It's Always Something

loose threads from a tightly wound mind.

Nikki Stern

Nikki Stern
Princeton, New Jersey, USA
April 10
whatever sounds good
Sure, come on in
Author of "Because I Say So: The Dangerous Appeal of Moral Authority" ( and "Hope in Small Doses" and busy blogger at


FEBRUARY 3, 2010 11:04AM

Is Stupid the New Black?

Rate: 94 Flag

When did it become fashionable to be stupid? Or rather, when did it become acceptable, or profitable, expected, or newsworthy? Because these days, I feel overwhelmed by stupidity: stupid behavior, stupid decisions, and then stupid excuses. Maybe it's the 24/7 news cycle or a case of over-active PR machinery. There's too much stuff going on that masquerades as news. But some days, it's just WTF times 2 -- or maybe times 200.

Stupid has several connotations; it's a hurtful word, which is why I hate using it. But these are mean-spirited times, my friends, and that occasionally calls for mean-spirited words. As I apply it, stupid refers to (but is not limited to): willful ignorance, determined obstinance, self-serving incompetence, deliberate misrepresentation, purposeful insensitivity, or wholesale rudeness. It's the impulse to act like a jerk and I promise you, I'm not exempt. And let me make this perfectly clear: this epidemic is not restricted to one particular party, gender, religious group, or age bracket.  

You want examples?

  • A recent series of polls shows near unanimity among scientists when it comes to belief in evolution by natural selection. Only a third of the American public accepts natural selection. Of the majority who don't, 28% also insist that scientists themselves are divided on the subject (if this is confusing, read the beginning of the paragraph again. Meanwhile, more than 70% have great respect for and trust in science, although only one in four know what "scientific theory" means. [source: Pew Research Center]
  • Andrew Young, John Edwards’ one-time assistant, claims he went along with Edwards' fantabulous story of paternity in order to protect Elizabeth Edwards. This may explain why he seeks to sell the purported sex tapes of Edwards and his mistress.
  • Mark McGwire gets ready to teach the next generation of St. Louis Cardinals after sort of, kind of coming "clean" about past steroid use. St. Louis fans are expected to give him the baseball equivalent of a "Hail Mary" either for the steroid use or for lying for ten years; it's not clear.
  • Members of a Baptist church whisked into Port Au Prince, picking up children, forgoing paperwork or background checks that might have established whether the children were, in fact, orphans or whether they had any family members looking for them.

Notice I've included no examples that deal directly with politics, and I've kept hands off the media for now, although I have piles of bones to pick, starting with the sensationalism that passes for analysis and ending with the substitution of close-ended talking points for serious debate.

The first example could be an instance of misunderstanding or misinformation; the last could be excused as well-intentioned, albeit foolish. For that matter, the dalliances of public figures could be seen as nothing more than a series of character flaws -- and don't we all have them? No one is intending any harm; no one is setting out to hurt anyone. They're just not thinking.


An acquaintance of mine, an educator, wrote a timely op-ed in the New York Times about changes in measuring the success or failure of how we educate our children.  At twelve years of age, children, should be able to "read a chapter book, write a story and a compelling essay; know how to add, subtract, divide and multiply numbers... use evidence to support an opinion...and engage in an exchange of ideas." But schools don't teach that way; they teach to the test, which is to say, they encourage children to memorize, rather than to put experiences together in new ways. 

Are these children who will grow up to be curious about other points of view, new ideas, change? I'd say no. In fact, political pundits have been saying Americans don't like change. Since when? Ten years? Twenty? I always thought I lived in a society that was not only capable of change but also open to it. Clearly I've been fooling myself. 

We are in the middle of a crisis in this country. Absolutely, it is economic: we are on track to be carrying a huge deficit on our collective backs.  We may find it hard, even impossible, to retain our sole superpower status. Deficits restrict programming because they restrict available funding. The country that put a man on the moon might be grounding its space program.

If we can't spend large, does that mean we have to think small or not at all? Are we supposed to accept only those changes forced upon us by economic necessity and push away anything else as too threatening to consider?  What about a change in the way we teach? Or the way we communicate? How about a meaningful difference in our determinations about what we think the government owes us -- or what we owe our government? What about a change in the way we earn and invest, spend or save? Or think. 

I'm sick of celebrating stupidity, even if it's supposedly so we can all feel better about ourselves.  I'm tired of the stupid amount of time and energy devoted to being contrary, rude, divisive, or dismissive. Something's got to change; we have a chance not only to be part of the change but to insist on it, or let another opportunity slip away.

We cannot be that stupid.

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when stupidity is a matter of willfulness...
Bravo, amen and how sad. I would love to use the evolution/science stats in discussion with certain people, but fear that they are too...well, you know.
Nikki, I love this post! I've had lengthy conversations with my 20-something children about this. My 26 year old son feels ( and he says this with shame) that his is a generation of complacency, of not giving a rip. I think this nonchalant disinterested attitude increases the level of stupidity. But his generation is getting a hard dose of reality..there aren't many jobs to be had. This may feel like a digression from your post but I do look to younger generations besides my own for solutions. I don't see too many. Great writing Nikki.
Hey Nikki, get out of my head!

I lived in Europe and I'm not saying there's no stupidity there, but I did notice that the average person was much more politically knowledgable and able to think critically than the average American. We do not teach our children basics like critical thinking skills, analysis, and logic, and it is a serious mistake. Especially for a country that claims to value democracy.
we are raising an obnoxious generation. I can't stand this shit. well said, lady.
Americans as a group are easily that stupid and much, much worse. Education is PARENTING, not reliance on state, outside natural genius and the small percent of involved parents the "average" US 12 year old can't handle basic algebra while, and, ironically, using mostly simple rote memorization, South Korean 12 year olds are already tackling basic fractal geometry ... the US is rotten at the core, like Rome, France and those before it ... past really is prologue unless you ... learn along the lines Plato recommended ...

Oh, you're such an idiot!!!!

Maybe we need to do what Scanner suggests in his post today about "Operation Cornflakes," and drop hundreds of thousands of copies of Catcher in the Rye from planes onto the playgrounds of our schools. (r)

Oh, I'm such a moron!!!!
Thank you for what you said about children in school merely memorizing! That is one of my biggest complaints about the way things are done in our schools, and it is one of the many reasons I am on my way to becoming a teacher. (Partly because I want to put an end to it and partly because that makes it a lot easier for me to get high grades, and hence a degree...oh the irony!)

Interestingly, where I come from, stupidity is accepted and celebrated in a way that really worries me. In rural Iowa, and probably they are not alone in this, there is a tendency to mistrust people possessed of a higher education UNLESS they are from rural Iowa. I guess the idea is, they might be so smart, they could put one over on some poor dumb country bumpkin. I don't know. It's annoying.

Also, have you noticed how (usually religious) people who say that the scientific community is "divided" on the subject of say global warming or evolution are perfectly willing to embrace science when its applications don't get in the way of their politics or beliefs?

Anyway, terrific post.
Man this has so many issues to careen off into, and it is a very real problem. Or is it a generational thing? I look at some of it as simply a loss of personal responsibility. We want the right to do whatever we want, but we do not want to take responsibility for the consequences, preferring instead to whine that someone else should fix it for us, or it is not our fault. Galling.

24/7 News cycles was what James Carville described as "Feeding the beast." You had to give it stories so you would not become the story. "Feed the beast before the beast feeds on you." So it is dumbed down sound bites.

Memory and focus. No one reads newspapers, let alone books. Are we procreating more ADHD-addled little brains or are we NURTURING more ADHD-addled little brains with over stimulation, quick changing TV/Computer game/Tweet/Texts/Etc rather than with the insistence they sit and read 100 pages of some classic novel a night as homework?

Education Testing. Folks, do not teach to the test. Teachers, get last year's test results and STUDY them to know more about the habits and needs of your incoming class. The goddamn things are DIAGNOSTIC and therefore valuable to YOU in imparting the knowledge. (I could union bash right here, but I will not.)

Anyway. Nice Rant. If you need any help yelling at the kids to get off your lawn, you just let me know. I'm available, and I have a booming voice when annoyed.
Great post, Nikki. It's hard to understand how we are so powerful when so many of our citizens do not even believe in evolution. Mind-blowing.
Yes it is, just read the OS headlines!
anyone seen "Idiocroacy?"

it's got electrolytes!
I hear Vera Wang is coming out with a new "little stoopid dress" that is appropriate for nearly any occassion.
Why do you suppose the Bush administration put so much emphasis on test result-style education? Because it makes students memorize a bunch of stuff they don't need to remember (because they can look it up), while preventing them from getting the kind of education you are talking about--based on the ability to synthesize lots of information and employ critical thinking to make decisions.

Some people rant about abortion or big government. These are distractions. The real damage was being done to our economy and our education system during the Bush years. And Bush--who was a dummy at Yale and learned only one thing there--to hate intellectuals--has inspired our entire nation to accept mediocre analysis as "good enough."

Excellent post, Nikki! Rated.
I hope it's not too late to turn this bus around...
In response to the last sentence, care to wager?

Dumbing down, means dumbing down. Rated.
Unfortunately, Nikki, we can be that stupid (as a collective) and often, we are. This is an excellent post that is not only timely and important, but thoughtful and cogent. In my opinion, it belongs on the cover and on Salon. But maybe I'm just stupid.... Really well done and I could not agree with you more.
Very timely, great post.
I agree except for sex.

People are supposed to be stupid about sex.

The funny thing is that children tend to start out smart in this area. They instinctive know the opposite sex is gross and has cooties. And french kissing. Ewwwww.

Then they get hormones and become idiots.

But otherwise, yea. Stupid is much too popular to be truly cool.
Why do you suppose the "Dumb and Dumber" movies were such hits?

"Are these children who will grow up to be curious about other points of view, new ideas, change?"

I've observed as frightening lack of curiosity in young people. I really do fear for us.
The Hail Mary pass is what BC's Doug Flutie throws to Gerard Phelan to beat Miami. What McGwire needs is absolution, which you get from going to confession and saying your penance, which may include Hail Marys, but in his case also probably requires a lot of Our Fathers, Apostle's Creeds, etc.

On the other hand, I once tried to explain Kosher dietary laws to my WASP girlfriend in a deli in Brookline, Mass. Talk about the pot calling the kettle orange.
As someone who is currently losing friends because I ask them to question their beliefs (and mine), I can only ask, "Where do we go from here?"
no need to add a single word to this post, nikki. it's correct and a great example of how to write an essay. should be a teaching tool. A+
I am happy I did not miss this 'nut' post. It's knot stooped.
I think people who smell under the armpits should be jailed.
I had a NSA guest who stunk terribly. My Granddaughter say`

No say stupid. I like how you think. And She'd love Nikki Stern.
I can make a walnut wood POUT PEW. A`Pew Charitable Trust.
I think Martin E. Marty sits (Pew mean sits) on the Pew's board.
Soon - The Justice official will lock up farmer's Black Eye Susan.
If they have any more leeway and get any more black rotten, huh.
They may jail shoppers in Wall Mart if they see black honeydews.
If chicken layers are Barred Rock or Red Haven hens they crooks.
Kindergarden children spiel bad and eat Krispy Kreme 'um dunce.
Lunch should be kale greens and pistachio ice cream for all dopers.
The word is out ...
The media etc. are dopes.
The snore, sniff, white sugar,
brown powder, thus -brown nose.
Politico's smell bad -'um flunk life.
'Um misspelled doenut-fruit-loops.
Wall Street go to K- Street in a kilt.
Thet wear green panties on St Pats.
They get NO LUCK post Mr. Reaps.
Rig R. Mortise uses a garden scythe.
I read about that on Yom Kipper day.
Soon the theft binge will be `greens?
They will cough up green flue spittle!
I am just repeating what is OS written.
Thanks for a post on fruit and nut cake!
When they are dead-stiffs they go black!
I mean rot and corruption of flesh happens.
the inner essence
and our immortality
and read Blaise Pascal
and no sneeze on window
and eat pink flesh melons
I hope this is not` stupid.
It's like the Middle Ages but with television and the internet. Unacceptable? Damn right!
Great piece, Nikki, and a topic that needed to be explored.
Well said. And yet, "educational" everything is still a hot commodity among parents of babies and toddlers. The irony is almost painful. A preschooler uses a big word: he’s a genius! A presidential candidate uses a big word: he’s an elitist, out of touch with “real” Americans! At what age does intelligence lose its bragging rights, anyway?
Think about the fact that the Dark Ages lasted 1000 years. That is a mighty long time to march backwards intellectually. I spend a lot of time thinking about the flight from reason. There are many good books about it. The fashions, fads, and avocations of Western Civilization are all set up to work against the growth of reason. Just for starters, think about the weight and value placed on the word "believe" in common usage, versus a word like "conjecture" or some other scientific analysis based word which would generally be more appropriate. Belief is merely certainty with little or no facts. We are unreasonable by design. Pull on that thread and see where it takes you.
According to a recent poll, most Republicans think that Obama was born in another country, is a Socialist and supports the terrorists. Is that stupid or something even worse?
Wow - hit a nerve here. Love that. For the record, I think older people are behaving as stupidly as younger people these days; stuck in old ways and afraid of change. Believe it or not, I have a problem with certain entitlement programs based on age -- and I'm closer than I'd care to admit to receiving such an entitlement (oh, I just did admit it - damn!) I've been struggling with this post because this is not a political problem but rather a cultural one. People with whom I generally agree are as quick to make automatic or read something into a discussion that isn't there as any Rush Limbaugh. The need to be heard trumps the desire to think in a nuanced fashion and the need to be right trumps the will to be careful.

However, Nick is right - in matters of sex, we are all stupid and I'd have to raise my hand high on that one (some day I'll tell you all...) But that's why, instead of talking about Edwards, I referred to his craven associate...

Lulu - I'm actually not a pessimist per se, just a supremely frustrated person at the way in which people talk and listen.
Femme - *blush*
Con - Love your mind as always
Art - never stupid...never
I remember a great piece by Molly Ivins (oh, how I miss her) in which she went off on the Bushies' "willful ignorance in the face of evidence." This is my major peeve. The dearth of readers is a major contributor. I hate watching news on TV for all the reasons that are mentioned here but mainly because whatever they say shoots right into your head before you have a chance to ruminate on it, and it's there in your brain whether it's true or not. I love a newspaper--I can put it down and think about something, consider all aspects of a situation or policy or what have you, and make an informed decision about important things. (Not that I always trust the paper, but at least it gives me time to question.) The whole thing is so disturbing. We have become a nation of sheep. Led by wolves.
"...a nation of sheep...led by wolves"

You are so right on, lady. I don’t understand why being smart is such a bad thing these days. If you crack a book or use any kind of reason or don’t want gays to burn in hell then you’re some sort of intellectual pussy. It’s like you said Nikki, willful ignorance. If we just keep our heads buried in the sand until we die then it’s someone else’s problem.
I’m no genius, that’s for sure. I’m a Christian from the Midwest who never went to college, so I should be the poster-girl for willful ignorance. Lucky for me I’ve always been an avid reader and even though I didn’t go to college I don’t see that as a reason to stop learning or growing or giving a shit as to what’s going on on the other side of the world. The internet offers so many ways a person can use to learn more and get a handle on what happening outside of one’s town, but so few people actually use the internet for that purpose. No, we’re too busy reading about the Kardashians or Twittering that we just got our goddamn vaginas bedazzled.
When did facts and reason and learning become so evil? Why am I the asshole when I show disdain when my dumbshit co-workers use racial slurs or call women sluts? It’s like the majority of Americans are in a race to see who can be the most callous, uneducated, inebriated, wasteful waste of a human being. When did everyday life turn into reality show theatrics? Most days I feel I’m adrift on a book in an ocean of MGD and all the nimrods are tearing past me on their jet skis that run on Mountain Dew.
Amen, Nikki. I totally agree with you.
Stupid = easily governed.
I loved this post. What happens when you can't fix stupid? Ugh.
I have written about this more than once (check my posts) both here and elsewhere. I wish I knew the answer. It seems like willful ignorance to me. I can't believe such a large number of people in this country are really that pathologically dumb. But apparently.... they either are or they just don't give a shit. Or both.
All right that does it. I am so sick of this fashionable educationism crap, that says all we have to do is teach our children to think and reason, and they will work it all out for themselves. What utter drivel. Children have to be taught a basic set of skills, such as reading and numeracy, before they can take in the knowledge they need as a basis for reasoning and creativity. A big healthy dose of rote learning didn't stifle my growing brain in the 60s, but it did enable me to become the bookworm and scientist and aspiring writer and poet, and wannabe Ansel Adams I grew into in the 70s.

Just like the environmental debates where left/right = for/against conservation, somehow we've got to a stage of left/right = against/for standardized testing, whereas the real issue ought to be what works. Here in CA, the right managed to kill off a lot of bilingual teaching, ignoring the fact that kids taught in two languages have better proficiency in both than their peers. Testing told us the utility of the teaching method, but politics (immigrant-bashing in this case) trumped practicality.

I am also sick and tired of the dumb idea that children can "learn by doing" instead of having a few facts actually inserted into their heads. In the sciences, good education is a blend of the hands-on and the lecture. You can't teach it all in the lab, but you can give them the chance to catch the bug and fall in love with experimentation. You can't do it all at the chalkboard (even the best teacher) because you will bore their heads off. Anyone advocating abandoning rote learning for having the kids learn it all with a test-tube in hand ought to be locked in a room and forced to repeat Millikan's Experiment (for those who don't know, basically he stared in a microscope at tiny oil droplets,day in and day out for about seven years).
Your examples need go no farther than the ghastly percentage who refuse to believe in evolution despite the facts. We not only don't know, we don't know what we don't know. A few days ago one of my employees remarked "there are actually people who don't believe in global warming." Another employee proudly declared "I'm one of them! The earth has always changed temperature, no one knows why."

You mean they don't know about the meteor that smashed in to earth? I asked. "So they SAY," says the em;ployee, "But they don't KNOW for sure."

OK, what about the crater in Mexico where the meteor landed then, I asked. She blinked and said "Well, I don't know about that but I do know there are still questions."

It's not just that we are stupid, but that we feel the need to defend our stupidity with expert-level uncertainty. What's that about?
I think stupid is the new equalizer. Not everyone can be innately talented or a brilliant mind but everyone can act stupid. Hence: Paris Hilton, George W. Bush...the SOUTH (oh yes i did)

In a world where everyone is taught to believe that they are "special," there are very few outlets where people can actually prove that they are beyond finding a way for people to notice them. Which leads to shows like Jersey Shore.

I'm with you, sister. So done with stupid. And so done with personality replacing talent as the criterion that commands our attention. Is there actually a "personality" left that's anything but derivative or manufactured at this point anyway?
Oy, Nikki, I could write a book about this, but I'd write it stupidly. All your points are so true, I could cry. The latest poll of registered Republicans proves it.
Well said, Nikki.
I blame alot of stupid on technology.
My fifteen year old nephew sends me IMs and e-mails. He can't spell for beans....why should he bother learning? Spell Check can do the work for him. Web sites can provide the information that we had to research in the library.
I also blame the parents. Stupid bigoted parents will bring up stupid bigoted children.
GeeBee. Did you read the article I linked to? Because your post totally misses my point, or rather, misses the point made by Sue Engel. Who said learning facts is bad? The author is suggesting that children must learn to APPLY the information they LEARN (not merely memorize) basic skills; but she is ALSO advocating teaching children how to apply those skills not just memorize them. Furthermore, she is by no means suggesting children learn by themselves and neither she, nor I, are supporters of any sort of "fashionable educationalism crap." One of the reason I include links in my posts is so that people can read the sources and THEN make judgments. I'm not clear you did that.

When we came home from school, my father, who knew more facts than any human being I've ever encountered, would always quiz us as to what we learned and then show us the relationship of the thing we learned to the real world. Not everyone is that lucky, which is why having teachers who can teach that kind of association is important, even that we DON'T go for the easy conclusions; i.e. this must just be another liberal rant.
This is a great post, Nikki.

I fear for the young women who are persisting in that generational, oppressive role that is assigned to them as they strive either for being stupid or playing stupid as a definition of qualities that are required in order to get and to keep a man.

But then again, perhaps they are afraid, having seen what happens to women who are smart. There may be a fear of intelligence, or of knowing too much that is going on in our society.

In the case of the attempted purloining of the Haitan children, those people knew exactly what they were up to. They are just playing stupid in order to get out of trouble. That defense will not carry water.
Sandra, no one knows everything or even half as much as they think they know. But a scientific theory is a deductive theory, constructed from empirical data. According to the National Academy of Science: "In everyday language, a theory means a hunch or speculation. Not so in science. In science, the word theory refers to a comprehensive explanation of an important feature of nature supported by facts gathered over time. Theories also allow scientists to make predictions about as yet unobserved phenomena..." And this: "Some scientific explanations are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them."

This distinction may be hard for non-scientists (like me) to understand, but it is critical.
asianshoebox, it's not about education, it's about wanting to understand as fully as possible, which clearly you do.

JK - I almost wrote about the stupidity of recently passed and proposed French legislation, but I ran out of the political will...
I'm a social scientist by training and it drives me nuts how the word theory has become bastardized in casual conversation to mean "the opposite of fact". I wonder if Lionel Trilling's "The Moral Obligation To Be Intelligent" is out of print.
Excellent post. Unfortunately rings of so much truth. Stupidity is the outcome of ignorance; and ignorance, is the opium of the masses. We are living in a Bradburian society. Everytime I read something similar, I remember Captain Beatty's speech to Montag, and shudder seeing how much of what he preached has become a reality.
If I hear some stupid person say that "Evolution is only a theory," my response is, "Well, gravity is only a theory. Do you believe in that?"
Though I talk a good game (my Dots are 14 and 13), I'm daily fighting a tragic malaise within myownself. So I raise my girls to think for themself, to formulate ideas aloud, to critically read. So what? If our nation's demise follows those of its predecessors, both in near and faraway history, those that can Think will be the first to feel the whip, or the garrotte, or the gunshot. I'm thinking I better continue the education of their pursuing the mastery of the arts of hand- and shotgun operation; facility with a standard-shift automobile; and how exactly to erect an invisible place of lodging "out" in the country, on the prairie, in the mountains.

It's a dismal future I envision.
I find it mind boggling how thoroughly MSM has followed mainstream culture in embracing and cultivating stupidity. Fear and paranoia have played a large role in this tragedy. When I was a kid, we learned an enormous amount by being allowed to spend time outdoors on our own without constantly being led or watched over.

I recently met a 17-year-old girl who had no idea how to navigate from her home to a park less than 2 miles away because she was driven everywhere. Her parents were afraid to let her go anywhere unsupervised, and she didn't have the guts to challenge them.

How are present-day kids going to function as adults if they never learn how to learn new things on their own and don't develop the critical thinking skills needed to make decisions?
Sandra : It's still in print and now I'm going to need to read it
FusunA: ...and I'm going to have to re-read Fahrenheit 450
Stim: far, so good
americans can be stupid. in fact, they are encouraged to be stupid. more, they are taught to be stupid. and the result is... just what you would expect.

"why is this so?" [julius sumner miller]

about 10,000 years ago, humans shifted over to farming, surplus food stores arose, and smart humans saw an ecological opportunity. they went into the king, priest, and soldier business, parasites all, and began stupidifying their farmer hosts to make them more manageable. the process is far advanced, so much so, that the farmers now support 100's of different kinds of parasites.

politicians, talk show hosts, financial engineers, lawyers, they all live off the farmers, fishermen and miners that actually work. if those f, f, and m's weren't stupid, they'd down tools for a few weeks and cull the ticks, worms and leeches in big suits.

but they are dumb, and so are the lower levels of parasites, the natural result of 10,000 years of breeding for stupid.

this process is particularly bad in america, a nation stuck in the past by an obsolete constitution, an ethos of submission to wealth, and an addiction to televangelism, either religious or political, frequently both.

I can't improve on 1 word you've said, and thank you for saying it.

My friends and I continually talk about this and wonder when American dumbing-down actually began. I say it started when college degrees became TOO accessible via CLEPs and "credit for life experience" and other nuisance-avoiders--instead of actually spending class time and LEARNING something, then applying it to the business of life and work.

I work around a lot of college-age student aides, and they say and do things that are so dumb it's criminal. It's a wonder I have a tongue left at all since I bite it all the time.

Needless to say, I'm a fossil so what do I know about anything? I graduated college in '79--from a prestigious school, no less, as a scholarship student--so whatever I learned can hardly be relevant now.

The horror of all this is that THEY'LL be in charge--hell, they already are (witness Sarah Palin, W, and their ilk).

We have seen the future, and its name is "Idiocracy." That movie, B though it may be, would be funnier if it didn't hit so close to home--alas.
I love this post. I'd comment, but I think I might be too stupid to say anything meaningful.
Well-said! This is the land where we never let our intelligence get in the way of our beliefs.
It is an eduspeak term but I wish rhetoric/critical thinking was required (not composition) so people could learn how to think instead of being told what to think. Probably too Platonic and that Republic he dreams of to ever happen ;0)
We gave willfully ignorant people the right to vote. It's our own stupid fault if you think of it that way. I think that voters should have to pass an I.Q. test before they get a chance to decide things for the rest of us. If that sounds "Elitist" then tough beans.
really great discussion in comments as well

and now I can't get the image of mountain-dew-powered jet skis out of my head
Nothing wrong with Mountain Dew or power jet skis -- as long as they (and we) know their place.
You are so polite. Wonderful insight and a great read.
Wonderful post, Nikki. Glad you mentioned Andrew Young...the amazing gyrations he and his wife went through to look like they had the moral high ground....
If everyone who's tired of stupid keeps staring it down and calling it out like you have here, we are going to be okay.
Lorelei - those jet-ski people don't get a vote. If they drown whilst pursuing their hobby it's a "win-win".
Indeed Nikki - very well said.

"I always thought I lived in a society that was not only capable of change but also open to it. Clearly I've been fooling myself."

I don't think you're alone. The amount of people who call themselves open-minded and compassionate, yet can't sit still to hear an idea opposite their own without launching an ad hominem argument or degrade the other person without realizing that judgment degrades them in the process, does indeed confuse me.

We all make mistakes, we all have issues, we all are here as human beings so by definition we are born to evolve, why is change so hard to imagine? Baffling.

Well said Nikki!
This is why monarchy was such a successful form of government for so long. While the religious intolerance and racism that was necessary for those governments to exist should not be considered today, the longer I live and the more stupidity I see, the more I wish I lived under a totalitarian regime.

The masses will always be stupid. Instead of being a white landowner; as we did in the past, perhaps we should require an above average IQ before allowing one to vote.
I couldn't agree more, Nikki.
Excellent post. A+.
I remember many, many years ago when I was in the 9th grade and my Geometry teacher was substituting as my Government teacher. Mr. Mancuso said, "People I am paid by the Public Schools to dumb you down, but it is your job and obligation to learn outside of this classroom the rules and the process of Constitutional Law...that you might survive and not perish under the weight of an oppressed public's stupidity." How glad I am that I paid attention.
Buddah, it's always fun to hear from you, even though you make a hell of a lot of assumptions about what I do and don't do. But I agree that following a system that doesn't work seems the height of stupidity. That's why I look forward to hearing your suggestions (besides writing, protesting, growing in a community garden - which I do - and voting the bastards out).

But, to Buddah's point, I hope everyone will be careful about assuming I'm talking only about those "other" people -- say, conservative people, jet-skiing people, supermarket-shopping people. We all make assumptions, including (maybe especially) the so-called elite thinkers. Any kind of "you're all stupid because you don't see what I see or believe what I believe or understand what I understand" is a barrier to any kind of social (and cultural and economic) advancement.
Thanks for writing this so well. I had a young RN tell me recently that she was explaining to a patient (also a young woman), that she could not have the combination of meds she was asking for because it was not safe. The patient had an unusually low blood pressure and the nurse was addressing that. The patient wanted her pain medicine, her nausea medicine and her psych med all at once. When told it was not safe, she replied" I hate educated people, they are always telling you what to do", the young nurse to her credit responded "this educated person has kept you alive tonight". I gave her much praise. Maybe she should have let this stupid person have all the medicine she wanted and let her suffer the consequences, but we all know the nurse would have been blamed. It is weird to live in a world where you after to defend your knowledge and your vocabulary as if they were the problem.
Excellent! If you have not read Allan Bloom's "The Closing of the American Mind," please do. You would enjoy it. Bravo -- and thanks for the post.
now see? this shoulda been an ep. :)

This is a great post. Your examples are spot on. I appreciate your passionate voice.
I hope stupid is the new black. It would be nice to be fashion forward for a change.
Hello fellow South Joiseyan --

I enjoyed reading your post and agree with nearly all of it. However, I disagree with the education point.

Yes, I understand how teacher's are forced to (mostly) teach their classes how to pass a some sort of government-measurement test. But it seems to me that teaching to take a test doesn't involve memorization and in fact, is actually geared towards developing critical-thinking skills.

I haven't researched this topic exhaustively, but I seems that silly stuff like standard formulas are now provided to students in the testing environment to alleviate the need for useless memorization .

Back when I was in school, there were dinosaurs outside the classroom window and we needed to memorize every stinkin' math formula and spelling word correctly and spent the majority of our time in school doing this.

The kids today, in my opinion, have much better problem-solving skills. My high school senior (in a public school) is doing stuff that I didn't get to until undergraduate (or graduate) courses in college -- these are regular classes, not honors/advanced.

And he doesn't need to spend any time "memorizing" formulas, or spellings, etc. and can instead, focus his concentration on stepping-through a question's multiple layers.

Does my high school student know the value of pi? Can he spell words correctly without referencing (readily-available) spellcheckers? Can he do complicated math equations by hand? More times than not the answer is "no". But so what?

When you have tools for mundane things like summing figures or provide the correct spellings/definitions of words, that allows the students to focus their efforts on developing skills that will assist them more in the real world.

(I still cringe when I see an obvious spelling mistake in my kid's play activities or social networking gigs. But that is my own hang-up to deal with.)
"Any kind of "you're all stupid because you don't see what I see or believe what I believe or understand what I understand" is a barrier to any kind of social (and cultural and economic) advancement."

Nikki, this is absolutely correct and very much worth repeating. This is one of my favorite little soapboxes!
Damn people, you're all so smart! And there are so many of you I want to meet now.
@Steve B: I'm on it -- and anyone else who wants to recommend a book to me, please do. I could use the preparation for some upcoming events in which the non-academic (that would be me) might start feeling a little stupid herself ;-)
@CrazeCzar: one of the few things I really admire about New Jersey is its education system; I honestly think it might be superior to other states. So I'm not surprised at what you kid can do. Also, he has you as a parent
ah, that would be "what your kid would do..." (duh)
Specialization and technology have allowed our collective brains to atrophy. The woeful “one size fits all” approach of our education system is totally inadequate. Parents must instill in their children the importance of being critical thinkers and lifelong learners.
I may not understand the New Black in your title, but I infer that we are in a new Dark Age. There is a "rush limbaugh university", on 630 WMAL, among other wave bands condemning "liberal" indoctrination in american universities. Limbaugh himslef is indoctrinating and is graduating those otherwise "dropouts" into our society and it is stupid and laughable to the rest of the world. I should know, I lived in Europe and elsewhere. Palin's event in HK was reported in the South China Morning Post there as,"goofy with low expectation". Now look out, she could be our next US President.
Sorry about the "new black" reference - ex-New York City dweller that I am (although never a "fashionista") I figured that near-ubiquitous pop-culture reference to the "next big thing in fashion" (black always being in fashion, at least in Manhattan) would universally resonate. Just another reason to remember there's an awfully big world out there...
Schools are the bane of every parent. And they dumb the kids down, and if stupid is as stupid does, then we as a country are, breaking news NOT, a really stupid country.
Unplug all your tv's, and snip the electrical cord off so you aren't tempted to plug them in again.

The IQ of everyone in the house just went up by 20%.
The one thing that gives me hope is that in the past 18 months, I've seen a noticeable change in my students. They want to know more now, and seem less interested in discussing reality shows, gossip, and other forms of bullshit.
Perhaps it has dawned on them that being stupid (when you are smart) has nothing to offer them. Let's hope.
Indeed stupidity appears to be on the rise...although it is getting harder and harder to tell. Ah, for the good old days when it was clear who was and who was not to be considered stupid. If one was not a Great Man, then one was stupid, and beneath notice. Now every Rick and Charlie gums for the portraitist of History! Vile. (HurumphHurumph) Amen.
So, have to admit that when i first glanced at the article's headline I saw a political angle: is stupid the new black? As in: are the information-poor the new second-class citizens? Are the stupid now relegated to ghettos and underfunded schools? Yes, the will to be curious, to apply knowledge must be taught, and what middle-class bullshit it is to pretend it is all a matter of individual will or even school failings, rather than a consistent and deliberate theft of resources and time and energy away from the places where education happens. Free thinking is possible almost entirely when the population has enough energy to spend leisure time thinking, not worrying about where the next meal will come from. If that leisure ends at high school graduation, shame on America. If my leisure time is spent worrying about sparkly teenage vampires, shame on me.
NO. Being black, and the prejudice that ensues, are unwarranted. Stupid people, especially short stupid people, ain't got no reason to live.

The only problem with killing off the stupid people is that, of those that remain, there is a new bunch of stupid people. They're just not as stupid as their predecessors.
Your post/rant is perfect and what makes it perfecter is the number of really thoughtful and thought provoking comments.

Unfortunately the answer is a resounding YES. The only questions are what size, what style, what material. Should it be the low cut black? high collar ? gown length? And what material? cashmere? wool? linen? denim?

Men, of course, have always worn black.
@ jerry, mostly thoughtful but then, see the previous post, whose purpose and meaning escape me.

as for your later comment, perhaps men realize that black is the new black...
From a song(Right to be Stupid)I wrote long ago." My Right to be stupid may get stuck in your craw, but my right to be stupid aint against the law."
This is, hands down, the best expression of this sentiment and these facts that I have ever read.

Passing it on wherever I can.

"Only a third of the American public accepts natural selection"... how can this be? You are not taught about Darwin in the science classes of primary and high school? Because if you see the theory of Evolution at school... how come only 1/3 accepts it? Totally puzzling for me.
Very well said. When so much emphasis is placed on money and celebrity, what can we expect.
Wonderfully pointed piece. 2 thumbs up...I mean, rated.
This is a deeply profound piece of writing.
Stupidity is, in fact, a complete matter of willingness in many cases. I am a junior in high school, and although I am suffering from the idea that a good section of this post is directed towards myself and my peers, I wholeheartedly agree.
I am currently enrolled in a high-end, preppy boarding school and am taking Honors and advanced courses in all available subjects, save mathematics. I was admitted from middle school with an impressive portfolio, a heap of recommendations, and a 4.1 GPA. In the past three years, my grades have dropped from entirely A's to the lower end of the B range. Despite the fact that many friends and teachers attribute this decline to my recent medical leave on account of pneumonia, I know for a fact that a good deal of this is from my own unwillingness to work. My entrance to high school assailed me with a huge: "It's okay. Not everyone can be on top of the world." This was a drastic change from my strict family rules on grades. I became much more social and, as littleboxofspoons mentioned, drawn into the world of social networking. If I could stay off of Facebook for more than a few minutes at a time, I would be acing all of my courses and would have more time to spend with a family that rarely gets to see me.
I know that I am not stupid. I also, however, know that I am a great deal lazier than I should be. Why should you do homework when there's the great world of highly-stimulating feel-goods to support you? It doesn't matter if you're stupid. In today's society, everyone is special. Everyone believes they can achieve their dreams and overcome their obstacles by the power of luck.
As for myself, I've started to refrain from cruising downtown in my friends' convertibles, drinking Red Bull and blasting loud electronic music.
When I confront the people I consider my friends about some of their more illicit activities, the most common explanation I receive is "I do it because it's fun." My generation is amusing itself to death.
And, because I've yet to see this in any other comments, I would like to quote Mark Twain in saying "I have never let my schooling interfere with my education."
Rated. Thank you for sharing a beautiful ideology, and please have some hope in the redemption of my generation.
~ Tippikal
Americans, as a populace, have traditionally been suspicious of intellectuals, this odd prejudice against intelligent and curious leadership is long standing. Misquided reverse snobbism. This odd prejudice is nothing new, and is the reason that our founding fathers created the electoral college.

I wonder if the grand experiment has, after all, failed?

Let's face it, we're not looking good in comparison studies, our people have a lesser quality of life all around, we die sooner too.
Great post, Nikki. In the 60's I had a bumper sticker that saud "Kill Your Televisiuon," and I am not wont to preasch what I don't practice.

Four decades later, when I get a glimpse of television in a movie or DVD. I know that I did the right thing.

BTW, this Central Jerseyan travelled very often just to walk around Princeton and breathe the air of academia and luxuriate in the architecture and quaint shops. I wonder what it's like there, now.

sorry for stupid misspellings, especially in the context of this blog post.
Only just getting to this post. Wanted to emphatically endorse the op-ed by Susan Engel about education; ie the purpose of schooling. I couldn't agree more and have written extensively about this. Would that the PTB listen!
Schools are part of it, television is part of it, parents and/or other adult role models are a big part of it and are a big part of it and one could argue that technology is part of it's what you do with what you have. Teachers should teach basics but have a way to promote and reward curiosity as well. serves a function and it's possible to find good theater as well as good commentary. Same with technology. I feel lucky to have discovered as much diversity as well as information through extensive (sometimes excessive) surfing. But knowing what's important, being able to prioritize, believing that voting for a representative (even if you deplore the system) is more important than voting for an "American Idol" -- that's a skill we should be cultivating and somehow, we're not. It gets back to being able to make informed and critical decisions.
Buddah, I share your despair over our economic system and I wish I understood free market systems and the supposed virtues of capitalism more than I do (I see advantages and disadvantages; let's put it like that). Honestly, though, your whole Jewish money-lender slash economic puppet master theory is really kind of dated and the idea that the Old Testament (which, along with various other religious tracts I can fault for many things) is responsible for economic inequality is specious at best. I don't think getting rid of Judaism (or, presumably, Jews) would improve anything at all and I certainly hope you don't think so either.
A provocative post! I trace our veneration of stupidity to 1993 and the airing of Mike Judge's animated television series, Beavis and Butthead. Starting with that program, America embraced a swooning love affair with the lurid sentiments, verbal expressions and single-note perspective of adolescent boys. Countless millions now manage to win attention by adopting the Beavis and Butthead persona, which I call The Cornholio Movement.
Craig Ferguson gave us the definitive bit on this: "Why everything sucks" (hint: we celebrate stupidity)

Do we just give up, to India and China? Do we say fuck education, I want that extra $200 per year, so I can get my bigger Walmart plasma screen?

Because of the short-sighted know-nothingism of Prop 13, 10s of billions in lost revenues were lost from the former cash cows that were the med schools and physics labs and hard science centers in that crown jewel not just of California but the USA: the California higher education system, where any deserving someone could get world class degree, regardless of pedigree or income.

Now Ca's higher ed system is collapsing and foreign students of means find better schools abroad, where labs are still open and world-class teachers can still be hired. And at UCLA they have required courses for which there are no teachers left to teach them, due to layoffs. And soup kitchens for students who sleep in their cars.

If we do not stand up for financing our schools we might as well say to hell with education, to hell with US competitiveness, to hell with our history of invention and resourcefulness and achievement, and watch reality cable as our brains freeze and bellies swell.

America has fallen behind and for what? So that smug middle-class homeowners can crow about containing taxes, while we drift toward third-world stupidity? Over half of Americans don't believe in evolution anymore. Louisiana has a law now that allowed a 30-year science teaching veteran to be fired for sending out a single memo about a respected international scientist's book criticizing "Intelligent Design". Jindal hosts lawn partied for creationists.

We admire the wrong things (src: Sandra Stephens, OS). Sacrifice is good for us. Good education is the key to every problem we face in this country, and it costs to keep it up. If we do not support the accomplished, talented, American schools, then what do we support?

Babies want to buy more toys. Adults want to buy solid futures for their children.

Fundamentalists want to close our public school system, hand our kids a bible and say "figure it out". We must teach critical thinking in elementary school.

We must teach Logical Fallacies (if Mythbusters can be a big hit, surely "Name That Fallacy" can, too).

When your local bond issue comes up, vote YES for bonds and taxes and budgets that support your schools. If your schools aren't up to snuff, improve them.

And to my fellow leftists: stop dithering about "dangerous vaccines" and auras and big pharma and feel-good self-esteem programs and get behind Greek and Trig and understanding data analysis and probabilities.

It's what keeps the planes flying and our economy strong and our brains clear.

EXCELLENT, Nikki. Just fucking excellent. Post of the year.
Greg - many thanks and for thinking up "Name that Fallacy" I am totally rating your comment (er, can I do that?)
Sorry I missed this when it was first posted. Glad you mentioned it on Facebook. I agree. Well done.
At the risk of oversimplifying, I think most of what is wrong with this country would not be wrong if we had excellent public education that taught students how to think and reason along with the fact that democracy only works if everyone puts the good of society above their own greed and narcissism.
Monte: this seems to be one of those topics that's not too terribly time-sensitive; you didn't miss a thing by arriving about now :-)

Harley: I agree -- my school didn't teach critical thinking but my father did, which caused some trouble in school, but I turned out decently anyway.
Excellent post - I'm going to place blame on the media and those who simply accept the "facts" reported by these alleged "news" organization without question. We are also a country quick to forgive the famous and celebrity - so Mark McGwire can shed his crocodile tears (an issue I addressed last month) and believe he will be absolved - because to many, he will be.

Or Mel Gibson can simply say he that he "is past" his Anti-Semitic rant and assume (I would urge, improperly) that everyone else should be "past it" as well. But if his movie scores box office gold, then it is fair to assume that the lemmings who populate our country have done just that.

Which will only serve to prove your point. Rated.
Very good post, I agree wholeheartedly and hope this thread becomes a national and world wide talking point. Now for a bright spot. My daughter attends El Camino Real High School in Southern California. The school ( a public one, in L. A. Unified!) has won the National Academic Decathalon something like six times. She tells me it is "cool" to be smart at El Camino and the members of the decathalon team are respected and admired. She's nearly a straight A student, for which I'm very proud, but I agree with the criticism of "too much memorization". Even her English final involved more memorizing than creatively using words, sentences, and paragraphs. An easier way to teach perhaps, but not for getting the best possible results.
Personally, I postulate that stupid is as stupid does, or in other words - politics and education as usual. It's all about robots and GDP. Isn't it????
Gretchen Carlson, now a commentator on Fox News, was a student in my physics class before she aced college and became Miss America. I am dumbfounded to see her on Fox pretending to be a dumb blond. Perhaps the show is more entertainment than news, but it is a great example of using 'Stupid' to fit in and make money.
Hi Nikki, I'm new to Open Salon and your post convinced me to join so I could comment. I am a product of the educational system and found that some classes and educators have caught on to the fact that the teaching of memorization was worthless compared to learning how to think in order to reach valid and useful truths. Majority of "education" isn't geared towards helping people reach their maximum potential; it's geared towards making people accept the weight of history's inevitable perpetuity, ie accept things for what they are and what you've been taught. Stupidity is not a natural condition, it's a result of an establishment's seeking of self preservation.
Right on target Nikki! I think we are de evolving as a species. Have you noticed that stupid people tend to have larger families? Ignorance is curable, stupidity is forever!
New Buddha Fun:

as a Jew your comment preyed on me last night. I debated raving at you. I decided against it. Just another jerk.

Then you redeem yourself, OS, and brighten my world with this mea culpa.

Look: I loathe US banking with burning intensity of a thousand suns. They are a Trust and need bustin'. Some of my realtives work high up in banking.

But the whole anti-semitic crapoonu is just that: moneylending was one of the few roles allowed Jews by royal decree in the middle ages, and STILL most of banking is dominated historically by WASPs. And nowadays by a plyglot mix of Swiss, Arabs, Euopeans, and Americans of all kinds,

Jewish traditions are not the root of any o it. It is greed and massive de-regulation that caused our current woes.

But you give me hope for humanity. There are lots of comments placed on OS about someone's brave writing: yours is one of the bravest I have ever seen.

The world will not advance by all of us quietly, magically being "good". It will advance when we dare reveal our trembling, flawed selves, as you do here. I for one say forgiven, understood, we are all suffering beings, jerks at times, and thank you for the trust you place in us to understand.
Andy: I keep coming back to the media, old and new
New Buddah: I look forward to reading your post and man, I hope you can keep your home.
Frank: Hooray for your daughter;can we move our families to your neighborhood?
Boomer: You may be onto something.
Prinzl: Blond is the old stupid, unfortunately.
James: Welcome and your last line is why I retain a modicum of hope.
Poppi: I'm not against large families per se, although I can't understand the family that hopes to sire twenty kids. Why not foster in that case?
Stupid is as stupid does. Now go watch your telescreen and wait for Big Brother to tell you what to do next as we sit in the Dark Ages with technology.
Thanks Greg -- and folks, you should know that I'm thrilled to tears about this discussion, seriously thrilled.
I just happened to come accross your journal -- not even sure how. I have to tell you - it's not only a breathe of fresh air, it made me laugh. And God knows I need to laugh from time to time. I am going to continue to read -- thanks.
PS -- another example of stupidity.

What parents allows their child who is no more than 9 to launch a kiddie lingerie line? It is hard enough to instill self-worth into today's girls without something like this.What do you think? Is there hope for our girls to have a future without having to sell their bodies?
Alas, I am several days behind the other comments posted here, so perhaps no one will see my input, but it is worth a try.

First off, I agree completely with the sentiments expressed about the shortcomings of "teaching to the test." I considered becoming a high school English teacher and decided against it because I could not abide by the limitations imposed by policies relating to standardized tests. It is also true that many people of my generation (I am 24) have been ill-prepared by their formal educations, and have on top of that absorbed far too much junk via TV and the internet. And no doubt there are complacent teens and twenty-somethings out there (whether this is unique to our generation is another matter).

HOWEVER, I don't see a productive end to all the posts by folks my parents' age chorusing "What's the matter with kids today?" If we have a grown up to have a generational deficit for which we now must compensate, the blame must be laid with the generation that produced the culture in which we were raised. But I am not especially interested in the blame game. (It seems that throughout history older generations have believed that younger ones will run civilization as we know it off the tracks, and younger generations have rolled their eyes and pointed their fingers. Let's not reduce this topic to that same old, same old.)

The questions are: What is the core issue? And what can be done to resolve the core issue? From my perspective, the seed behind anti-intellectualism is three-fold: (1) People have become accustomed to passive participation in their society. (2) People--not just young people--have drunk the kool-aid of entitlement. (Frequently, this second part of the problem is lobbed as an accusation of a personality flaw, rather than being recognized as the result of a lifetime of having been marketed to.) (3) People are disempowered; they don't have the tools (or don't know that they have the tools) to take control of their lives.

These problems are not exclusive to but ARE especially concentrated in the younger generation as it enters a crappy job market. It shouldn't come as a surprise that frustrated, disempowered people aren't idealistic. They don't want to hear about the abstract beauty of genius; they want to turn on their TVs and forget about the job they hate. They want to feel superior--or at least ADEQUATE--not inferior (thus the successs of "folksy" politicians).

So what do we do? If we create a goal of empowering--rather than entitling--people, we will have taken a huge first step. People need to feel that their active contributions matter. They need to feel connected to communities to feel connected to ideas. And formal education is a big part of that equation.

I have been lucky to have had an excellent public high school experience, and to have found an intellectual niche at university (I am now a graduate student). Let me say that I know dozens of young people who are by my estimation the opposite of stupid and complacent--young people who do rigorous study and who devote years of their lives to service. We work hard. But we do not work hard in a vacuum. We are supported by a subculture that values our ideas and gives us ideas to work with. This doesn't have to be restricted to academia.
Came back by to re read this thought-provoking post.

And decided that no, Stupid is not "the new black."

Stupider is the new black.


Thank you. Thank you very much.
@rayshea: your idea of empowering instead of entitling is a good one. As far as crappy job markets go, it's easy to blame present circumstances - certainly fear is a powerful motivator when it comes to willful ignorance - but I'm not sure that's the entire story.
@ConnieM: you might have a point

I'd enjoy hearing your thoughts on young girls and the premise of Lori Gottlieb's new book "Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr Good Enough."

As a woman of color who came of age during the early 70s--who went to college to earn a degree and pursue a successful career, and did so lo these 26 yrs--I'm so livid about this book that I can't see straight. I've not read it yet, but the reviews and all the comments have so roiled me that I plan to do so.

Hope you consider doing so...
elsmao: Well certainly there's got to be a better way to empower women and acknowledge their interest in/desire for romantic love and companionship than in advising them to "settle". Of course, the book title is certainly provocative and seems to me, right off the top of my head, to be incredibly insulting to both women and men.
Why did it take you so long to notice?
Very well said! I've always hated this mentality, that we celebrate Britney Spears over Maya Angelou, that we care more about what people have than what people know. Then shows like Jersey Shore do great, and nobody watches the History Channel. It's sad. My mother was a fifth grade teacher for 35 years and she always "taught to the test" and I couldn't believe it. I said how could you do that? Not teach Social Studies or Science, just Math and English because that's what they're told. What are we, educational automotans? Personally, I hate it. And I see you do too. And these commenters do as well. But we're still all such a vast vast minority.
Outstanding commentary on a topic that truly concerns me. Stupidity is not only rampant in our society, it actively promoted. God help me, I actually watched the Steve Wilkos show today which featured a woman who said, "I was indicated by DFACS."

Best Regards -
Ironic that I made a typo in a post about stupidity. I'm new here - is there a way to edit comments you post? Thanks.
At twelve years of age, children, should be able to "read a chapter book, write a story and a compelling essay; know how to add, subtract, divide and multiply numbers... use evidence to support an opinion...and engage in an exchange of ideas."

Where I work, many adults cannot do this...Great post!
This is the trouble I have with school. I did poorly at it, I hated it. I was bullied each day... to go to a place where you're punished by others each day, do you want to be there? I personally feel I could have learnt more from (good) television and from the many trips I took with my parents. But anyway, I've noticed something... generally if I don't know something, I can ask someone else, and dogs are similar... you get a dog who knows how to open the front door while the other doesn't, dogs and people live in groups. there's a combined intelligence here. What schools do is try to form people into blocks which will fit in "Another brick in the wall", but we cannot understand everything. What a school does is in effect, make you feel stupid. It does not look at the kid and say "oh, he's interested in science, especially astronomy, ok, lets push that as far as it will go" I was in classes that I personally didn't "get" and knew I never would. The school seemed to focus on my failings rather than what I did right, there wasn't much, my mind was elsewhere... eventually I left and funny enough, spent time learning about things that I really was interested in. A friend says I ought to, at 44, go to university. He's a lecturer in law, and thinks I have what it takes to be a good student. But I declined the offer, I've been a student for quite a long time, tried to find a place in the world, featured in a tv documentary, got a credit in a feature movie. I feel I haven't found a place, I never will.
Wolfie, the "place in the world" -- or rather, no place in the world -- feeling is worthy of its own post. Although we are perhaps "blessed" with the freedom not to have to try and outrun marauding bands of killers or widespread famine and disease or grinding poverty on a daily basis, we are cursed with the freedom to feel at times very disconnected. Anything I said on this subject might come off as (excuse my language) half-assed and I don't want to do that to you. I will say, however, that returning to school as an adult is incredibly liberating. My sister, well into her fifties, just got a Masters in Library Science and Information Systems. Notwithstanding the awfulness of the job market, I've never seen her happier and the fact that she was an A student all the way didn't hurt her self-esteem either.
It seems like any time someone mentions "how stupid people are," in any context, a large number of responses focus on the U.S. Yes, we ALL know the U.S. contains a large population of stupid people, you aren't adding ANYTHING to the discussion by mentioning that. Can we focus on the world-wide problem of stupidity and not play the blame game?
Too bad there are far more stupid people than not, and sadly there is no cure.

But I'm sure if one started the "Stop Stupidity" fund, one would get some hefty donations.

J W - Americans aren't stupid, they are downright ignorant. Know the difference.