Home > Uncategorized > The Failed Promise of Radio, Television, and the Internet: Today’s Electorate is as Ignorant as Ever

The Failed Promise of Radio, Television, and the Internet: Today’s Electorate is as Ignorant as Ever

I just finished reading Adrain Chen’s article in the September 4 edition of the New Yorker titled “The Fake News Fallacy” on the heels of reading the latest results of an Annenburg survey  given to Americans measuring their understanding of the US government, and reading the two in succession is discouraging.

One section of Mr. Chen’s article resonated with me. It read:

Early radio pioneers imagined that this unprecedented blurring of public and private space might become a sort of ethereal forum that would uplift the nation, from the urban slum dweller to the remote Montana rancher. John Dewey called radio “the most powerful instrument of social education the world has ever seen.”

Like John Dewey, I see education as an essential tool for informing the electorate and lifting those born into poverty… and like Mr. Dewey, I see the latest mode of technological instruction, the computer with access to a free and open internet, as a “powerful instrument of social education“. But what if access to information on the internet is no better than radio… or television, a “technology” supported in the 1950s by the Ford Foundation?

Alas, the Annenburg Foundation’s survey results indicate widespread access to the internet has done nothing to improve the baseline information American’s possess about their government. Indeed, it may be diminishing public understanding!

  • While little more than a third of respondents (36 percent) could name all three branches of the U.S. government, just as many (35 percent) could not name a single one.
  • Just over a quarter of Americans (27 percent) know it takes a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to override a presidential veto.
  • One in five Americans (21 percent) incorrectly thinks that a 5-4 Supreme Court decision is sent back to Congress for reconsideration.
  • Asked which party has the most members in the House of Representatives, 38 percent said they knew the Republicans are the majority, but 17 percent responded the Democrats, and 44 percent reported that they did not know (up from 27 percent who said they did not know in 2011).
  • Asked which party controls the Senate, 38 percent correctly said the Democrats, 20 percent said the Republicans, and 42 percent said they did not know (also up from 27 percent who said they did not know in 2011).

So in the past six years, where internet access has increased our fundamental understanding about government has diminished!

Unsurprisingly the solution to this problem is… wait for it… a high stakes graduation test! Maybe computers can deliver the test-prep courses.

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