There Are No Stupid Questions – Just Stupid Responses


I was feeling rather brain-dead one afternoon last week, (editing will do that to you) and I opened Facebook, hoping for some mindless entertainment. Actually, many of my Facebook friends are quite intelligent, and perhaps I was hoping someone would stimulate me out of my somnolesence.

However, the first post that caught my lame brain was something like, “The 23 Stupidest People on the Web.” Now, since I am the author of a book called, “Why Are People So Stupid?” I felt it my right, no, my duty to investigate this further.

And at first I was regaled by tales of people pasting on their Facebook page about having to “start a stupid fxxxking job tomorrow,” and their new boss posting right back, “It’s okay, you don’t have to show up to the stupid fzzzking job, because you’re already fired.” Ha, ha.

But then I got to one that was different. This person was texting a friend, questioning why there was a country called South Africa in Africa, and wondering how there could be one country inside another country. To which the friend replied, genially, “I am so going to bash your stupid head in.” Ha ha.

But I thought, “No, that’s not stupidity. That’s someone with a poor education, with a spark of curiosity and the courage to ask.” Hence the title of this piece.

Because I recalled that when I was about in Grade 3, a similar question occurred to me. I became aware that at the southern tip of Africa there was a country called South Africa. Which seemed to me to be a rather inane name. In a continent with names like Kenya and Morocco and Sierra Leone, to call your country the Union of South Africa was rather – at that age I didn’t know the term, but I would have liked it – generic.

Not only that, but the initials were the same as another country, a nation one didn’t want to be mistaken for. Even in the fifties I was aware that being “not-American” was an essential part of my Canadian identity.

So I was inclined to approach this person with a degree of sympathy. And given my proclivity for soaring from the specific to the general (I am a blogger, after all), my mind immediately switched into overdrive. (From brain-dead to brainstorm is probably not a good indicator of quality, but here goes.)

It occurred to me that this little example is a good indicator of what’s wrong with American culture right now. I have been recording stories of new immigrants to Canada, and one conclusion that I have drawn is that the school systems in many developing (or otherwise) countries (Syria and Iraq, for example) are more egalitarian and more truly public than the American one. Not necessarily better. I talked to one woman who had sixty students in a Grade 1 class, to whom she was supposed to teach Arabic and Arithmetic. But more equal.

One of the subtle ways for an elite to keep the rest of the country beneath them is to starve public education, funneling all the funds, resources, and especially the good teachers, off to their private system.

We are having a taste of that in British Columbia, right now, because a right wing government tried the same trick here, refusing to fund education properly, yet encouraging private schools to expand. When the Supreme Court of Canada slapped their wrists and declared that public education was supposed to be public, they were suddenly faced with the daunting task of hiring about a thousand more teachers this fall. Where were these people to come from?

Well, a recent Facebook post from a friend of mine who is still teaching suggests that all the Teachers On Call she talked to had come out of the private school system. It seems they could make more money as a substitute in the public system than as a full-time teacher in the private system. Which leaves the private schools short of teachers, and leaves a bunch of parents hung out to dry who have paid a lot of money for what they thought would be a superior education for their kids. But that’s a problem that arises when you create non-egalitarian non-public school systems. Just like the rest of free enterprise, it’s basically the law of the jungle and Darwinian survival of the fittest, and it doesn’t do the country any good in the long run. Even the Iranian government knows that. Even the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad has that figured out, for heaven’s sake! Public education is good for the country and everyone in it.

I guess some of us would rather live in a culture where people don’t know that Africa is a continent, and that whatever you post on Facebook is available for the world to see. And where the victims of the skewed system are laughed at as stupid.

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