Thomas Jefferson affirmed that a democratic republic can survive and prosper only if the citizens are literate and well-informed. This is why he proposed tax-supported schools in every community and founded the University of Virginia. So, how is the America of 2010 faring by Jefferson's standard? We don't have Jefferson to ask but we do have Chris Hedges. In his seventh book, entitled Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, Hedges, a recipient of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on global terrorism, takes a sober look at literacy in America (1). His book is fundamentally a literacy report card and he gives America an F. Consider these facts which Hedges cites:
These jarring facts lead Hedges to indict our schools and colleges for training students to be compliant, money-driven careerists instead of critical thinkers who value autonomy and curiosity and who see the need to challenge the idols of the tribe.If Americans care little today about the pursuit of knowledge through books, magazines, and newspapers, what do we care about? Hedges claims that most of us care about entertainment in order to escape from reality.
Certainly TV serves this purpose. The average American watches TV four hours a day and in the average household the TV is on for six hours forty-seven minutes a day. But TV is not alone. Professional wrestling, celebrity worship, pornography, and many other diversions supplement it. Let's focus on pornography. Hedges points out the following:
Hedges says much more than I can report here on topics such as corporateÂ influence in politics and journalism, NAFTA, Ivy League colleges, and others. Empire of Illusion is worth your time, as are his other books, especially the ones on American evangelicals and the new breed of in-your-face atheists. Few can match his analytical powers.
© 2010 Tom Shipka
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