The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


May 9, 2014

Ignorance is safe and easy, but not the way to go

Point Blank

You know the story. Our schools aren’t working very well. Everyone, from the president to the mothers and fathers of the kids, is worried about how little kids are learning in school.

All kinds of studies show that, in spite of the increased amount of money being spent on education, children aren’t getting much of it in most schools of the United States.

The big reason a lot of kids aren’t getting a good education is that many don’t want one. It doesn’t seem important. “None of the other kids has one, why should I?”

Ignorance is in. It’s smart to be dumb if you’re a teenager. The occasional good student is dismissed as a geek. How do we make the smartest kid in class more admired than the prettiest girl or the best athlete?

Taking pleasure from not knowing anything is popular with adults, too. I noticed myself bragging the other night about not knowing the definition of a word used by a political pundit during a talk show on TV. Does this make me special? Why didn’t I bother to look the word up? My dictionary was lying in front of me on the coffee table.

“Gosh, I don’t know,” is a popular phrase we use with smugness and satisfaction. It has a ring to it. We take a measure of pride from being honest without being embarrassed at being in the dark.

The education problem is larger, though. Many Americans don’t know what’s going on in the world.

“I don’t read the paper and I don’t watch much TV,” a neighbor told me recently. “Too much bad news.”

That’s too bad, I thought. I’m a curious kind of guy who prefers to know what’s going on in the world around me. I glance over the headlines of my newspaper while I’m reaching for my coffee in the morning. I don’t think I could go for longer than a couple of days without getting my hands on a newspaper.

And late at night, I dial in on the news to learn the latest updates before going to bed.

My wife is even worse than I am when it comes to staying abreast of current events. If I tell her something I’ve read in print or heard on TV she is quick to elaborate on the facts for me. I appreciate that. It’s one of life’s gratuities to have a spouse that is interested in the same things you are.

On the other hand, not knowing is popular among many people, especially at election time, and that probably accounts for why about half of us don’t vote. “They’re all the same,” I’ve heard folks opine about candidate options. “It’s just a bunch of politicians.”

The know-nothings excuse themselves from finding out about government by dismissing all politicians as corrupt.

One of the most popular answers to any question asked by the people who do the professional polling on a variety of issues is “DON’T KNOW.”

But you run into the happy ignorant everywhere. If you drive into a strange city and lean out the car window and ask someone on foot where Main Street is, you’d think the person would welcome the opportunity to assist you.

“Sorry, I can’t help you,” he says. “I’m not from this town, either.”

There’s something about the way the person tells you he doesn’t know what you’re talking about; it tells you he’s happy that he doesn’t have to take any responsibility.

Honestly not knowing is a lot easier than knowing in some esteemed professions: medicine, law, journalism, pharmacy, engineering, education, business, architecture and the stock exchange, whose associates often get into trouble for answering hard questions.

Nobody, though, as far as I know has been sued for saying, “I don’t know,” or “Sorry, I can’t help you.”

It probably accounts for the popularity of silence. After all, educated professionals who try to answer tough inquiries without knowledge are the ones who often get in trouble by committing slip-ups. Some people have even talked themselves right into jail by feeding inaccurate information to FBI agents, the IRS and Congress.

Ignorance is safe and easy. Maybe this attitude has rubbed off on our kids. Until knowing is fashionable again, there isn’t much hope for education.


Top o’ the morning!

— Blankenship is a columnist for The Register-Herald. E-mail:

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