virginia777—I did not interpret this as Hedges saying anything negative about HAVING public schooling. He was refering to the sad state of our public schooling. I think , the branching off of charter schools and faith based schools only serves to segregate and costs more money. Privitization almost always does.

Havent read all posts, but, had to make plain I an not a native Dane, nor do I speak Danish in any way that a native Dane could probably understand!(My uncle would pretend!) lol It is an extremely difficult language to learn, if you dont grow up with it. And my GF (sadly) forbid anyone to speak it—you know"We’re Americans now”.

Report this

By Netizen, November 10, 2008 at 6:01 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)


It is obviously extremely well-thought out, and must have required quite a bit of crafting to get it to this degree of perfection.

Thank you!

Report this

Page 6 of 7 pages « First  <  4 5 6 7 >

Right 1, Site wide - BlogAds Premium
Right 2, Site wide - Blogads
Right Skyscraper, Site Wide
Right Internal Skyscraper, Site wide
Join the Liberal Blog Advertising Network

Like Truthdig on Facebook