by Julia Buckley
According to the list of 4th of July facts here, 1/4 of Americans answering a Marist poll did not know the name of the country from which we won our independence on July 4th.
I suppose it can't be avoided--that gradual evolution of a great event into something (for some) of no importance at all. But for me it also raises questions about one of America's greatest rights: the right to an education. Like everything that is free, knowledge can be taken for granted. My teacher colleagues who have taught in far-off lands could not believe how grateful those students were for education; how rooms full of 60 and 70 students would sit in absolute silence, hanging on every word out of their instructor's mouth, because this was their only chance at education.
And while many American students (including mine) are respectful of both education and teachers, I'm sure all teachers, at one point or another, have experienced one of THOSE classes--the ones with students who mock the very idea of education, reading, homework--and who take for granted the very gifts which America has guaranteed them.
Why would they do it? For one, they are assaulted by media images of young people who are oversexed and undereducated. They are fed the visual rhetoric that teen moms and porn stars are the new American heroes, and that fame is necessary for self-esteem ("fame" being a nebulous term which includes being on television for any reason). They are given this shallow, un-nourishing diet of pap, and if they are not given the analytical tools, they will think that this is the world and that these people are what they themselves should be.
"Reality" tv is nothing like reality, and an uncareful viewer might not see the neediness, the narcissism, the affectation and posturing. And unless that viewer occasionally read a book, he or she might not realize how poorly these television stars speak and think.
Remember this footage of poor Miss Teen South Carolina?
Not only can she not explain why Americans can't recognize their own country on a world map, but she can't string together a coherent sentence. But somewhere along the line she was swayed by the visual rhetoric of pretty hair and make-up, of fakery and feigned composure, and by the idea that if it looks good, it must be good.
She's not the only one. Check out this blog, which reveals that more American teens can name the Three Stooges than can name the three branches of government.
No, I'm not trying to depress people on the 4th of July. I am suggesting, though, that the date will cease to have any meaning unless we continue to invest it with some, and to demand more from our cultural representatives in all forms of media.
Let's celebrate America by asking Americans to think--something our founding fathers did very well.