When Policy Goes Public

From the desk of a Public Policy grad student

Generation WHY, and a call for real education

I feel like our generation (Gen Y) and those coming after us are offered two choices: instantly agree or automatically reject. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground between believing whatever you hear or read, and not believing anything you hear or read. We’ll do one or the other, and that’s it. News, policy, health, culture, religion, and so on: it all comes at us so fast now, from every direction and at every turn, that we have to use this “all or nothing” approach to ideas and policies and opinions, because that’s all we have time and energy for before we’re blasted with the next statement or opinion or idea. We have to take everything at face value; there’s no time not to. And yet, anyone who knows what to look for can turn on the TV or open a website and, within 10 seconds, find horribly inaccurate and blatantly misleading data, because it’s a safe assumption that viewers/readers don’t know to or don’t have even a few seconds to question the logic and appropriateness of using a certain chart or graph or set of numbers.

image

We can’t be experts in everything, or even most things, despite some of our best efforts. It’s unreasonable to expect people in this day and age to be able to keep up with all the information and data, to analyze it all for reliability and validity and accuracy, and to stay current on every issue and topic. 

image

BUT IS IT UNREASONABLE to expect people to be informed on the issues about which they’re most vocal and passionate, and which they’re working hardest to influence? Is it unreasonable to expect someone to have a balanced view that takes into accounts all sides of the issue? Is it unreasonable to expect an informed opinion that has explored the opposite side, learned from it, and demonstrates understanding of the complexities at hand? And is it unreasonable to expect at least one or two designated news outlets to step up and help us wade through it all by offering clear, intelligent, well-researched, and balanced stories and editorials, supported by the appropriate and reliable presentation of data?

image

ON A RELATED NOTE:

I’ve long felt strongly about Logic and Reasoning being a core class (NOT an elective, NOT simply a possible choice for fulfilling a certain core requirement) for ALL high-school students, if not in addition to some sort of Challenging Assumptions and Arguments type of class as part of a required series. More than trigonometry, more than chemistry, more than another semester of P.E. or study hall, more than any such important but ultimately less useful courses…our country needs an education for a citizenry that can think for itself in the face of bias and ignorance and extremism and dirty politics.This type of education should NOT be reserved for only those citizens who can and do attend college or undergo advanced learning; EVERY CITIZEN, regardless of education level or socioeconomic status, should have the opportunity to develop the critical thinking skills that can help them to participate in their own democracy without being easily misled or taken advantage of.

"Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. No one in this world, so far as I know—and I have researched the records for years, and employed agents to help me—has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby."

H.L. Mencken, “Notes on Journalism” the Chicago Tribune (19 September 1926)


I know that arming society’s “easily swayed” citizens with basic logic and reasoning skills would put companies like Fox News and most politicians and pundits out of work, but that’s a risk I’m wiling to take…