The uneducated masses, where opinion trumps (no pun intended, but I like it) knowledge. For several years now people have been decrying the poor state of our public education system, and for good reason. We are in essence saying that being a functional illiterate is okay. There is a difference between intelligence and being smart: I would say that intelligence is how your mind works (the software), and that smart is what it knows (the hard drive). Unfortunately I know quite a few intelligent people who are dumb as hell.
I don’t blame the teachers per se, oftentimes their jobs have degenerated into being glorified babysitters. But having said that I find an alarming number of teachers are also seemingly uneducated. So my question is how can an uneducated person become a teacher? What do I mean by uneducated? For one thing their communication skills suck (both written and verbal): they can’t spell, their grammar (or lack thereof) is appalling, sentence structure is almost nonexistent and they don’t have any vocabulary to speak of. I won’t even address the area of original thought.
A teacher who doesn’t know the difference between: there, they’re, their, to, two, too, your, you’re (ad infinitum) has no place teaching others in my opinion. And proper tenses, yes they’ve gone by the wayside too. We’re talking simple english here folks. Those damn immigrants need to learn english. Yeah, and who’s going to teach them pray tell. I won’t even broach the subjects of history and mathematics, only to rehash the oft-quoted phrase: Those that don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. Today a four-year college degree is about the equivalent of what a high school education used to be (maybe even that is overstating it), and the students go into heavy debt, to the tune of many thousands of dollars, for even that modest education.
Again, I don’t really blame the teachers, many of them are the products themselves of a failed educational system. They are merely the symptom, not the cause. Like taxes, the resources appear to be there, they are just poorly allocated, with the bulk of the resources going to top-heavy, inefficient administrative bureaucracies. I’m a photographer, and I’m always preaching on this blog that a photograph must have three essential elements to be acceptable (not brilliant, excellent or outstanding, just acceptable).. Those three elements are: critically sharp focus, good overall exposure and a pleasing composition. After that the photographer is free to explore his artistic vision.
Is the written word any different from an acceptable photograph? Spelling should be perfect (for crying out loud you have SpellCheck), tenses should be perfect, the rules of grammar should be followed (today that can be a moving target) and vocabulary should be broad and expressive without dumbing down to the profane. The F-bomb now permeates most writing, and virtually all speech. It makes you look and sound dumb and uneducated. Only when you have mastered the basics can you hope to communicate an original thought. The lack of proper education has found its way into every segment of our society: our schools (as counterintuitive as that seems), government, communication media of all types (go figure) and almost any business you can name.
By way of full disclosure, I was never a great student. I did okay in elementary school, but by the time I reached middle school and high school I was a C-student at best. I graduated from high school dead center in my class. I was intelligent enough, but I only applied myself in subjects that interested me. School lacked relevance for me, and I could go from an A+ in biology, art or history to a F in algebra, chemistry or government in a nanosecond. College held no interest for me whatsoever, and I knew that I lacked the discipline to follow an academic path. I joined the military instead, which might say volumes about my so-called intelligence. But I’ve always been a rapacious reader from childhood, and developed a love of history and world religions later in life. The net result is that I’m now pretty well self-educated.
I will leave you with this thought: intelligence is a function of birth, but smart is a function of hard work. Does that make sense? I have competed all my life with university educated co-workers, and I’ve done well both professionally and socially. The ability to compete came from an innate intelligence I think, but mostly it came from hard work. You have to master the basics before you can express yourself creatively, true for photography and true for your ability to communicate. A Homo sapien who can’t communicate is doomed to failure and extinction. Do I really think that I’m all that? No, not really. But compared to many around me I often feel like a bloody genius. When I want a real ego boost I just visit Facebook. All communication is important, and that includes Facebook. So please proofread your written communication(s), check your spelling, grammar, tenses and vocabulary. Now the grammar police amongst you can shred this fine piece of writing. It would be a just karmic consequence of my perceived arrogance. And no snide remarks about how the photo at the top of the post looks remarkably like the photo at the bottom of the post.
Stephen F. Dennstedt
Photographer, Writer and World Traveler