The Evolution of the World—and the De-evolution of America
by David Weinshilboum
When I was younger, I sometimes viewed existence in unique—if not bizarre—ways. I sometimes thought about the world in terms of what wouldn’t happen in my lifetime. I was a jaded existentialist, even more jaded than I am now. I figured that our global society didn’t have room for me or my idealistic ways.
I assumed that I would live an exhilarating life without responsibility. I’d Kerouac around the world and flame out young, never sniffing the second stage of the average life span.
Of course, today I am months away from hitting 40, and my duties include a wonderful wife and two incredible boys. I must admit, responsibility has its benefits. Never did I envision wandering into my 15-month-old’s room at 6 a.m. to see him perform dance moves, deep knee bends and a 360-degree turn included! Nor did I expect to have a thoughtful conversation with my 10-year-old son about some of the greatest authors who ever lived. (For the record, my son, Alex, gives Samuel Clemens props for Tom Sawyer’s fence ruse, but Homer remains his favorite.)
In addition to missing the mark on personal experiences, I proved incorrect on a few world events, too. When I was 13, I vividly remember Walter Mondale—the Democratic nominee for president in 1984—calling on Geraldine Ferraro to be his vice presidential running mate. She was the first female vice presidential candidate to represent a major political party. At the time, many journalists cited the event as “historic.” My take on the nomination was different. Ferraro and Mondale were up against Ronald Reagan and, even though I lived in Mondale’s home state of Minnesota, we all realized that his presidential quest would end in defeat. In my mind, Ferraro was a token nominee. Though I was only 13, I remember thinking, “In my lifetime presidents will always look the same: old and white.” Imagine my surprise in 2008 when Barack Obama won the presidency.
The ever-shifting world of ours tossed me another pleasant surprise when a grass-roots protest in Egypt resulted in regime change. I in no way want to downplay the violence that occurred in Egypt; thousands suffered immensely and almost 400 died. But former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak showed incredible restraint when he stepped down and spared his people. Mubarak, perhaps still haunted by the murder of Anwar Sadat—an assassination he witnessed at close range—chose against further bloodshed.
I never expected such a diplomatic resolution based on what I had seen in my younger years. Chinese students in 1989 were not given such a kind response by their government. China’s army opened fire on peaceful protesters in Tiananmen Square. The death toll? No one knows exactly, but the number of young students killed by the totalitarian regime (still in power today) could have been in the 4,000 to 5,000 range.
While I’ve only provided anecdotes, there’s no question that these changes represent tectonic shifts in the fabric of our world. While I embrace the widespread change in the Middle East and a more colorblind society at home, I am less pleased over a new American philosophy; a cultural shift that I never expected to see in my years on this planet.
I grew up knowing that I would attend college. My parents insisted that I expand my horizons and learn. Whether I wanted to become a bus driver or an astrophysicist, education—higher education—would provide me the foundation needed to be the best person I could be. My parents’ faith in learning reflected the national sentiment. If you worked hard and got an education, you could make something of yourself.
Today I have to look long and hard to find my parents’ educational ethos in our country. Across America libraries are shuttering their doors at an alarming rate. In my community, my son’s elementary school library now serves as a de facto community library. Earlier this year, California Gov. Jerry Brown announced a plan to slash funding for higher education by $1.4 billion dollars (yes, billion with a “B”). How have Californians responded? A collective shoulder shrug. Education has suddenly evolved from sacred cow to sacrificial lamb, and no one cares that we are feasting on our country’s future.
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In Egypt, amid the protests and blood and destruction, a strange thing happened. Protesters united near the Library of Alexandria. A human chain surrounded the building; Egyptians did not want this place of learning to succumb to devastation. Amid camel attacks, whips and bullets, the Egyptian people protected a place of learning. Half a world away, we have failed to hear the message: knowledge is freedom.