The Key to Freedom: literacy or a conditioned response?
Thanks to the weeding going on in a nice little used bookstore downtown, I recently acquired an old copy of The Federalists, A Study in Administrative History by Leonard D. White, at no cost. I haven't had a chance to read any of it, yet, but on the back of the dust jacket is an interesting public service announcement, abbreviated slightly here:
The 5th Freedom

When you have read this book, we want you to think for a moment about what you have just done. Actually you have done something very difficult, though you are so used to it that it seemed easy. You had to be taught to do this, and probably many teachers struggled with you before it could be said that you could both read and understand what you read. You owe those teachers a great debt. They gave you the key to freedom...

Every year thousands of normally intelligent youngsters finish their schooling unable to do what you have just done--read and understand a book. In overcrowded classes, with overworked teachers, with textbooks that are too few and too old, they will not have grasped the key.

This is the crisis in American education. It is here, it is real, and it is dangerous beyond words.

As a nation we have joined others in a desire to realize the four freedoms. But there is a fifth freedom more fundamental than any of the others, and this is FREEDOM FROM IGNORANCE. The ignorant man is the easiest prey to want and fear. Freedom of religion means little to him, and a free press means nothing, for even if, technically, he can read, he cannot understand what he reads. He is a danger to himself, to you, to this country, and to the world...
Education, and particularly literacy, is the key to our liberty. The greatest threats to our nation come from within, due largely to our own ignorance. And this isn't always as dramatic as high schools turning out illiterate graduates. According to the World Factbook, our literacy rate is at 99%, and remains among the highest in the world. The problem is worse than an inability to read. It is the choice not to read.

We have chosen to fill our lives with entertainment: television, movies, video games, online chat rooms and music which numbs the mind rather than stimulates it. This chart from Kagan on the increased spending on TV-video-cinema entertainment is telling.

And what about time? According to the American Time Use Survey, Americans spend half of their leisure time watching television or movies, wasting about 2 1/2 hours per day absorbing whatever is coming across the screen.

This sets us up well for a society based on B.F. Skinner's definition of freedom. We feel free because we are doing what we think we want.

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