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The International Writers Magazine
: The absence of general knowledge

James Skinner

‘On the 29th of March, Alistair Cooke, a prominent Americanised British subject famous in the broadcasting world, passed away at the age of 95. An extract from his previous employer’s obituary read, "For more that half a century, his weekly broadcasts of ‘Letter from America’ for the BBC radio monitored the pulse of life in the United States and relayed its strengths and weaknesses to 50 countries".

I remember him from the early 80’s when he presented ‘Masterpiece Theatre’ on American television, a weekly program of theatrical culture totally lost in today’s entertainment world. Not long ago, a similar yet lesser-known British character involved in the media was remembered for the 100th anniversary of his birth. I refer to Sir Malcolm Muggeridge, Cambridge graduate, journalist, Communist turned Roman Catholic, who died on the 14th of November 1990. Although few people remember this extraordinary controversial figure that travelled the world as teacher and journalist, from Russia to Egypt and India, he managed to captivate television audiences for over two decades from the 60’s throughout the 80’s. My own recollection was a program he once presented on British television called ‘The question: ‘Why?’ The program was captivating, as was the ability of Sir Malcolm’s questioning that caused the audience to think and reflect on whatever subject matter came to mind on his agenda. Alistair Cooke, on the other hand, was both gentle and assertive. He was, above all, everlasting as his 58 years of continuous broadcasting over the airwaves demonstrated. What did both gentlemen have in common? Although one was controversial and obnoxious and the other spoke with an iron rod wrapped in velvet silk, they were both expert communicators.

The art of imparting knowledge is based on the knack to communicate. This is the ability of a speaker to command and maintain the attention of an audience no matter how dull or unimportant a subject matter may be. Teachers are no different to journalists or television presenters or any other persons dedicated to the transfer of information. The skills required instilling the discipline of listening and reading as well as the interest that results in the intake of knowledge is equally important. Education systems the world over and from time immemorial were developed by humans who had the drive and the objective of communicating their experience and knowledge to the younger generations for their survival and future success. This was the essence of education that in turn was required for the continuation of civilisation. Yet education comprises more than just communications. That’s right. There are the seedier sides of education known as manipulation.

Every civilisation, every government, every religious organisation has had a finger in the subject since Adam and Eve were invented. The Incas and Aztecs had a system until the Spaniards annihilated them and introduced their own. The American Indians were too close to nature and humanity for the white man to understand, so they got the third degree and were confined to barracks, read reservations. Jesus Christ preached the word of God as a form of religious following for future generations, whilst Allah and Mohamed used the Koran with similar intentions. ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ and all that jazz was the main theme. Trouble is that religious education has had the opposite effect and more hatred, blood and strife is created in the name of God than ever before.
Then we have the politicians. Hitler created the Nazi Youth movement to promote the ‘chosen race’. Children were brainwashed in the subject and ended up murdering millions of other ‘inferior’ beings. Stalin’s Communist school programs were based on equality for all mankind and look at the trouble that caused during the Cold War. We, in the Western world, believe in democracy and freedom including choice of education. So what have we created? A new generation of brainwashed morons incapable of thinking for themselves without the help of Microsoft.

But what about the poor?

The gap between the haves and have-nots has grown exponentially. The difference between the rich and poor nations over the last few decades has also had its toll on education. Whilst many children who are starving in poorest Africa, or Latin America cannot read or write and are not even able to attend a school, the kids up North are so educated that they need computers to do their homework. Aside from malnutrition and starvation the lust for knowledge no matter how basic is still there. Ask any non-governmental organisation aid worker living in a poor country about the joy and satisfaction of teaching just simple survival skills in reading and writing and compare it with the answers of the average primary school teacher in South London and see what you get. We are back to saturation in the West and under development in the rest of the world.

‘I asked my young twelve-year-old son if he wondered how a light bulb lit up or why images appeared on the screen of a television set,’ said a friend of mine the other day. ‘You just switch them on dad, was the answer I got.’ Check it out with any member of today’s generation and you will find similar answers to similar questions. They have lost the inquisitiveness of their forefathers typified in Muggeridge’s television program decades ago. They take most modern life for granted. They are so brainwashed with technology that their grey matter has stopped functioning in the most essential area, that of applying the question ‘why?’ Ask a teenager if he or she knows who Picasso was, or Einstein or even Hitler and I’ll bet they get them all confused. Hitler was a poet and Einstein a prominent Jewish ruler years ago. As for Picasso, well he’s too obscure to be remembered. Most are too busy sending messages over their cellphones or watching 'Big Brother' on TV. School is just one big bore and the wonders of the world are too insipid for any one of them to take an interest.

Yet who is to blame?

The bottom line is that many grownups in worldwide positions of power continue to lose the innocence and beauty they inherited as young children and develop into super communicators of stupidity and hatred. Their dogmatism and preconceived ideas of how to impart education is based on their own views of the world and its future. It doesn’t matter in what area, what religious denomination or political colour, it is all the same. They continue to stumble over the same rock over and over again. Selfish and misconceived policies of how to prepare the younger generation for the future battle against unknown odds instead of imposing love and respect towards the planet as essential for survival. There are not enough adjectives in the dictionary to describe the horror one sees in young kids today as they develop into yet another collection of little fiends of physical and psychological abstraction. Am I wrong? I repeat, just take a look around you.

I recall a young administrative clerk in London who worked with me and had trained to be a teacher saying, ‘I quit teaching because the government kept meddling with education. Everything I learned at college in order to impart my subjects such as kindness, compassion, ethics were thrown out of the window because it conflicted with political propaganda.’ That was thirty years ago!
© James Skinner. June 2004

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