Wednesday, April 23, 2008


"Genius may have its limitations, but stupidity is not thus handicapped."
~ Elbert Hubbard.

Been meaning to post this for a while. Abandon hope all ye who enter here because the future is truly bleak:

I teach a seminar called "Secrecy: Forbidden Knowledge." I recently asked my class of 16 freshmen and sophomores, many of whom had graduated in the top 10 percent of their high-school classes and had dazzling SAT scores, how many had heard the word "rendition."

Not one hand went up.

This is after four years of the word appearing on the front pages of the nation's newspapers, on network and cable news, and online. This is after years of highly publicized lawsuits, Congressional inquiries, and international controversy and condemnation. This is after the release of a Hollywood film of that title, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Meryl Streep, and Reese Witherspoon.

I was dumbstruck. Finally one hand went up, and the student sheepishly asked if rendition had anything to do with a version of a movie or a play.

I nodded charitably, then attempted to define the word in its more public context. I described specific accounts of U.S. abductions of foreign citizens, of the likely treatment accorded such prisoners when placed in the hands of countries like Syria and Egypt, of the months and years of detention. I spoke of the lack of formal charges, of some prisoners' eventual release and how their subsequent lawsuits against the U.S. government were stymied in the name of national security and secrecy.

The students were visibly disturbed. They expressed astonishment, then revulsion. They asked how such practices could go on.

I told them to look around the room at one another's faces; they were seated next to the answer. I suggested that they were, in part, the reason that rendition, waterboarding, Guantánamo detention, warrantless searches and intercepts, and a host of other such practices have not been more roundly discredited. I admit it was harsh.

That instance was no aberration. In recent years I have administered a dumbed-down quiz on current events and history early in each semester to get a sense of what my students know and don't know. Initially I worried that its simplicity would insult them, but my fears were unfounded. The results have been, well, horrifying.

Nearly half of a recent class could not name a single country that bordered Israel. In an introductory journalism class, 11 of 18 students could not name what country Kabul was in, although we have been at war there for half a decade. Last fall only one in 21 students could name the U.S. secretary of defense. Given a list of four countries — China, Cuba, India, and Japan — not one of those same 21 students could identify India and Japan as democracies. Their grasp of history was little better. The question of when the Civil War was fought invited an array of responses — half a dozen were off by a decade or more. Some students thought that Islam was the principal religion of South America, that Roe v. Wade was about slavery, that 50 justices sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, that the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1975. You get the picture, and it isn't pretty.

Read the rest.

Now you know that Miss Teen USA, South Carolina, was no aberration.


madtom said...

What you should have asked is who is Britny Spears, and who is on Idol, shit like that.

hamo said...

Britney is for the old generation and history. I like the new song 'American Boy' by Estella Ft Kanye West...

Anonymous said...

hevala mizgin,
would you mind re-posting the link to the article from which this was taken (or giving us the name)? i couldn't connect through on any of my browsers.

zor spas, digel silaven germ,

Anonymous said...

I guess those students with the dazzling SAT scores who flocked to take a course on "Secrecy: Forbidden Knowledge" (i guess we won't learn the contents of the curriculum of that course) didn't have time to watch the Hollywood blockbuster hit movie "Rendition" :)


Mizgîn said...

The article is gone at the original link at The Chronicle of Higher Education, author Ted Gup.

However, it's available at