7/22/07

Universal education and its consequences

I've heard numerous speakers and commentators point out that newspaper reporters write their articles so they can be understood even by elementary school students. It often seems that those are elementary school students at a particularly bad elementary school...

So I don't mind admitting that I tripped up on the word "paroxysm" in today's Washington Post. What's that doing in a newspaper? In case you were wondering, here is how you use the word "paroxysm" in a sentence, as demonstrated by today's Washington Post: Police officials said that the paroxysm of violence was "very unusual" and that they had no indication that the shootings were related.

I wonder--how long have newspapers dumbed down their content? A few years ago when I was doing research I read some editions of the North Star published by Frederick Douglass from 1847 to 1860. As a reminder, Douglass was a former slave who never spent a day attending school. Here is a sampling of Douglass's writing in the North Star.

Over the years I've heard people blame public schools for the dumbing down of education. I have nothing to say to counter that argument. But I would add that newspapers may have also played a role in this...

We have advocates literally begging people to read, even when those folks show no interest in reading. I guess that newspapers desperate to sell newspapers to anyone have to keep the content at a level that even an elementary school student can understand what is in the paper...

By the way, as I mentioned, I was a panelist on NPR's News and Notes a few days ago. One topic we discussed was a PSA on Black Entertainment Television brow beating black people into reading...

They say, "read a book," but it sounds like it is okay if you read a comic book or the phone book rather than a magazine like New Republic or National Review.

CJL