When I was growing up, it was clear, there was nothing more important than education. Education was the pathway to a successful life. Not only would it lead to opportunities in whatever career I chose, but it would enrich all aspects of my life. While this value was widespread within the Jewish community, after all we are “the people of the book”, it was in fact part of the immigrant credo. That is why the children of these immigrants, when given the opportunity after WWII to go to college on the GI Bill, took full advantage in droves. The result was the growth of middle class America and an increase in the educational level of its population. America became a superpower and leader of the “free world”. Millions around the world envied our freedom and opportunity and dreamed of someday coming to America. During the second half of the 20th century, America lead the world in science, medicine, the arts, military strength, and economic development. America is now in jeopardy of losing, or has already lost, the lead in all of these areas. What happened between then and now?
America is in danger of returning to the “dark ages”. Historically, it was a time when knowledge was suspect, education was viewed with suspicion and people turned to mystical and simplistic answers to the challenges in their lives. Unfortunately this describes much of what is happening in America today. Furthermore, the lack of knowledge and an awareness of facts has left the population susceptible to the virus of demagoguery and extremism so evident in many of our current senators and congressmen. Thomas Jefferson famously warned that an informed populace is the key to democracy.
America stands at an important crossroads. On the one hand we, the most powerful and wealthiest nation in the history of the world, have the opportunity to create the healthiest, most educated and freest nation the world has ever known. A nation brimming with the opportunity for all to live life to the limits of their capability. On the other hand, we can limit ourselves by minimizing the importance of education, squandering opportunities to improve the quality of life through scientific research and filling the minds of those of limited knowledge with fear and tales of conspiracy.
We are now a nation divided between these two options. Certainly as we travel from state to state we see very different priorities and values exhibited. The so-called red states are heading into the dark ages, while the blue states are constantly seeking the shining light of knowledge and opportunity. The important question is, “which will win?”. Will we enter a period of ignorance and fear or one of knowledge, freedom and opportunity?
I noted in an earlier blog post that the real action is on the local level. Local politicians in red states are impacting on voting rights, gay rights, abortion rights, education, scientific research, health care, immigration and climate change. These are the quality of life issues that in many ways will determine in which direction this nation will move in the years ahead. It is up to us to expose the ignorance and fear being spewed and replace it with facts and hope.
Let’s not let our nation fall back into the “dark ages”.