Thursday, February 20, 2014

With Ignorance as Our Sword

Ignorance has been the sword of the conservative fearful for far too long. Most recently this was brought to my attention by a battle in my home state of South Carolina. Legislators, led by State Representative Garry Smith (R-Simpsonville) have cut $17,142 from the budget of the University of South Carolina Upstate and $52,000 from the College of Charleston’s budget in response to two books assigned to college freshman that Garry Smith claims promote homosexuality.

In the summer of 2013 college freshman planning to attend the College of Charleston were assigned Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel Fun Home. A required course at USC-U assigned Out Loud:  The Best of Radio Rainbow, the story of the first radio show in SC to take homosexuality as its primary focus and give a consistent voice to the LGBT population of the state. And once again a conservative politician has decided that censorship, though indirect, is the only way to deal with the growing popularity of issues that make him uncomfortable. He and his sympathizers in our state government were able to pass their budget cut and deliver a slap to open, thoughtful discussion.

Because that’s what it’s really about—open and informed discussion of pertinent issues. Framed within the discussion of the LGBT community our conversations about ridiculous events like this budgetary fiasco become bogged down with viewpoints rooted in religion, tradition, and personal attachments. So let’s get rid of all of that and look at what is at issue here:  our state representatives telling our students that they are too dumb to make their own decisions.

Education is not the prescriptive loading of information into a receptacle. We can all try to agree on certain things that every student should possess as they move through the education system, and we do, but in truth education is about turning a group on to the indispensable and wonderful value of knowledge. We should be encouraging people to read any and everything they want, so that they have the widest possible pool of “evidence” to pull on as they make decisions, practical and abstract, throughout their lives. But what doesn’t help anyone is a lack of intellectual evidence. The censorship Representative Smith and his supporters propose has been the sword against informative experience and discussion that the fearful have used on the intellectual community for years upon years. Just take a look at any banned book list. Talk to any teacher who has been made to abandon teaching a beautiful novel because it deals with issues that are “not in line with community values.” And then tell me this:  when did ignorance of an opponent’s thoughts, arguments and beliefs ever provide strength to someone’s stance?

This is what it boils down to for me. We can argue all day about homosexual marriage or a score of other issues attached to this problem and never agree. But if you don’t have any understanding of the arguments that I will be making then you don’t stand a chance against me in that fight, because I’ve made an effort to learn about multiple sides of the question. You can’t tell me your side of an issue is the correct one if you have no clue what my side is. If you want to wrestle with questions of the free market then read Adam Smith. After that read the people that disagree with him. Then read from people that agree with him. Then read Karl Marx. Then re-read Adam Smith. You will learn nothing if you try to extract knowledge from a monologue. No student learns when they are told they can’t ask questions.

My questions to you, Representative Smith:

How do we strengthen our views on issues other than by exposing ourselves to every side?

When has access to as much information as possible hindered your ability to decide your own opinion?

How does your encouragement of ignorance of the voice of the LGBT population promote informed decision making on either side of the issues that community and its supporters raise?

This budgetary attack reaches far beyond the fight of the LGBT community. Tell Representative Smith and his committee that we will not accept government imposed ignorance, no matter what the issue.  Tell these representatives that what they have done is an affront to open intellectual discourse and the very identity of higher learning. Tell them that our education system will not be ruled by their fears.