Here’s another example of a reporter transmitting one of the foundation myths of our current ideology as communicated in the ideological subtext of news stories, magazine articles, ads, popular fiction and TV shows: that children are naturally uncurious, anti-intellectual and uninterested in science.
It’s in a Baltimore Sun article by personal finance guru Eileen Ambrose that has made the round of reprints in other publications and websites this week:
“One of the big hurdles of teaching personal finance to children and young adults is how to do so without boring or confusing them with lectures about compound interest and annual percentage rates.”
Now why would compound interest and APR bore or confuse a child? It didn’t bore or confuse me, or my brother, or my son, or virtually all of my cousins. But then again, we all grew up believing that learning was fun and important.
In situation comedy after situation comedy, in ad after ad, in newspaper article after newspaper article, the secret but not silent message in the subtext is that learning is not fun and that the normal child does not want to do it. While it is a primary responsibility of the family to promote values, the great mass of media, programs and ads we call popular culture also has the ability to communicate what our values should be.
Why would our mass media want to promulgate this value, which in the long run is harmful to people in a knowledge-based society in which those who educate themselves make much more money and report much higher levels of happiness in studies?
My view is that the dissemination of this anti-intellectual attitude reduces the possibility of social mobility because it makes those at the bottom rungs not value the very thing—knowledge—that will help them to rise. I think that maybe a few of those who initially floated the view that “learning is not fun” decades ago did so cynically, to keep the poor down. But that was years ago and never included the great mass of thinkers and writers. There couldn’t possibly be a conscious conspiracy today to promulgate this falsehood because there are just too many players, just too many sources of this pernicious myth. So why does this anti-intellectual attitude remain so much a part of the subtext of our cultural documents? I have no answer (at least not today), but it’s an area of social history worth exploring.