April 21, 2005

Yay Knowledge

Michael Levine of the DLC has a modest proposal: let's teach elementary and high school kids more facts about the outside world. Well done! It's hard to imagine that American democracy wouldn't benefit if everyone knew a little bit more about what goes on beyond our borders. Can't imagine that it would lead to any particular policies down the road—increased support for mutilateralism, for instance, or an aversion to war—but hey, knowledge is good. One quibble, though. Levine unearths this shocking fact:
The surveys find that 25 percent of our college-bound high school students cannot name the ocean between California and Asia. Eighty percent do not know that India is the world's largest democracy.
Now it goes without saying that everyone should know what the Pacific Ocean is called. But when I read the second sentence, I realized that in a sense, I didn't "know" India was the world's largest democracy. Oh sure, I knew India was a democracy. And I knew it was the second-largest country. And I knew the largest country wasn't a democracy. But if you had asked me, "Quick, what's the largest democracy in the world?" I would've said the United States without batting an eye. Now that's very embarrassing, but nothing bad would've come of it. I didn't have any wrong ideas about India, or about democracy, or about the world. But I'd be in Levine's 80 percent!

Not that it matters much, though it reminds me I learned a lot of useless composite facts like these in school (Canada and the United States share the world's longest undefended border! Martin van Buren was the 9th president!) that substituted for learning more important, basic things about the way the world is and works.
-- Brad Plumer 2:29 AM || ||