Losing Our Literacy

Please rewind to last year. Health care debates. When we thought we had seen some pretty sad images of an uncivil America, little did we know the worse was yet to come. E. D. Hirsch, Jr., one of our notable critics of American education and schools had written a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, which I’ve shared with students about those town hall meetings and the failure of democratic education. While he concentrated more on the linguistic and communication deficiencies of our citizens in those debates, he may as well have honed in to other root concerns– not just the lack of core and common background knowledge but also the inability of so many to discern and critically think for themselves.

I’ve been travelling quite a bit, which may explain my absence from the blog. However, a spate of incidents in the public sphere have just about unnerved me to the point of wondering where we are as a literate society. How could it be possible that as many as 18% of Americans polled would think or affirm that President Obama is a Muslim? Not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with being one; it’s just the fact that in the face of FACTS to the contrary, that many in our democratic and literate citizenry would come to such a conclusion. As I try to understand and put this phenomenon in context, I grasp for straws of sanity.

Of course, it’s pretty easy to blame the media. Most of us can point to people we know or have heard of who simply believe something is TRUE just because it’s on the Internet or a cable network. Come on. Admit it. I have on numerous occasions had adult students who’ve bashfully stated that their parents, in-laws, aunts, or uncles do subscribe to this “test of veracity”. And let’s not sound too virtuous here because even those of us who claim to be educated have subscribed to the theory of “If it’s printed in a text, then it probably happened just like that.” Yes, our history books are notorious for what’s missing and what’s been romanticized. Try slavery for size.

It could also be argued that there haven’t been enough refutations to the contrary or demonstrations of his faith from President Obama. Talk about wearing one’s religion on one’s sleeves! How hypocritical and un-Christian anyway! Didn’t Jesus squarely condemn such show of religiosity? You can read it for yourself in Matthew 23. I’ll say more about Rev. Franklin Graham and his brand of theology in a minute. If the seed of one’s faith is passed on from father to son — his coded explanation about why Pres. Obama was essentiallly born a Muslim– I wonder what happened to the seed his own father, Rev. Billy Graham, much loved and respected, would have passed on to him. It sure doesn’t appear to have taken root! Of course, I’m being facetious.

Then again, the entire Muslim issue may just be a political strategy to continue to de-Americanize the President. I’ve said much about the birthers, the president’s names, and now this continued assault on his identity. Political expediency may be the name of the game. I’ve never been one to totally take the results of polls as Gospel truth; I mean one has to look at the pollsters and the way questions are phrased to even make deductions that reflect reality from those polls.

Nonetheless, using the reputable Pew Research and Barna polls still brings me to the admittedly befuddling question posed here. If we started off accusing then Senator Obama of having sat through a highly controversial pastor’s sermons for twenty years, how did we end up now casting him as a Muslim? Simply astounding and amazing. We’re either losing our literacy or our common sense or both.





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