VOICES | Idiot America: Fight anti-intellectualism, uphold value of education

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We are sending our schoolchildren a twisted message of tortured logic about education. On the one hand, we’re telling them to go to college, get some knowledge, and stay there until they’re through. On the other hand, we’re telling them via media messaging that to do so would make them intellectual elitists and somehow anti-American. Excuse me. What?!!

The worst message that this sends is in complex racial code. Society often depicts children of color as ignorant, stupid and prone to simple solutions, while being incapable of processing complex thought. These stereotypes are used as a pejorative to disparage communities of color and by and large the entire public educational system. At the same time disinvestment from public education and hyper-investment into suburban and exurban areas where the kids are, supposedly, more willing and able to learn is justified.

In the meantime, many suburban and exurban Americans are ridiculing our nation’s leaders and thinkers as intellectual élites. This almost smacks of the veneer of schoolyard taunts like “smarty pants,” “four eyes,” “nerds,” etc.

Many of the name-callers have taken their children out of public schools to put them in private institutions, supposedly to give them a better education, to make them what — stupid? Even home schooling has become chic. They seem to say:

“We don’t want ’dem kids learnin’ nothin’ ’bout evolution and science. They need Jesus.”

For years, I have heard some members of the Black community deservedly disparaged for putting down scholastic overachievers by saying that they were “acting White” and are somehow sellouts. That behavior is ignorant and counterproductive, not only to the Black community but also to society at large. Similarly, when some members of the majority culture (in this case, Whites) act as if intellectual thought and rigor are detestable, they are equally as ignorant and should be called out as well.

I am sick and tired of hearing rap and hip hop music and culture demonized while bigoted, racist, anti-intellectual and anti-rationalist thought rule society at large. How can we debase rap as gangsta when for eight years we’ve had the biggest bunch of gangsters since Watergate running the United States of America?

The title of this column is “Keepin’ It Real,” and we’re about to get busy. Political leaders can’t talk about the benefits and the beauty of our public education system while concurrently sending their own children to private school. Those same kids can’t then go on to Harvard, Yale or Princeton and upon graduation speak of others who happen to be on the left as intellectual elites.

If we have learned only one thing from the last eight years, it should be that stupidity in leadership should be ostracized, not celebrated. We should demand leaders who are capable of complex thought and not just sound bites that can be fit on a bumper sticker.

We shouldn’t be at the point in this country where to read a book or live in a large city is somehow the mark of an anti-American. This country was founded by some of the brightest minds of its day. Where will our future leaders come from if the celebration of ignorance in an American Idol country is the norm?

The other day, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said that someone once called her a redneck woman and she said, “Thank you,” to loud cheers. This came from someone who could have been the vice president of the United States. We can do better.

Everyone needs to turn off the TV once in a while. Pick up a book. Challenge yourself. Be bold. Our leaders shouldn’t just make pronouncements that are popular, but instead we need leaders who are willing to be courageous! Popularity be damned!

All of us have the responsibility to educate. And once one is educated, one becomes dangerous. And dangerous is good because that implies risk-taking. Revolution and change occur on the margins, and the future belongs to those with the courage to dance on the rim of destiny.

And regardless of who you voted for, you can’t call a Black man raised by a single mom and brought up on food stamps, who then works his way up through Harvard Law School to become the president of the United States, an elitist. You call him an American success story. I don’t care who you are.

Ralph Remington is the Minneapolis 10th Ward city council member. He welcomes reader responses to Ralph.Remington@ci.minneapolis.mn.us.