A blow for ignorance

Russell Baker

April 24, 1991|By Russell Baker

THE DUMBNESS is spreading, so naturally they are closing the libraries.

"A few muddled thinkers," they said, "wanted to close the schools. They said that since the schools were the source of the dumbness while the libraries were keeping learning from going out of style, it was the schools we ought to close."

I said clearer heads had presumably proven that the schools were the best defense against dumbness.

"No," they said, "we all agreed that the amount of dumbness coming out of the schools was staggering. However, the schools do keep children off the streets five or six hours a day."

Did they, then, regard the schools as child-care institutions? "Not just child care," they replied. "The schools also create financial benefits. By supplying driver education, the schools lower the auto accident rate, thus holding down costs of car insurance and medical care."

While conceding that these were valuable fruits of schooling, I asked if they thought child-care service, even when coupled with reduced insurance and medical costs, justified the heavy tax burden of keeping the schools open.

"You're ignoring other gains," they said. "By supplying sex education, for instance, the schools relieve parents of an often difficult and troubling task. By making condoms available the schools inhibit not only the spread of disease, but also the conception of babies likely to be illegitimate and unwanted. Vast social and hygienic benefits to the taxpayer result," they said.

"Moreover," they went on, "don't overlook the vital job the schools are doing by concentrating a high percentage of our armed youth in an environment safely isolated from the milieu of the average taxpayer."

I agreed it was wise to keep our armed youth in the discipline of the schoolhouse. But why put this risk on teachers, the unarmed portion of the student body and students who are slow on the draw?

"Are you suggesting the schools should give fast-draw training?" they asked. "Because if you are, you obviously don't know about the desperate shortage of fast-draw instructors."

Perhaps if they fired the teachers who were spreading most of the dumbness, I said, they could use the payroll saving to have them retrained at a fast-draw teacher's college.

"You are very innocent," they said, "and it tries our patience. If we fire our best dumbness-spreading teachers, the consequences would be nasty. A strike by union teachers would close the schools, cutting off child-care services, condom supply and driver education, thus enraging taxpaying parents, creating an epidemic of venereal disease, causing a boom in the birth rate, setting off an upward spiral in the cost of auto insurance and flooding our shopping malls with Uzi-toting students."

Might it not also stop the spread of the dumbness?

"Exactly," they said. "And then wouldn't we be in a pickle! Without the spreading dumbness, there would be no rotten education system to blame for the failure of our magnificently paid corporate leaders to stay competitive with Japanese, Germans and Koreans. Do you want that shameful failure blamed on an insufficiency of imagination and incompetent management by the captains of American industry?" they asked.

Of course I didn't. To blame the failure on men drawing those mighty salaries and mightier bonuses might undermine faith in the creative power of excess income.

"What's more," they said, "without the spreading dumbness, politicians would have no pretext to gull the voters by calling themselves education presidents and education governors and education mayors and proclaiming dynamic new programs for stopping the dumbness while announcing that somebody else will have to pay for it."

I observed that the luckless "somebody else" was invariably the same dumbbell who believed education presidents could enrich life for everybody without spending another dime. Fortunately, I noted, there were still a few people smart enough to know when they were being duped.

"Now you see why we closed the libraries," they said.

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