How America gets dumber
Words are America’s enemy. That may explain why the country’s international education rankings keep sinking year by year. Singapore beats us across the board (science, math, and reading). So does Canada. And Poland. Even Estonia.
We twist words into illogical concepts like “go missing,” “go extinct,” and “based off of” while avoiding historically important words that offend our genteel modern sensibilities. It’s myopic ignorance.
The board of education in the city of Duluth, Minnesota, recently banned Huckleberry Finn and To Kill A Mockingbird from its required reading list because they include the word “nigger.” Twain’s classic is considered to be the first genuinely American work of fiction, and Harper Lee’s novel about racial injustice in the Deep South won the Pulitzer Prize. Removing the word because it makes contemporary readers uncomfortable removes the essential context of history, society, and culture. It makes us blind, deaf, and exceedingly dumb about the arc of bigotry and prejudice.
Ignorance, the saying goes, is bliss. Not today it’s not. The less we know as a people, the more we’re prey to manipulation. The less discerning we become, the less precise. We allow ourselves to be persuaded that rules should be broken, not that they can be. And if we block out the past, we are assuredly condemned to repeat it.
Perverted snob appeal
We adopt expressions because they’re used by people who should know better, though it’s possible they don’t. They’re used and then spread like a linguistic epidemic. Or they’re spoken with a posh British accent and perceived to be better. Americans have erred in this for decades.
“Go missing” is a British idiom. It is also idiotic. “Missing” is not a destination. It is, like extinction, a state of (non)being. You can vanish or disappear or be missing or extinct, but you can’t go there.
You can go fishing because it involves a destination and an action. You can go mad because it tends to be a gradual journey. But you can’t go extinct. You either are or you’re not or, in between, you’re threatened with it.
For a while, everything seemed to be described as “awesome.” Yet, if everything is awesome, what’s left to describe something that actually is?
The film version of To Kill A Mockingbird (which won its own share of awards) was based on the book. It wasn’t based off of it. That’s completely off base. It’s akin to “step foot on,” which is inherently redundant: if you’re stepping, you’re using your foot! You either “step on” or “set foot on” unless, of course, you’re walking on your hands.
At the core of all of this is language skill. Things can’t be “great” or “beautiful” without understanding how or why they are (or will be). Yet too many Americans voted for a platform that had no details or explanations about (or comparisons to) what was or had been or might be.
The coming threat
We’re already being warned that the upcoming elections will, again, be the target of misleading propaganda, both domestic and foreign. If we don’t demand that what we read is clear, precise, and connected to credible sources, we could wind up voting for platforms that are great and beautiful and based off of something that went extinct before the candidate stepped foot on the crazy train.
Or, to be sure we get a decent education in at least one language, we should not vote here and, instead, move to Canada. It ranks third in reading skills – 21 levels above the U.S.A.