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Laura Sibinescu

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Are governments interested in keeping us 'dumb'?

Educated citizens are difficult to govern - this is a recurrent argument I've encountered while discussing education with various people.

Do you think it's in a democratic government's best interest to keep its citizens ignorant by maintaining largely outmoded school systems and educational policies, a lack of transparency, or the failure to encourage social and political participation? Or would a democratic government prefer to work with an educated, involved citizenry?

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  • Mar 28 2013: I think it is the citizens of most democratic nations that dumb themselves with obsession with pleasure and entertainment; and twisted views of freedom as a license to do anything and everything.
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      Mar 31 2013: I agree. Let such people set an example that we should NOT follow, and I thank them for showing us where NOT to go. And maybe by our examples we can help them to see the right way.
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    Mar 27 2013: There is an ongoing effort to eliminate the great chasm of difference in education between first-world nations and lesser developed countries. The driving philosophy behind this effort is that educated people are not easy to command and control. In an effort to institute a single, global system of unchallenged Socialism big brother must blend all the economies and education levels into one, manageable level. If you live in a first world nation you are experiencing a "dumbing-down" process while lesser developed nations are establishing basic education programs. The end product of this new world order will be productive, compliant workers who trust everything to the State.
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      Mar 28 2013: It is known that the educated people are not easy to command and control.
      In fact, there is nothing can be controlled; it is because we cannot even “control in our life”.
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        Mar 28 2013: Will you re-state that last sentence. I am not getting your meaning. Thanks.
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    Mar 27 2013: Laura,
    I can only speak with a tiny bit of knowledge about the US government, because that is the only country I have lived in for a considerabe amount of time.

    If you are refering to a true democratic government, it is for the people....by the people...". appealing to the broad massas of people". We are the government, we elect and appoint our representatives on all levels. How many times have those who are in some way corrupt, been elected over and over again? How many times do we (the people) complain about our elected or appointed representatives, and give them the power to continue with the same inappropriate practices? It seems like a LOT!

    Governments cannot "keep us dumb". I agree with you that educated citizens are difficult to control, and some people within the governing bodies would often like it better if the people did not fully understand some things. However, most people have the ability to get information IF THEY WANT TO. Some people in government positions prefer to work with informed citizens, and some do not prefer to work with informed citizens. If we are informed enough, we can choose which representatives we want to continue, and which ones need to go!

    It makes no sense to keep blaming a government as a whole, when we have the ability to help change some of the dynamics of our government.
  • Mar 27 2013: Maybe it's not the government so much as those who control who groverns. Why else would some contributors spend millions of dollars each year on political campaigns in America? Okay you don't send a kid to prep school for her to become a mathematician or philosopher. That would not be desired. Maybe the French have the right idea with the schools Napoleon created.
    • Apr 3 2013: The democratic process in Australia insists that all eligible citizens vote. Does this make a difference? For example in relation to political campaigns and contributors trying to sway voting as well as voters. If you subscribe, as I do to the belief that voting citizens have power to choose their government based on what they see as the most important agenda issues (rather than which government is going to meet their most immediate material need), then we are as responsible for dumbing ourselves down as any government. I'd like to know more about what you are referring to George, in relation to the French and the schools Napoleon created. It is not something I know much about.
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        Apr 6 2013: Ellen,
        How does the Australian government "insist" that all eligible citizens vote? How does that work?

        Apparently it DOES work...
        Australia has a 93.22% voter turn out!'
        Sweden - 84.63%
        Brazil - 81.88%
        UK - 65.77%
        USA - 41.59%

        I just posted these radomly.....here is the 2010 data:
        http://www.idea.int/vt/countryview.cfm?id=198

        It looks like Australia is one of the highest, and USA one of the lowest!
        How do you do that Ellen???

        Do the majority of Australians look at the important issues, rather than which person or party will satisfy their immediate issues? That would be GREAT if we (USA) could all embrace this practice!!!

        I totally agree with you that we, as individuals are responsible for "dumbing" ourselves, and we are responsible for the people we appoint and elect!
        • Apr 7 2013: Hi Colleen,
          The answer is that voting is compulsory in Australia. I would love to think that we voted on important issues rather than immediate needs, however many would say that is not the case. I do believe that compulsory voting is a way of getting a greater proportion of the population engaged in "important" issues but I have no evidence to back that up.
          Our elections often seem to be "dumbed down" to issues of immediate material need despite the fact that we are, in the scheme of things, a fairly affluent country. We currently have a national " debate" over the funding of educational reform and the debate seems more focused on the cost of the reforms rather than finding a way to make it work. That in itself sounds like prioritising material needs over the educational future of our children. The long term consequence of stronger and more equitable educational opportunities is surely a good way to build economic prosperity and security for all citizens. This of course is particularly important for marginalised citizens who can then build their capacity (via education) to contribute and participate in the broader society.
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        Apr 7 2013: Ellen,
        How is compulsory voting enforced?
        • Apr 7 2013: There are fines for not voting. All those of eligible age are encouraged to register with the Australian electoral office and an electoral role is kept. I have always complied and am not aware of all the details around enforcing this but it seems that most citizens comply and take this "right/obligation" for granted.
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        Apr 7 2013: Wow fines....that will do it obviously! I cannot imagine giving up the right to vote, but lots of people do. Many folks don't think their vote matters....they don't think there is a possibility for change, and that is unfortunate.
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    Apr 26 2013: As has already been said here, every government's greatest interest is in keeping itself in power. Having a well-educated citizenry may not keep them in power.

    Democracy is the most difficult of all governing systems. It's core idea is that power to rule derives from the people, and the ultimate power to decide policy rests with the people, though we entrust this power temporarily to representatives. And here's the rub: Policy made by uninformed policy makers is apt to be bad policy. So for democracy to really work, the public must be well educated. Very well educated. Even an ordinary good education does not prepare "the people" to make sound decisions about governmental policy, where "the devil is in the details," - details that the people generally will be unaware of.

    Lenin, who supposedly wanted to create a society where everyone was equal, realized that the people couldn't possibly run the country. That needed to be done by an intellectual elite. The people couldn't even be trusted to select their leaders. Similarly, every revolution - even the American revolution - has been led by an elite which was careful to preserve their power by limiting the people's opportunity to unseat them. (The gaining of voting rights in the U.S. was a gradual thing - originally only white males with a certain wealth could vote, and not for the President or Senate, just for the House of Rep's.)

    The unfortunate fact seems to be that these founders were right. By and large, the elite could make better decisions than the people. Today our situation is the U.S. is that most people have a fairly good education, but it is still not good enough to withstand the lure of easy campaign slogans and phony promises of benefits. People vote on the basis of the most shallow appeals, with little understanding of complexities. So if a country with reasonably well educated voters sees its democracy hi-jacked by political professionals, we should at least open our eyes to the limits of democracy.
  • Apr 2 2013: The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed a standard citizenry, to put down dissent and originality.

    When children start going to school, not only they spend most of their day in the classroom, but they start being conditioned to the 8 to 5 schedule which will be the blueprint of their future.

    Let's highlight the main points that the education system is very successful in imprinting on the minds of our children:

    1. Truth comes from Authority
    2. Intelligence is the ability to remember and repeat
    3. Accurate memory and repetition are rewarded
    4. Non compliance is punished
    5. Conform: Intellectually and socially

    Public education does not encourage critical thinking or imagination. It does not teach emotional inteligence. It does not encourage the pupils to work together to solve problems. It does not seek and help develop an individuals natural skills and abilities.

    It creates programmes the pupil to fit in to its social and economic system.

    People are not being educated; they're being tested for levels of obedience. School is about memorizing what you are told short term and repeating it. The bulk of how you are graded is by completing daily work. Obedience is, in fact, work force's most important quality in a worker bee.

    Is this keeping our children dumb? It's certainly not stimulating and awakening them to reach their full potential.

    In any case, advancements in technology, science and globalization along with the likely collapse of an unsustainable capitalist system, the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.
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    Apr 2 2013: Well in the West government power is distributed and governments are convoluted. I don't think "the government" as a collective body is coherent enough to be interested in anything. We might say "the government wants this and that" but really we might be referring to Congress or Parliament, the President or Prime Minister, the military generals, etc.

    That being said, I believe there's a web of high profile players bound by mutual interests, that may be accused of manipulating public perception for its own ends. For example, political parties push issues that get people riled up, but don't require an educated opinion. Instead of the public's focus being towards the economy or foreign policy, people are more occupied by issues like abortion and same sex marriage. While these might be important issues, they're thrown out in the media as honeypots to gain followers for the party. The mainstream media stations in the United States are partisan-run and frequently fail to cover important issues, in favor of covering issues that alienate viewers from the opposing party.

    The media companies represent sponsors in addition to their political party. For example, Fox News refused to run a story on r-BST after a meeting with Monsanto lawyers. NBC and other media outlets refused to cover SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act) because they supported the bill. Some news sources exist primarily as propaganda outlets. The Washington Post features three speech writers for George W. Bush, who consistently publish deceiving articles to manipulate public opinion. RT is propaganda on the anti-American front, funded by the Kremlin and publishing slightly misleading stories aimed to enforce resentment amongst Americans.

    I don't believe "the government" actively tries to keep its people uneducated. Every country, even China, wants its citizens to be the most advanced and educated. Though there's plenty of areas where State institutions are caught misleading the public. Especially foreign policy
    • Apr 3 2013: I agree that it is not the government at large trying to confound the public rather than random groups who‘s arguments could not stand a chance in real debate. There are those, however, that dedicate their lives to enable everyone to enlighten themselves. The truly sad part is that, they cannot gain any ground in their constant struggle against those who simply wont support them because it does align with their short term, selfish goals.
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    Mar 28 2013: I think you need to define "dumb". The politicians of the world ... as my friend Pat Gilbert ... would tell you, have only two objectives. 1) Get elected and 2) Get re-elected.

    A educated constituate is much harder to control ... but if you educate the constitutency in how you wish them to think then they are not dumb ... they are compliant. If I teach you that Keynesian economics is how we do business and offer you no comparision (Austrian economics) you are not dumb but your education has focused you in one direction ... if all you have ever been taught is socialism then democracy would seem stupid and ill advised ... if the state provides everything for you .. you accept it ... because that is the way it is and you have been taught that by the state.

    All of these things have become harder to control by the politicians because communications make people more aware than they were in the past.

    I cannot explain why the events are occuring in the USA .... people continue to drink the koolade as we continue to self destruct. It is generally accepted that the government of the USA has practiced "dumbing down" the students in all phases of our education system and is demonstrated in falling from a leader in world testing to the bottom third of the bottom third in comparative testing. Yet there is no outcry of defiance. Pass the koolade.

    I wish you well. Bob.
  • Apr 6 2013: What we need are governments that made up of individuals are better educated, creative and innovative thinkers. I think it's in the citizen's best interest to elect politicians that can actually do their jobs and it's up to all of us to insist on transparency.
  • Mar 31 2013: I a m not expert in democracy I live in a democratic country and everything seems to be the best that can be.
    I think that the greatest achievement of modern governement is to give access to knowledge and keep people unaware of the how to and the agenda of the governement.
    But I think as says before that in our first world nations the priorities are pleasure and entertainment.,as long as governement maintain those priorities ,nothing else matters for the most.
    "Panem et circenses" >> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bread_and_circuses

    my questions "what must be the relation between governement and its people" or "Is there only one moral way to rule " "is there a perfect answer"???
    In my opinion the answer is somewhere between moral authority,citizen well being,democracy and financial dictatorship.
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    Gail . 50+

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    Mar 27 2013: Edward Long hit the nail on the head.

    In the USA, students - in their compulsory state-sponsored schools - are taught provable outright lies about their own nation's history as well as how their government is supposed to work. This makes it impossible for the people to fix what is broken, while they beg to be victimized.

    In addition to the overt lies, there are the covert lies - in the form of censorship - where information that all should know is not mentioned. America was supposed to be a country that is "of, by, and for the people" and those skills essential to running such a government are not in the curriculum.

    Furthermore, because the pot-smoking hippies of the 60s and 70s refused to be drafted and objected loudly to an unfair and unjust war - forcing the War in Viet Nam to come to an end in spite of the fact that the government wanted it - pot (a non-addictive drug that makes you loving and sleepy) is now a Schedule I drug - listed as more dangerous than meth, cocaine, and other drugs that actually make people violent.

    There has been a considerable "dumbing down" in America, and as a result, we are now a nation of functionally uneducated sheeple. All who want to keep a people oppressed deny education. The people have become the enemy of the state.

    If people knew how much they don't know, and how they are being used, they would be sick - and no human being who knows what government is doing to them would be able to respect it.
  • Mar 26 2013: Excellent question......but where is this Democracy you are referring to?
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      Mar 27 2013: Of course it's debatable precisely how efficient democracy is in practice, whether many countries claiming to be democratic truly are and so on. I understand what you mean.

      The reason I referred to democratic governments in my question is that often authoritarian governments do, in fact, want to keep their citizens ignorant for many reasons and have a system in place to achieve that. With democratic governments, if this is indeed the case, it's far less obvious.
      • Mar 27 2013: I understand. No government is required for Self Enquiry......Understanding of the Self.....True Understanding. Ignorance, in today's world, is a Personal, Egoic Choice. Know thyself and all else falls into Place or falls Away. We live in a society where "success" is quantified largely by how much money one has.........that's about as primitive as it gets and it is but a Scratch on the surface of Life. We've ourselves to blame.......change will come out of change in the individual.....not government.
  • Mar 26 2013: I think the people in government are people. Government is not a single thing, but a bunch of individuals, each pursuing her/his agenda.

    I think it is in the interest of power to keep most people dumb. The government needs some intelligent and educated people to run the government and provide the government with technology.

    It is in the interest of the people to have an educated and intelligent population.

    These different interests cause a tension within the government, sometimes even within an individual.

    The agenda of "government" is complicated. Almost any simple statement about it is probably incomplete and misleading.
  • Mar 26 2013: Governments are composed of people with various interests and abilities. I think the current state of education is the result of past decisions, unionized workforce and lack of funds.

    Hopefully with technology we can change this and I can see that society starts to see the need for highly educated kids in the modern workforce.
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    Apr 7 2013: Hello Ellen
    Re: Public approval? Important issues?

    Foods & entertainments are superficial appeasement for common people. Common people are not interested in knowing public service and or public policy. Common people miss the extremely important points that are values civic virtues and the public life. Contemporary politician’s plan is concerned how to win the votes of the common people. The plan is to give out "cheap foods and entertainments" would be the most effective way to gain political power in the short term. In short, Contemporary Politicians must come to be public approval. Contemporary politicians must provide people their basic needs, then, can increase political power in the short term.
    • Apr 8 2013: Hi Lamb Lamb
      I agree with you that many people are not interested in public policy and will vote for governments that meet their basic needs. While governments should be firstly meeting the basic needs and rights of its people, it has the capacity to do more.
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/political-science/2013/apr/05/experts-experimental-government?CMP=twt_gu th
      This link discusses the issue of evidence required by government and the challenges of those in power to access and understand the evidence that may inform "good" policy. It also refers to good practice based on evidence.
      My view is that those of us with the capacity to support and generate "good" evidence and "good" practice have an obligation to our fellow citizens to bring that to the attention of government either by the way we vote or the way we engage with government and fellow citizens. This is where our power lies if we believe that governments are capable of and willing to "keep us 'dumb'"
      Thanks Lamb Lamb for your comment.
  • Apr 7 2013: Not one who wants to want to have a future. Not one who desires industry and health care. Why only tax dumb poor people when you could also tax rich (smarter sometimes) people for way more money. This non-dumb people can also solve problems for you. I'm sorry but the question is kinda silly. It sounds like a conspiracy theory in the making.

    You are totally begging the question IMO. http://www.skepdic.com/begging.html http://www.fallacyfiles.org/begquest.html

    "Do you think it's in a democratic government's best interest to keep its citizens ignorant by maintaining largely outmoded school systems and educational policies, a lack of transparency, or the failure to encourage social and political participation? Or would a democratic government prefer to work with an educated, involved citizenry?"
  • Apr 4 2013: Ecole Polytechnic ,Ellen - Ecole Normal Superior, etc. I don't remember the one for diplomats and where most of the recent Presidents went. Okay Miterand went to the first which is for scientists and engineers. They do things very differently than how Americans do it. We've had two Yale graduates who were members of Skull and Bones run against each other. That's not the problem; the problem is our elections are so expensive that American politicans are always running for reelection. People do give lots of money for elections for good government. However, their idea of good government is not my or your idea. Our campaigns last so long that they cost so much more than the ones for the French and English.
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    Apr 3 2013: Please tell me, today in history display evidences, the most important and positive historical events –
    “Common people” had their experiences “power with” “Government” or Gov. is “power with” the Common people.
  • Apr 3 2013: Perhaps an educated and ethically sound society could find a way to govern itself, rather than be governed upon with interest not their own. Where on earth, though, can one find an entire society of people with these characterists?
  • Apr 2 2013: Democratically elected governments want their citizens to be educated enough so they can participate in economic activities, since the economy is what for all intents and purposes keeps governments in power. Most people, regardless of their social, political or intellectual background, want to have a stable and comfortable life (home, family, all basic needs met daily, etc.). As such, anything which would negatively affect that life is going to be cause for people to get upset, and their targets are typically high profile individuals such as politicians. Therefore, politicians have learned over the years to not "tip the boat" among their constituents and stick to lame and bland platforms that upset the fewest number of people (not to mention excessive amounts of pandering). This then creates a system of apathy in regards to politics, because so long as peoples' livelihoods aren't harmed then they don't need to care about their government.
    So I'd say that democratic governments are only concerned with citizens for two things:
    1. Getting politicians in office and keeping them in office
    2. Keeping the government coffers filled so the whole system stays running
    Hopefully that all made sense!
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    Mar 31 2013: An educated society is difficult to control. This is a recurring theme throughout history.
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    Mar 30 2013: We try to control people and things.
    We try not to be controlled by others.
    In other words, if we know when we die, then, we have the power to decide how to deal or how to control.
    In fact, there is nothing can be controlled by human; it is because we do not know when we ” die”!

    Warm Greetings to you,
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    Mar 27 2013: I think it's in everybody's interest for everybody to be as smart as possible, because our lives are all connected. After all, if you invent something great today, I may get to use it tomorrow.
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    Mar 27 2013: Hello edward long
    Politicians create solutions by pointing to their own interests for a small group of people.
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    Mar 27 2013: It is a bit of a fallacy to think of government as a monolith. The more relevant perspective is to realize that Politicians have 2 goals in life one is to get elected and second is to get reelected everything else is superfluous.

    What politicians want is your vote and they create problems to solve in order to get that vote. The problems and solutions are created by them.
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    Mar 26 2013: The problem here is that Educated Citizens does not imply that they would think the same thing. Having all the citizen "well educated" does not necessarily mean that there would be no discussions. Everyone is different,
    As for the "Dumb" factor, i think that there is an advantage in keeping people ignorant, so that you can in some way better control them, as long as those people start to consider governements actions as negative. In that case having a "dumbb" citizenry is not so favourable for governments, bacouse those people would not be reasonable nor willing to discuss peacefully.
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    Mar 26 2013: I would say they want us dumb enough so they can fool the majority of us.
    That is to say in an outdated and bureaucratic method of thinking.

    I think you will enjoy this TED talk.
    http://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_build_a_school_in_the_cloud.html

    I feel the country/government that first adopts national online education, will become the next generation super power.