Stupidity is not owned by any one group, and education has long been viewed as intrinsic to the strength of the nation. In recent decades, attacks on education have been virulent. Anti-intellectualism has spread like a plague which is undermining the health of the nation. A nation that once celebrated literacy is now a nation deriding education and rewarding ignorance. Knowledge, whether from a book or in the form of a skill, should be celebrated rather than criticized. Instead of encouraging the pursuit of knowledge, there has been a call for the use of plain speech, a euphemism for dumbing down the content of shared information, which mocks the very foundation of the nation.
The men and women of 1776 were unique in their day due to high rate of literacy. While not everyone could read and write, a good portion could. This literacy made it much easier for the ideas of the revolution to spread and for the nation to grow. Literacy was a benefit of liberty and would draw immigrants from around the world. Literacy was part of the path to prosperity.
During the early days of the U.S. involvement in World War I, troop literacy, or rather the lack of literacy, was problematic for commanders. Modern warfare required soldiers who could read, write, and adapt quickly to the tasks that were foreign to them. By the end of two world wars, the United States realized a strong nation was dependent on a having a literate nation, more importantly, a strong nation needed an educated populace. Literacy was part of a strong national defense.
More than just the ability to read and write would be needed to win the modern war where science and technology would decide the battles. It could be said that the Cold War would be fought in the classroom rather than on the battlefield. The United States was determined to lead the world, and education was vital in the competition against the Soviet Union. Scientific minds, economic skill, and political craftsmanship would be required if containing Soviet influence was to be achieved. Defeating this particular foe required a populace where great minds could rise up from every locale, from every corner of the nation. A strong educational system was needed nationwide. While social injustice would not be eradicated, in a war of ideologies even the repressed were vital to the fight. It was opportunity rather than race that mattered when it came to intellectual potential, and in this particular war, all potential needed to be cultivated if victory was to be secured. Literacy was part of achieving social equality.
Literacy has been key to the United States’ success throughout its history, but literacy produces a workforce who expect liberty rather than servitude, and that means a workforce that is not necessarily cheap. For cheap labor, businesses look elsewhere or look for ways to create cheap labor at home. Diminish the value of education – whether it be vocational or academic – and you will no longer need to look for cheap labor in far off locales. Diminish the value of education, and you have a cheap workforce at home. Diminish the value of education, and you are one step closer to achieving an illiterate populace who are relegated to servitude rather than benefiting from liberty.
Doughboys, the Great War and the Remaking of America by Jennifer D. Keen
“Every Man Able to Read” by Jack Lynch
“American Way of Life and Education during the Cold War” by Jessie Hagen
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