The recent media storm about Advanced Placement (AP) courses in U.S. high schools triggered a concern I have had for many years. This particular recent incident was the racially driven storm over a new AP course covering Black History, and the Florida Governor’s reaction to it. I should add, before I start, that this blog is not about the racial aspect of the media storm, it concerns what they don’t create a storm about.
Ron DeSantis’s objections to the AP course on black history was obviously a blatant, racially-biased, southern conservative, Trump-inspired rant, and should be treated as such. His subsequent boast that the College Board changed the course based on his complaints, is a total lie – they had already changed it based on their countrywide research. So, enough about the idiocies and lies of party politics and the rants of potential candidates for high political office, let’s look at the important messages here.
First, and I have repeatedly pushed this idea, we have to acknowledge the role of the media is not, primarily, to provide the general public with transparency, investigative reporting, or integrity in opinion and facts. Yes, they do that, but their primary function, unfortunately, is to force-feed us sensationalism. If I may use an old, but very true, description, their first priority is “to sell more F…… newspapers”. That means that sensationalism, preferably combined with fear-mongering, always takes priority. Human beings have evolved to react quicker and more profoundly to a threat than they do to good news, or even interesting news – natural selection if you will – and the media have embraced that reality. Ron DeSantis makes good copy because he represents both a threat and sensationalism, just like his former mentor and master, Donald Trump.
All of this means that the perfectly valid discussion of AP Black History can, and has, taken over our attention, when there are far more profound issues to discuss in American education.
An example, is the question of how can a system that outspends the rest of the world on pre-college education, and educational support services, produce so many students who are functionally illiterate. All the technology, “brilliant” new educational theories, psychological profiles, and counseling on every possible emotional disorder, still produce students who graduate being unable to functionally, read, write and add-up. Aside from the fact that it a fraud conducted against our youth, it is the harbinger of America’s unrealized economic potential.
Why does the media not focus on serious topics like this? That’s an easy question to answer. “It doesn’t sell F…… newspapers”.
I am reminded of the comedian Tom Lehrer’s comment about the “new Math”. He said that system promotes “understanding what you are doing, rather than, to get the right answer.”
Our priorities are all wrong. Functional citizens need to master basic skills to realize their “American Dream” and to participate in, respect and support, democracy. Without those skills, they are restricted in their dreams, and they stand a chance of losing their democracy by not paying attention, and not participating. And they are vulnerable to the biased sensationalism propagated by the media, particularly social media.
Do you really think that a well-grounded, basically educated, electorate would believe the multitude of crazy and venomous conspiracy theories put out on social media, or allow election-participation rates to drop below 30%?
There’s not much we can do about the evolutionary-controlled threat response but we can do a far better job on educating the electorate.
We should also include “Civics” to the list of reading, writing and mathematics. We might be able to establish the value of integrity into our citizens, particularly potential politicians, at the same time.
Time to wake up.