Friday, February 15, 2008

Are Americans hostile to knowledge?

The NY Times posited this question yesterday, stirring quite a buzz from readers. The article begins with the anecdote of Kellie Pickler, an "American Idol" contestant who wonders on a nationally televised quiz show whether Budapest is in France, whether Europe is a country and then seems incredulous when she's informed there is such a place as Hungary. "I've heard of Turkey," she spouts.

Ms. Pickler is hardly a spokeswoman for the U.S. education system, and yet there she was proudly displaying her ignorance for all the world to see.

To be sure, classifying Americans as thick and insular is the height of ignorance, as is judging America based on what you see on TV. If TV content were an accurate reflection of national character, Italy would be squarely at the bottom of the intellectual scale. But chances are the typical Italian would know where Budapest was. It's not in Turkey.

3 comments: said...

it's amazing how little most American's know about the rest of the world (outside the US.) Many wouldn't be able to name a single European leader.... sad really.

RTD in Italia said...

I echo Joe's sentiment... even more incredible is not just how little most American's know about the rest of the world but how little they know about their own country.

I ride the train to work every day and I sit with the same group of people. Two of them couldn't name the vice president, one thought there were 48 states (I asked her to explain the 50 stars on the flag and she said Alaska and Hawaii didn't count since they weren't connected to the mainland, wow). Four out of the six thought Thomas Jefferson was the first person to sign the Dec. of Indepen. Upon my statement that John Hancock was the first and Jefferson actually drafted it they all said I was crazy. And some of these people are in very important positions in their firms, scary.

Anonymous said...

On the one hand, I can understand the ignorance of a contestant on American Idol. But, if you consider that in less time than it takes one to drive to Disneyland or Disney World from most places in America, a European could visit more than a dozen countries (with their respective cultures & languages). I'm not excusing ignorance but I can honestly say that I'm much less tolerant of close minded people or the pseudo-intellectual (that parrots whatever he/she reads in a newspaper or hears at work or on the TV/radio). Viva il pensiero originale!

- Robert Bishop (author: Life lessons from living in Italy)