As I read Al Gore’s Assault on Reason, I can’t help but continue to think about the book’s implications for the education system. A recurrent theme is the vital role played by both literacy and reason in a healthy democracy. He talks about how the framers of the American Constitution made certain assumptions in their vision of government: that the citizenry, through the printed word, would have access to sufficient information to make sound judgments, and that those judgments would emerge through the exercise of reason. Due to factors Gore makes clear, neither of those assumptions seem to be operating very well in the United States today.
He is uncompromising in his indictment of the Bush administration’s violation of logic and crass manipulation of people’s fears. The power of governments to subvert their citizens is something that we, as educators, should be especially mindful of when we teach. One of the greatest pleasures for me in the Grade 12 Academic English course I taught up to my retirement was a six-week unit on the use and abuse of language. Two core essays, George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” and a Royal Bank newsletter entitled “Knowing How to Think” allowed us to explore how language and logic can be used for unworthy, even dangerous purposes. I was never short of material drawn from the media to illustrate the pitfalls, and the unit culminated in a research assignment whereby students had to analyze media, especially newspapers, and report on the flaws of language and logic found therein.
In my next post, I’d like to tell you of some of the things they discovered.