Can Obama Spark a Brain Revival?

I was really struck by something Obama said while naming Arne Duncan his education chief the other day:

“An economic stimulus package will help the economy in the short run, but getting young people to focus on education and value intellectual achievement will be  the single biggest determinant on how our economy does long-term.”

Later, in response to a question, Obama repeated:

“. . . if we can get young people focused on education, if we can change our culture so that we are once again valuing intellectual achievement. . . ”

Wow. Two mentions of “valuing intellectual achievement” in one press conference.  I’ve got two big thumbs up for that goal, and if Obama can move the ball even ten yards down the field on this, it will be great for the country.

What I fear, however, is that Obama, swaddled in a private school/Ivy League/U-Chi milieu,  may not know just how hydra-headed and pervasive is the Culture of Stupidity. And a lot of his most loving fans are likely to assume that once Bush the Dumb rides back to the ranch, teenagers all over America will pull up their pants and run through the streets yelling, “I love trigonometry!” and “I can’t wait to write that paper on Great Expectations!”

If only Bush were the only, or even one of the most important, causes of the  drop in our  cultural I. Q.  Alas, it long predates him, and you could make a fair argument that he’s as much an effect as a cause. But look at TV, look at movies, look at many of the books that kids actually will read, look at the prominence of brainless celebs, look at the rise of celeb “newspeople” like Katie  Couric, who would drive Eric Sevaraid to suicide if he weren’t long dead. 

I think it’s wonderful that Obama speaks in complete paragraphs, that he cites authors, that he has written books himself, that he obviously values reason and careful thought. If he does nothing but remind us, time and again, that being smart does not keep you from getting to the top, he will be a valuable symbol.  But as I’ve noted so often before, he’s got a long uphill slog if he wants to elevate this culture.

On this subject, NY Timesman Nicholas Kristoff weighed in a while back on the brains-and-culture front. I like some of what he has to say, and he’s careful to note that our dumbth dates back long before the Current Occupant.   Here  is Kristoff’s take.

Again, we’ve got to spread the blame around. For example,  Kristoff notes that large numbers of American believe in flying saucers and related rot. Well, why do they?  To take just one possible cause of this intellectual failure, what about all those wonderful, hard-working public school teachers we’re always hearing lauded, the ones complaining about the unfair rigors of No Child Left Behind,  testing accountability, etc. Don’t they bear some of the blame for a shallow, poorly educated populace?

I’m with the Big O on a brain revival. But the Armies of Ignorance are vast, well-funded and entrenched. Lead on, Commander.

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