© Norman Sperling, February 21, 2014
I display at a lot of fairs and club meetings. Most prospective customers are pretty close to what I expect: people of similar interests and varying expertise.
But I also meet people, often running other booths, who got shortchanged in their education and don’t know how to move forward.
I recently encountered an eager man who bubbled over about the service he was selling. I immediately recognized it as pseudoscience. When he started reciting details, I several times shook my head and said, no, that’s NOT the way things work. That’s not so.
He was stunned.
From what he said and what he asked, I guessed his science education never went past middle school, so I sold him a high-school textbook with a chapter on what he needed to know. He dove in like he’d been starved. He’ll learn an awful lot from that book.
There are scads of reasons for education not to “take”.
* Unfavorable home situations that prevent or distract.
* Competing pulls.
* Not knowing the local language well enough.
* Belief systems that block out reality.
* An earlier experience, such as a bad teacher, “turned them off”.
* Illness: I met a student who had an ear infection when her class studied division in grade school. She didn’t hear the lessons, and still couldn’t divide 6 years later. She was sensational at covering up.
* Cultural hangups that prevent using resources.
* Personal hangups. I know a person who was telling me some pretty wise things, so I recommended that he “tell it to a piece of paper” -- write it down. He replied “If I could do that, my whole life would be different” -- that’s one of his hangups.
These are nothing to feel guilty about, just bad luck.
But our society also excels at ways to learn what you didn’t learn before.
* The public library.
* Educational TV.
* Online encyclopedias, animations, lectures, lessons, and so on.
* Public lectures.
* Informal education like museums, and parks with rangers and signage.
* Adult school.
* Community college courses.
These are free or cheap. People can take them in any amount at any pace, whenever it suits them.
A whole lot of people do. When I was giving planetarium shows, it was not rare for a person to come up to the console afterward and ask basic questions. In teaching at community colleges, and night courses at universities, I’ve met people who are trying to better themselves, and get more satisfying careers. (Not necessarily better-paying! 2 of my most-memorable students were a truck driver and a plumber, who made more money than I did, but with dramatically less satisfaction.)
But many people don’t think of all the resources available to them; I have to push the recommendations. That applies even more to folks like the first guy mentioned above. He could have learned the folly of his spiel in a library, in an encyclopedia, from a used-book store, a new-book store, a GED course, a community college course, or from a thousand on-line resources. It never occurred to him to do so.
As a purveyor of pseudoscience, he’s not evil, he’s just ignorant. Maybe the folks who promote the program he bought into might be evil, or maybe they’re just ignorant too.
Our culture would be enormously improved by folks of all ages patching the holes in their knowledge. Many will probably choose their favorite entertainment instead. But many will eventually, as it suits them, learn up on their weaknesses. That would decrease the market for pseudoscience as well as the number of its pushers. It will also improve the overall functioning of Society. We’ve already got the stuff in place. All we need is to effectively recommend it to folks who need it.
What don’t you know, that you should?