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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 2/22/21

Good morning! The favorite thing I read this week has to be the following: “For Lent this year, I plan to give up seeing my friends in person, going to church and theater, and eating in restaurants. Just a glimpse into my spiritual process.” SCIENCE IN RETREAT A National Science Foundation Report issued earlier this month asked a random poll of Americans "Does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth?" Twenty-six percent of those surveyed answered incorrectly. That’s more than one in four who reject the conclusion of Nicolaus Copernicus, who first argued in the 16th century that the Earth revolves around the sun! Here we are, some 500 years after Gallileo was excommunicated for heliocentrism and we still haven’t convinced a quarter of the population of this fairly basic concept. Only 39% answered correctly that the universe began with a huge explosion and only 48% answered that “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals. Before we totally indict Americans as stupider or more poorly educated than the rest of the world, only 66% of European Union citizens answered the astronomy question correctly; although they did much better on the human evolution question. And we’re surprised that 11% of Americans believe that “vaccines are more dangerous than the diseases they can prevent.” And notwithstanding repeated scientific evidence to the contrary and a complete repudiation of the single survey that supports the absurd assumption, 10% believe vaccines cause autism and 46% “aren’t sure.” As the current vaccination worries have moved past their development and testing, and the manufacture, distribution and administration of inoculations seems on the way to satisfactory resolution, the greatest battle is now before us. Namely, how do we convince a scientifically challenged, institutionally suspicious population of people who believe in “alternative facts” that our collective health depends upon their acceptance of vaccination? EDUCATION IS AT THE ROOT OF IT ALL But science isn’t the only place where our educational system lags. The serious insufficiency of literacy and numeracy in our high schools and among high school graduates suggests these people will not be able to obtain quality employment, effectively communicate effectively using words and numbers, or deal with the world in a fact-based, responsible manner. And if that wasn’t enough, we are woefully derelict in teaching our youth even the basics of our democratic institutions, how the legal system works, federalism, the three branches of government (thank goodness Tommy Tuberville, Alabama’s newly minted junior senator got the number right, if not the actual branches), and our collective responsibility to society and each other. Why should it come as any surprise that so many Trump-supporters believe that the Supreme Court will hear cases based upon a petition, that the Vice President has seemingly dictatorial powers to determine who the next president will be, that lawsuits require reasoned arguments and, get ready for this, actual evidence! California is embroiled in a debate over the nature of the ethnic studies curriculum that will be made mandatory for its high school students and yet we have people who don’t understand basic physics, mathematics, civics or English. I’m not suggesting that learning about the diverse, rich culture of Californians of all ethnic groups isn’t valuable and isn’t worthy of our attention. But let’s remember that this is only part of the story. Meanwhile the California curriculum seems more based upon the study of the oppression of minority groups, rather than celebration of those groups and their contributions to society. The narrative being propounded is that this country is one that has failed miserably and repeatedly and the great accomplishments of its largely white and male enlightened founders and leaders are to be diminished or ignored. I’m worried that we have not adequately impressed upon our society’s children the truly remarkable nature of this nation—conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal. And as appealing as a “grounds-up” America-first populism may be, let’s remember the many nations—communist, totalitarian, fascist, and all other shapes and sizes—begin with “one person, one vote” but often result in the rejoinder “one time.” As hard as freedom and self-determination are to earn, they can be lost quickly. In essence, we need to start with the basics. Learning begins in pre-school. It must be nurtured and certain basic skills must be honed. Our goals should be:

  • Encouragement of curiosity

  • The basics of scientific inquiry and theory

  • Reading, writing and arithmetic (including some basic physics and computer knowledge)

  • Civics (learning about being a good citizen, what our responsibilities are as citizens, how government works, how the legal system works, basic personal finance)

  • Job training (whether preparing for college or a trade, developing skills that will be needed and the intellectual flexibility to change careers as technology, globalization and societal needs evolve)

  • Learning about the diversity of our nation and celebrate the contributions and value of each ethnic and religious group and their orientation on all matters

  • Understanding the difference among an assertion reasoning and evidence.

EXPLAIN THIS TO ME There are some things that simply defy understanding. The presidency of Donald Trump and the two impeachment “trials” (which were really little more than whipping of votes in the Senate) most readily come to mind. But how about this…Four U.S. Senators voted to acquit Donald Trump for inciting a riot and a dereliction of his presidential duties yet voted to convict Bill Clinton for lying about oral sex. These were Senators Crapo, Grassley, Inhofe and McConnell. A sixth, Richard Shelby, voted to convict Clinton on only one count and elected to acquit Trump. There are another six Republican Senators who supported impeachment when they were in the House (including that paragon of principle and consistency, Lindsey Graham). How do these guys get up in the morning and stare at that face in the mirror? Appalling behaviors. We deserve better, Glenn

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