The Sciences

The mainstreaming of crazy

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitSep 8, 2009 3:37 PM


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Perhaps you've heard all the uproar about President Obama's speech today. A group of folks is very concerned about a speech of his today, because he's talking to schoolkids. And hey, didn't Hitler talk to kids...?

That's about as good as their logic gets. I wish I were kidding. Read the transcript of Obama's speech, and see if you can find the alarming parts where he calls for the formation of Brown Shirts, or the extermination of a group of humans, or the invasion of Poland. I must have missed it, instead seeing things like where he says,

Now I’ve given a lot of speeches about education. And I’ve talked a lot about responsibility. I’ve talked about your teachers’ responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn. I’ve talked about your parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox. I’ve talked a lot about your government’s responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working where students aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve. But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed. And that’s what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself.

Call the Allies! Load the B-29s! Seriously, read this whole speech. It's inspiring, wonderful, and designed to inspire kids to stay in school, accept the responsibility of the education, learn things, and then go and do good for the world. Of course, there is a lunatic fringe in this country who will go ballistic about Obama no matter what he does; these are the ones saying the speech is indoctrinating children into accepting his socialist health care plan that will mutilate puppies and convert our elderly into Soylent Green. These people may be rabid racists, or simply mentally unbalanced, but we know for a rock solid fact that these people are utterly, completely wrong. Whatever you want to call them, it's clear they are so far from the norm of the American people that they can't even see the horizon from where they are. Simply reading the speech transcript shows that simply and clearly. But it's also a fact that this subset of the population will always be with us. But you know what? That doesn't mean we have to give them a voice in the mainstream press. They have a right to their speech, but that doesn't obligate anyone to pay attention to them, especially on the platform of national TV. I'm looking you right in the eye, Fox News. Not only do you give these people -- factually wrong and provably so -- a voice, you reiterate their comments and use your own voice to back them up. This sort of thing mainstreams a view that is charitably called crazy. Again, I urge you to read Obama's actual speech. It's awesome, and something every kid should see and hear. Yet because "news" media like Fox have aired so much invective from the wildly fringe reality-polluting community, even mainstream folks are arguing that Obama's speech is evil. I saw a news report yesterday about an elementary school in North Carolina where they didn't air the speech because so many parents complained. I can't help but wonder what they would would have said if George Bush had made this same speech. Of course, Bush never would have said something like:

You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.

And maybe if he had said those words, the people I'm talking about would've complained anyway. Critical thinking skills? Ha! If I sound angry, then, yeah, I am. I'm tired of ignorance held up as inspiration, where vicious anti-intellectualism is considered a positive trait, and where uninformed opinion is displayed as fact. It's killing any real debate in this country, where the system of government depends utterly on a well-informed public. When rampant idiocy is presented as reasonable discourse without any rebuttal, then we all suffer. What we need are government officials not afraid to talk like Barney Frank did to such a voice of lunacy. To reiterate, crackpots have a right to air their diseased notions, just as we have the right to tear those ideas to shred when they do. More than that, the news media have a responsibility to do so. Let me leave you with this revolutionary and dangerous notion from President Obama:

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust – a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor – and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.

I would add that we all need to not be afraid to speak out against nonsense and to call out willful ignorance when we see it. Never give up. Never back down against evil. Never tire, because this struggle will be eternal. Remember:

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