The following is an essay I wrote last month for the California State Information Officers Council annual Stephan Brophy Scholarship. It was open to juniors and seniors majoring in communications studies, english or journalism at Sac State with a minimun required GPA of 3.0 (3.5 in major). The essay had to be between 200 and 400 words (mine came in at 402) and "discuss a critical communications issue of the day from either a global, industry, local or interpersonal perspective." There were a total of five applicants. This is the essay that won it:
November 13, 2005
State Information Officers Council Scholarship
Writing, it would appear, is becoming a lost art. So is reading. In an age of instant gratification, when we get our information in tidy half-hour segments, we seem to have lost the patience it takes to read...or write. While it is difficult to pinpoint the impetus of this phenomenon, it is apparent that two of the three “R”s do not enjoy the same priority they once did. A complacent attitude in compulsory education, especially in the language arts, combined with (or exacerbated by) information availability in a form that only requires passive observance appears to be the cause. The effect is that we are losing the ability to think critically. We are much more easily taken. We are far more easily swept up by emotion and persuaded by rhetoric.
Modern conveniences make our lives easier, perhaps too much so. In regards to information acquisition, these new gadgets and gizmos provide a steady stream of news, opinion, propaganda and other spew 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We are bombarded with an ever increasing and unprecedented amount of information. Indeed, it may be the result of our intellectual prowess that has diminished the priority of the kind of dedicated intellectual pursuit that ultimately enabled this complacency to materialize.
However advanced the delivery methods are, technology has not yet been able to process this stuff for us. It cannot think, critically or otherwise. My fear is that in our quest for the ”good” life, we are settling for the “easy” life. We do not expect or require enough from ourselves. Nowhere is this more evident than in “college” level writing. In a growing number of universities, students must pass some sort of writing proficiency exam in order to demonstrate rudimentary writing skills. It is a testimony to how lax the primary school system has become. The universities must, unfortunately, respond to this evolved deficiency in the public school system at large.
Language arts – reading, writing, grammar, and vocabulary, even spelling – are essential to critical thinking. It must be taught and then practiced. It cannot be downloaded or absorbed by osmosis. It teaches us how to think for ourselves, to be independent and to be wary. The “information super-highway” can only deliver the goods, it is up to us to unwrap and assemble them. Technology cannot do it for us.
If we don’t think for ourselves, someone else will.