Let’s Turn Down the Stupid (Ignorance is Our Enemy)Posted: June 11, 2012
(This is a longish opinion piece that has very little educational discussion. I leave it you as to whether you wish to read it or not.)
I realise that a number of you may read my blog posts and think “Well, how nice for him. He has tenure in a ‘good’ University, has none of his own kids to worry about and is obviously socially mobile and affluent.” Some of you may even have looked up my public record salary when I talk about underpaying teachers and wondered why I don’t just shut up and enjoy my life, rather than blathering on here. It would be easy to cast me as some kind of Mr Happy/Pollyanna figure, always seeing the positive and rushing out onto the sports field with a rousing “We’re all winners, children” attitude.
Nothing could be further from the truth. I get up every day knowing that the chances are that I will not make a difference, that all of my work will be undone by a scare campaign in a newspaper, that I may catch a completely preventable disease because too few people got vaccinated, that I and my family may not have enough food or lose my house because people ignore science, that anti-scientific behaviour is clawing back many of the victories that we have already achieved.
I’m no Pollyanna. I get up every day ready to fight ignorance and try to bring knowledge to places where ignorance reigns. Sometimes I manage it – those are good days. But I can’t just talk to my own students, I have to reach out into the community because I see such a small percentage of a small percentage as my students. If I want lasting change, and I believe that most educators are all trying to change the world for the better, then I have to deal with the fact that my message, and my students, have to be able to be seen outside of our very small and isolated community.
This morning, while out running, we had gone a bit over 14 kilometres (about 9 miles) when I saw a cyclist up ahead off us, stopped on a little wooden ramp that went under one of the bridges. He heard us coming and waved us down, very quickly.
Someone had strung fishing line across the path, carefully anchored on both sides, at around mid-chest height for adult runners and walkers, or neck/head height for children.
Of course, the moment we realised this we looked around for the utter idiots who were no doubt waiting to film this or watch it but they showed a modicum of sense in that we couldn’t see them. (Of course, what could we have done even if we had seen them. They were most likely children and the police aren’t likely to get involved for a ‘fishing line’ related incident.) What irritated me most about this was that I was running with someone who was worried about the future and I was solemnly telling her that I had great hope for the future, that the problems could be solved if we worked at it and this is what I always tried to get across to my students.
And then we nearly got garrotted by an utterly thoughtless act of stupidity. Even a second’s thought would lead you to the understanding that this was more than a joke, it was potentially deadly. And yet, the people who put this up, who I have no doubt waited to watch or film it, were incapable of doing this. I can only hope that they were too young, or too mentally incapacitated, to know better. Because when someone knowingly does this, it takes them from ignorance to evil. Fortunately, the number of truly evil people, people who do these things in full knowledge and delight, are small. At least, that’s what I tell myself to get myself to sleep at night. We must always be watchful for evil but in the same way that we watch for the infrequently bad storm – when we see the signs, we batten down, but we don’t live our lives in the storm cellar. Ignorance, for me, is far more prevalent and influential than evil – and often has very similar effects as it can take people from us, by killing or injuring them or by placing them into so much mental or physical pain that they can no longer do what they could have done with their lives.
The biggest obstacle we face is ignorance and acts taken in ignorance, whether accidentally or wilfully so. There’s no point me training up the greatest mind in the history of the world, only for that person to be killed by someone throwing a rock off a bridge for fun. Today, I could easily have been seriously injured because someone thought it was funny to watch people run into an obstacle at speed. Yes, the line probably would have broken and I was unlikely to have suffered too much harm. Unless it didn’t. Unless it took out an eye.
But I’m not giving up. I say, mostly joking, when I run across things like this “This is why we fight.” and I mean it. This is exactly why education is important. This is why teachers are important. This is why knowledge is important. Because, without all of these, ignorance will win and it will eventually kill us.
I am sick of stupid, ignorant and evil people. I’m sick of grown men getting away with disgraceful behaviour because “boys will be boys”. I’m sick of any ignorant or thoughtless act being tolerated with “Oh well, these things happen”. However, me being sick of this does nothing unless I act to stop it. Me acting to stop it may do nothing. Me doing nothing to stop it definitely does nothing.