I teach Critical Thinking in community college. I live in California and Critical Thinking is required for a BA or BS. Point being, my students are young people who plan to transfer to a four-year college, supposedly the cream of the crop of my community college. They mostly belong to the Facebook generation: they text, use their cell phones to access the Internet, and send me late papers via email. But when I asked them to talk about what just happened in Egypt, the majority told me they didn’t know much about what was going on.
I hate to sound overly critical, but last semester I confess my students shocked me: most of them didn’t understand Congress well enough to explain the difference between the House and the Senate. Very few had plans to vote.
I can’t get over how disinterested they are in the political reality that surrounds them. The word entitlement comes to mind—in my opinion most of my students feel entitled to democracy. They have almost no sense of responsibility, no understanding that it's participatory. It’s hard to imagine them out in the streets demanding their freedom; they take it for granted.
We’re examining the media and how it shapes our opinions and our sense of what’s true, legitimate and fair. As I watched them struggle with the basics of noticing bias, I questioned them about Obama’s birth certificate. I assumed their answer would reassure me because most of my students seem to have fairly liberal attitudes.
Say it ain’t so! A good two-thirds of the class didn’t believe Barack Obama was born in the United States. They didn’t seem disturbed by their belief—not a bunch of angry Tea Party types. If anything, they seemed amused by their belief. Just a bunch of young people who don’t care one way or the other, but who don’t think our President is an American citizen.
When I asked where he was born, one of the young women who contributes quite regularly and often with insight, told me Obama was born in Hawaii, but Hawaii didn’t really count as America. She seemed to think Hawaii was some exotic island that’s connected to the US, but not really part of it. When I pointed out Hawaii was a state, she shrugged as if to say, “doesn’t make any difference to me.”
So the birther myth has become a lesson. They now have to defend their position with facts and rational argument. Maybe a few minds will get changed, but… God Lord! They're not watching FOX. They're not watching anything. They're just sucking it in from environment, from attitudes roaming the zeitgeist.
It feels like democracy (or whatever is left of it in the US) is an endangered species. The Right is out to make itself a permanent majority, and seems to be succeeding. It makes me think that what's happening in Wisconsin is like the Battle of the Alamo. Where are the national voices that should be standing up with those folks? I have to say it frightens me. Does it frighten anyone else?