The written word provides its own authority. We learn that in school, a tradition handed down from the Western Middle Ages when monks copied holy scripture. That formal and familiar classroom structure was elaborated in the school system of Prussia in the 1880’s. When we hear about innovation attempts in education it always within the context of that system. As The Teacher I stand in front of you and tell you what’s important to learn, you write it down, I test your memory and grade you on how close you come to repeating to me what I told you to learn. Acceptable questions are within the frame that I set and by attending my class, you implicitly agree to.
Are there some subject matters that require that kind of rote learning, of course. Are there some teachers and situations that work differently, again, of course. But for most of us, most of our time in school is spent participating in the habit forming delusion that by pouring information into my eyes and ears and then shaking me up and down with regular exams, I become educated. The unfortunate and unspoken fact of my experience is that all I have learned in the cognitive muscle of my brain is to accept what I see and hear written, and on T.V. as the truth.
What that means to us in our social and political interactions is that we develop an aversion to ambiguity. We seek out from our would be news and commentary sources confirmation of what we already believe. We are discomforted when asked to consider options and ideas that are unfamiliar and appear strange.
Since we have already learned that our physical and mental comfort is guaranteed to us in the Constitution (see the pursuit of happiness clause) we feel entitled, and perhaps just a little more patriotic when we hold “steadfast and true” to what we already believe.
The construct of this confusion is enormous and pervasive. It stretches backwards over generations. It is institutionalized, and it is where we practice our daily life. Every now and then we stumble upon a window and with luck, are stuck with liberating wonder.