by Linda Sutton
Atlantic Free Press
Sunday, 26 August 2007
On Education in America Today
GV: Well, you know, it’s just a country of non-readers. They just don’t read. Everything is too difficult for them. The New York Times is too difficult. So they have no way of getting information, and the New York Times also tells lies for interested parties. So they’re not missing a lot. But you have to have some means of access to the outside world.
LS: I’m Linda Sutton. We’re here today with author/philosopher Gore Vidal to discuss the state of education in America.
Gore, since the middle of the 1940’s, you have written and commented on American history, politics and culture, being one of the most prolific as well as one of the most controversial authors of our time. I’ve heard you at many speaking engagements recently. Each time you quote from Benjamin Franklin who said that the American government will ultimately fail because of the corruption of the American people. Are we at that point today?
GV: Yes. I think tragically so. But there it is. Franklin was a wise old bird and instead of blaming it on other people, who did it, it would be somebody from outside did this to the greatest people in the world. You know our constant boasting has done our educational system enormous harm, and our position in the world, even greater harm.
We’re regarded as the great crashing bores of the entire planet. “America’s, we’re the best, we’re number one, we’re this, we’re that.” Well, we’re just about nothing, and the quality of life, I think we rate 24th among the first world countries, and there are times when we seem to be not even in the first world. But, we have nothing to compare ourselves to. Europeans have a number of civilized neighbors. We have Mexico and we have Canada. Canadians don’t much like us and the Mexicans, I suppose, don’t much like us either. But we have so many problems with immigration and our Mexicans, our Southern neighbors, that it’s unfair to say what our relations really are. But the corruption of people that was foreseen by Benjamin Franklin, it doesn’t mean everybody goes out and steals money all day long, or tells lies all day long, although most people do tell lies all day long, particularly our government. He meant that eventually, he was speaking specifically of the Constitution, which he objected to many things, including the powers of the president, but he said, it’s, you know, “Let’s move on. We’ll work as best we can.
This will give us good government for a time, and then it will fail, as most experiments do, due to the corruption of people.” By that he means, not that you and I go out and, cheat, steal and sell drugs to children on street corners. It’s not that kind of corruption. It’s collusion. There’s a total collusion that’s taking place in the United States. We’ve had two elections that were palpably stolen — presidential elections in 2000 and 2004. A book was written about the 2004, the stealing of the election in the state of Ohio, engineered by the secretary of state of that state.
John Conyers, a Democrat of Congress went up with a team. He did an analysis of what happened during the election of 2004, wrote a very thorough study, extraordinary, hair raising, if you care about the country. But this is the collusion of a people who do not care about their country, at all, and their teachers don’t care, and kids don’t care, all they want to do is play games, and so on…. well, and that’s normal too. But not one voice was raised.
Congressman Conyers publishes this book, “What Happened in Ohio.” I wrote the preface to it, so I do know something about the fate of the book. The result was the New York Times never reviewed it, the Washington Post never reviewed it…. that was the end of it. It was not reviewed anywhere in the country, and here is proof that the election was stolen by electronic machinery put out by Diebold and by Triad. I’m just naming them for the record.
That’s corruption and every human being in the United States is equally corrupt, because he didn’t complain. You call yourselves a republic, that’s all we have going for us. Which are our basic institutions, the three branches of government who are somehow or other, are supposed to be in balance and generally are, are totally out of balance, when a really power mad and money hungry little group grabs control of Congress, the Executive and the Judiciary.
LS: How has our American educational system contributed to this current state of affairs?
GV: By being lousy. It’s been lousy most of my lifetime. I never, alas, I say now, I never went to public school. I went to private schools, which, if your parents can afford them, they’re pretty good in the United States. You can get a fair education. But, I’ve known a lot of teachers in the public school system, and when I was a working politician, I really worked a lot with teachers. And, I sympathize with their problems. I know a lot about their problems. They’re up against all kinds of superstitions perpetrated by church, others by state, others by bureaucracy. They’re held down, the good ones; the bad ones have just given up and they just collect their paycheck — hope that they have not done too much damage to their pupils.
They don’t know how to teach history. Why do you think I spent thirty years telling the history of the United States from Aaron Burr to the year of the millennium of 2000, and I would never have. It was a lot of work, thirteen volumes. And it was there because everything that our people should know by the time they are 18 or 20, a great deal of it they should know, they didn’t know, because the teachers couldn’t teach it, or wouldn’t teach it, and the atmosphere was so anti-intellectual, “Oh, you want to read books… oh, you must be a sissy.” Oh, we’re such a manly people! That’s why we lose so many wars now. We’re not proving our manhood at all. We’re proving we’re pretty dumb. And that has been a problem most of my lifetime, my adult life, has been observing teachers, schools and somehow trying to come up with ideas or write pieces that might give them hope on how you could make history the backbone from kindergarten to graduation from high school. Start with creation theory, teach them all, no matter how silly, teach all of them.
They’re very exciting stories, you know, from every culture, from that of the Buddha, that of the divine yellow ancestor of the Chinese, to the various American indigenous religions. Some of them are quite fascinating. Give them a broad look, just since kindergarten, these are all stories kids like. After all, kids have been learning about them in different cultures for thousands of years. Then move to the present day in the course, of what is it, of the 13 years from kindergarten to graduating high school. First you start with the Big Bang or god creating the universe in a few days. Tell all the stories. Then you get down to Greece and Rome, the first civilizations, and China, which is even greater, or as great a civilization certainly as the Greeks or Romans. And most of the several billion people on earth today descend from one or another of those three religions or attitudes toward life, philosophies.
Well, if you did that, it’s first, it’s a riveting story. And it’s very hard to make it boring. I know there are teachers born with the gift of boredom, and there are certainly regents of schools, school boards that never want the truth told about anything, because the crimes they have committed might be among them. So they’ve got to deny everything about what they have done in their lives, and what the robber barons, we used to call them in the 19th century, did when they took over the railroads, and the railroads corrupted every legislature across the country. Because they had to have new routes, and so on, so they had all the legislators. And, they, in turn, elected the presidents. We had a lot of fairly crooked presidents, or worse, just inept ones. So, by having no proper education. Remember, I spent half of my life in Europe. “Oh, no, he’s not an American”
Well, I am an American, and that’s all the more reason I did that, to find out what a civilization is like. Because I know we were not growing one here. What we were growing is a consumer society, an ugly one, which has done no one any good. Then we are too much involved in wars which are none of our business. I always thought that the lousy government that we now have today, I believe everyone agrees, conservatives and liberals, that it’s lousy. We have that government, because my generation, I enlisted in World War II when I was seventeen, most of us did. And, we were not cowards like Bush and Cheney and all the other draft dodgers. We enlisted — we put our lives, we put ourselves in harm’s way, as they like to say, never having done it themselves.
But they put other peoples’ children in harm’s way, because that’s the nature of that beast. And then I watched and I saw, there were too many of us were killed. Our losses, they were not in the billions or anything like that, hundreds of thousands, a million or two, I forget what it is. I block it out. But I know people that I was at Exeter with, a good New England school, about a dozen of the brightest boys there — were killed. And they had been put in the army as cannon fodder. They weren’t put there to be any use, if they had died usefully as somebody who would chart a course or something — They were just thrown away, thrown away, thrown away — And I think the absolute degradation of American society today politically, in the arts, in everything — is due to too many of us were killed. Because the brightest kids I’ve ever seen always were the ones who got it first, and they’re gone, and they were not, there was no repeat generation… Then you had the official draft dodgers, and I don’t blame them. I was all in favor of them at the time of Vietnam.
They were supposed to give their lives, as Kerry pointed out, I’m no fan of his, but he did point out, “How do you persuade somebody to be the last person to die for a lie?” — for no cause at all. I think even the dumbest kids — and kids, by and large, are not too dumb when it comes to their interests — realizes that he’s not been given a reason for the Vietnam war. Our government has never figured out what we were doing there. I know, but they can’t admit it, vanity . “We’re number one in the world. Nobody can defy us — not little yellow people. We’ll go after them gooks, and we will cover it with cement.
We’ll bomb them back in the Stone Age.” Well, we’ve bombed ourselves back into the Stone Age. We are uncivilized. We’re outside civilization. Most Europeans loath us, because we don’t know anything that they know. We’re not curious about anything. In education, in my working days as a New York politician, I used to talk to a lot of parent-teachers’ groups, and schoolteachers. And, I always had a question, particularly for the parents and teachers, I’d say, “Why is it that I have never met a dull 6-year old, and I have never met an interesting 16-year old? — What have you done?” I would get an avalanche of applause. Everybody knew exactly what I was talking about. More at first hand, since I have no children, than I do. And I thought, you know, at least they feel a little shame of the mess they’ve made.