Friday, November 14, 2014

Beware Ignorance

In the scene in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Scrooge notices two children beneath the robes of the Ghost of Christmas Present. When asked about them, the ghost replies:
"They are Man’s," said the Spirit, looking down upon them. "And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!"
While the Ghost of Christmas Present warns Scrooge of the dangers of neglecting orphans, the cautionary tale is plain: ignorance is the greatest of sins, producing nothing but misery.

Scrooge's ignorance is a sin in The Christmas Carol because he willfully ignores the pain and suffering around him. In his case, he can only redeem his miserable life by learning to reach out to others and to use his great wealth to help the poor and the needy.

Yet, Scrooge's miserly way is only one way ignorance manifests itself. Ignorance, especially willful ignorance, leads people into bondage. Ignorance prevents people from rising to their full potential. Ignorance allows the ambitious and the strong-willed to force their will on others.

I've been teaching history and political science for a long time. More frequently than not these days, I find students who come into my classes ignorant. This is not to say they are stupid. They are ignorant because they lack the basic skills and desires to educate themselves beyond getting a good grade so they can get on to the next class.

One milestone of ignorance is an utter lack of desire to read beyond the canon of liberal dogma. I realize that not everyone will read as broadly and consistently as I do, but I'd be happy if my students would actually read a real history book once in awhile (not one written merely as propaganda), or a biography of a virtuous person, or even a good novel not found on the NY Times Bestseller list.

Students who refuse to read anything that may challenge the concepts that they've been force fed from ernest, yet liberal, teachers make themselves willfully ignorant. Willful ignorance is a mortal sin among the variations of ignorance.

It is one thing to accept the dogmas taught in high school, since we are rarely ever encouraged to challenge our textbooks or our teachers. It is another to close our minds to any other possibilities than those dictated by the narrow and utterly intolerant ideals of liberalism. As Allan Bloom put it in his seminal book The Closing of the American Mind:
When the liberal, or what came to be called the utilitarian, teaching became dominant, as is the case with most victorious causes, good arguments became less necessary; the original good arguments, which were difficult, were replaced by plausible simplifications—or by nothing.
To accomplish this task, modern liberal education de-emphasizes history, to the point of calling the whole of history meaningless, or worse, evil. I rarely encounter history textbooks anymore which do not emphasize identity politics and oppression dogmas. How can college students learn not to be ignorant if all they are ever taught is propaganda and socialist dogmas?

The problem runs deeper than the modern disregard for history. Ignorance steeps our educational system like weak tea, forcing students to care about the meaningless minutiae found in standardized testing, while defunding and deleting all those things that create meaning and importance in human lives: philosophy, art, religion, music.

I refer again to Allan Bloom:
We are like ignorant shepherds living on a site where great civilizations once flourished. The shepherds play with the fragments that pop up to the surface, having no notion of the beautiful structures of which they were once a part.
The doctrines preached in today's schools are dangerous for this one, basic reason, they teach students what to think, not how to think. And, like Dickens' ghost, we must "beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased."