So, I would like to do a little bit of a cliché here and open with a quote….“Knowledge is the only good, and ignorance the only evil.” You may be expecting me to tell you that this is from a famous philosopher or political leader….but it’s actually from a fortune cookie. (hold up little fortune). It just happened to be that I stumbled on it in my cookie while working on this project and it really spoke to my presentation. Now, as corny as it may be because it’s from a fortune cookie, it is just so truthful. For example, take a look at this picture of what has been coined in our time as “bumper-sticker politics.”
I think it’s a safe bet to say that the proud owner of this vehicle wouldn’t be able to locate a Middle Eastern country, for example, Iraq, on a map. Now, can I just have seven volunteers stand up, please?
Here you see a blank map of the Middle East. Each of you, with this laser pointer, are going to identify Iraq – but, I won’t tell you if you’re correct until the end when everyone has gone. Who wants to go first?
Since 2000, there have countless statistics representing the American public’s knowledge, or lack thereof, about the war in Iraq – and, a simple statistic that we saw represented a little bit just now, 1 in 7 American youth cannot locate Iraq on a map. Now, I am going to show you a quick clip from everyone’s favorite late night T.V. host, Jay Leno. In his segments called ‘Jaywalking,’ he patrols the streets of America playing off of American stereotypes – check it out.
Now, my reasoning for showing this clip to you is to preface the research and project I am about to present to you. Mr. Leno is obviously making people feel stupid and advertising the stereotypical ignorant American. While I impart to you this presentation, my intent is the opposite of Jay. I did not, and don’t want to, play off people’s ignorance. Rather, my intent with this project was more to raise awareness of the need of reform in what the American public is knowledgeable about. I have been collecting research as somewhat as a point of analysis, not a point of humor. I just want to make clear that I did not do this project in order to mock people or make fun of people, but rather to make a point. Also, if someone gets offended, not that anyone would, really, but just in case, I apologize in advance
Throughout the past few years, there has been an increasing absorption in America in pop culture in lieu of a political awareness. This is clear to anybody as long as you realize how to recognize it. There are a few things that this national unawareness of politics and issues damages. Primarily, this ignorance threatens the basic concepts of democracy. Secondly, it puts a severe damper on the development of our nation in the global community.
Merriam-Webster defines democracy as a “government by the people; a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly though a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.” If our government is chosen and, theoretically selected by the people, shouldn’t we know who we are voting for?
Not having knowledge, even the most basic facts, about who or what you’re voting for leads to democracy being ineffective. Along with having the knowledge about who is on the ballot, it is seemingly necessary to have knowledge of our basic political history – how much do voters really know about our nation’s political history? Let’s take a look at two simple things…the Bill of Rights and The Simpsons.
The McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum conducted a mass study and found that 22% of Americans could name all five Simpson Family members while only 1 in 1,000 could name all five First Amendment freedoms. But what do these statistics mean? What do they show us? If people have begun to recognize pop culture figures over our own political history it shows us a lack of focus on the media’s part to show us what is important to understanding our system of politics and government.
Author Rick Shenkman has pointed out defining characteristics to help give a foundation to American ignorance. I, in my research, rooted around for proof of his ideas, and without much hassle, found what I was looking for. One of his main ideas for the characterization of ignorance is simply sheer ignorance – which is ignorance of critical facts about important events in the news, how our government works, and who’s in charge. A depressing statistic represents how little people know about how their government works. That statistic is 20%, the percentage of Americans that know how many senators there are. Moving on from the basic workings of our government, “sheer ignorance” is clearly seen in hot political issues.
Take a look at the debate over abortion, a nation-wide issue that is apparently seen in passionate protestors. But how passionate are people when they choose sides without knowing the facts? Obviously not passionate enough because only 30% of Americans are aware that Roe V. Wade was the case that made abortion legal.
The other main factor contributing to American ignorance is negligence: the disinclination to seek reliable sources of information about important news events. Regardless of formatting, 20% of American youth read a paper daily. It was after seeing research like this, and delving deeply into the topic, a lot of which can’t be expressed in the time I have, that my project really took off.
I have noticed over the past few years apathy in my peers towards political issues, be them national or international. So, I decided to take a camera to the streets of Philadelphia and to the hallways of our school to see how people would react to questions and pictures about political hot topics and people, compared to pop culture icons and issues. Overall, the project went very well, although I had to spend the better part of an entire semester condensing over an hour of footage into six minutes.
And honestly, to those of you wondering how much I know about what I’m talking about, a lot of what you’ve seen and will see are ideas and facts that I probably wouldn’t have known without doing this research and project. I mean, we all know that a large portion of the global community thinks of America as somewhat ignorant, but what do we do about it? It is an honest recognition that our country needs to go through to put an end to American ignorance and to stomp out the stereotype of stupid Americans.
Personally, I have used this project and research paper as somewhat of a wakeup call to what we need to do in order to learn more about politics and hot issues that are important to our country.
I hope this project has also served its purpose in imparting to you the importance of something as simple as reading the news for maybe just 10 or 15 minutes a day to catch up on what’s going on. So, if there’s one thing I would ask of all of you, please, read the news. Know what is going on around you, and enjoy this video, I put a lot of work into it.