Isn’t Ignorance A Choice?

I have written on this before, that the current outrage over adults and students lack of basic civics and American history knowledge is nothing new.

Yet the media and politicians consistently bemoan such ignorance and blame teachers when the student, family, and social structure of society is not even considered.We (media/culture) glamorize, indoctrinate, and assimilate young people to care more about style, than substance. What do we expect?

According a new study, for the third consecutive year, and hold on it’s a shocker, “the Intercollegiate Studies Institute has found that a large number of Americans cannot pass a basic 33-question civic literacy test on their country’s history and institutions.”


I have come to the conclusion that the reason for such ignorance is choice. It does not matter how great the teacher, if the student does not continue on a path of learning after school most of that knowledge fades. Other things replace it.

I guarantee at one time MOST of these people knew this information, they simply chose to let it go and remember something else. It’s about choosing what’s important and what is not, and our culture dictates this by design.

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6 Responses to Isn’t Ignorance A Choice?

  1. T. Greer says:

    I agree with you entirely. However, I do not know if our culture was always this way, as you seem to suggest in the post you linked to at the beginning of the page.

    I recently finished reading both Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and Daniel Walker Howe’s What God Hath Wrought and came away amazed at the civic interest and general knowledge held by Americans in the antebellum period. Tocqueville notes that every log cabin had a newspaper delivered to it, and that every man (and half the women) belonged to a political or civic society. Likewise, Howe describes the great political and theological debates attended by hundreds, the multiple newspapers that contained full transcriptions of congressional debates, and the flowery petitions signed -and even more importantly, understood- by thousands of Americans across the nation.

    I don’t know what changed. What I do know is that there was a time when your average New Yorker would eagerly pick up his newspaper and read Federalist No. 78 or Webster’s second reply to Haynes, when mothers in sod huts would sit their children down and read them Macbeth, and when voter turnout was over 80%.

    That time is no longer. I often wonder what has caused this dumbing down of America, but I have never received a clear answer. What has changed between now 1900? My best guess would be the introduction of universal education, and the subsequent attitude that intellect is a right to be given by the government, not something to work for in and of itself caused the change. Likewise for civic engagement and the introduction of government welfare programs.

    Of course, this is just speculation on my part. Any input from yourself would be appreciated.

    ~T. Greer, historian-in-training.

  2. Chris says:

    Very thoughtful response, I wish I knew as well…

  3. Ando says:

    I think entertainment has a huge part in civic decline. In the antebellum period what did people have to occupy their free time (if they had any free time between working the family farm and raising their 13 children)? There was little else to do other than read. No TV, no video games, no spectator sports to speak of, no Internet, no movies. I suppose the well-to-do could take in a stage play now and then, but I would guess that for the vast majority reading was the prime pastime, and the readily available reading choices were likely to be the newspapers and the classics. Look at all the entertainment choices we have now. So much to distract us.

  4. You’re absolutely right Chris – over here in the UK it’s exactly the same and what’s so frustrating is the almost complete lack of desire there seems to be here about knowing what our vets did to secure the very freedoms these young folks (in the main) enjoy as standard and take so deeply for granted.

    At a time when so many gloabl conflicts and the threat of terrorism seem ever present (see Mumbai this past week) you’d think that people would wish to hold onto the liberties they enjoy even more.

    I suppose all that can be done is continue the process of education as much as is possible.

    To that end keep up the good work – it’s appreciated by us Brits this side of the pond, who obviously have a Brit-Centric point of view on so much history!


  5. sue says:

    I guarantee at one time MOST of these people knew this information, they simply chose to let it go and remember something else. It’s about choosing what’s important and what is not, and our culture dictates this by design.

    this has got to be one of the most ludicrous statements that i have come upon accidentally. i was searching for a word that means ignorant by choice, and found this. people may choose to not learn something, but they cannot choose to unlearn. so there is no choice, you either remember it or you don’t, people don’t sort through their memories and decide what they want to remember, not remember or forget.


  6. Chris says:

    Sue, my point was “remembering” as a choice. Remembering historical facts and events, things like that. Do you remember everything you were taught? You make a choice based on interest to remember certain things. But, hey, I guess you’re the exception.



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