In the United States, one of our biggest political problems has become that we are a country of spectators. The average American citizen would choose to watch football over reading up on current events, and that same citizen would opt to watch a political discourse on TV rather than engaging in it. Some people would look at this scenario in a small realm and see themselves; some would laugh and wonder what the problem is. But therein lies the problem. We have become a society of aliterate, passive spectators.
The cause of this mass illegeracy is not our fault alone. The cause is widely due to the fact that the two knowledge cornerstones, media and education systems, are failing us. The media, which is supposed to educate us, has become an entertainment-based industry. News programs, magazines, and even newspapers are neglecting to focus on the important news and opting to focus on entertaining us rather then informing us. The media is at partial fault, but our public education system should take most of the blame. Public education has become a system that thoughtlessly ignores subjects such as politics, provokes anti-intellectualism and widely accepts mediocrity. Therefore, the simultaneous failure of the media and education will continue to produce a society of illegerate citizens.
There are three characteristics that an illegerate person embodies. If you are illegerate, you are unable to make sense of your culture, fail to see the conditions of your life as open to choice and to give up any political power you have to influence the direction of society. The failure to make sense of one’s culture is to be lacking the knowledge to understand the events or changes that directly or indirectly affect one’s life. This sort of cultural confusion, in turn, leads a citizen to the feeling that his or her life is not open to choice. After a person decides that they have no choices, they give up any political power to influence the direction of society.
A democracy thrives on a constant discourse of important political issues. The knowledgeable discussion between citizens leads to educated views; knowledge leads to action, and action leads to change. Without the education system placing an emphasis on political discourse, there is a lack of it in our society, and that is a direct consequence of illegeracy.
The consequences of this widespread illegeracy will negatively impact our politics, government and society for years to come. The impact will not only affect those that are illegerate; it will also affect everyone who is part of the community through low achievement and political passivity. For a democracy to survive, its citizens need to understand not only how the system works but also their ability to influence it. Every citizen is influential to the system but only after they are able to identify their self-interest. Only after actualizing their self-interest(s) are they able to understand the importance of relating that interest to the public interest. This is the process that leads to taking a political stand. But for a vast number of Americans, illegeracy has put a stop to this. Although illegeracy affects everyone, it targets individuals that are uneducated, live below the poverty line and are in a racial minority. In the long run, if illegeracy continues as it is today, the society of America, as a whole, will lack public direction; we will become a depoliticized society.
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