From South Jersey News Sun: Wisdom for Cherry Hill’s Class of 2012
Board of Education President Seth Klukoff shared his words of wisdom
to the Class of 2012 at Temple University’s Liacouras Center last week:
Throughout most of my career, I’ve carried around a quote from the
author and scholar Isaac Asimov, and it reads as follows:
“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way though
our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that
democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’”
Twenty years ago, when I first came across those words, I found them
as wise as I do today. And today, I believe those words are even more
Why do I believe that? For one, inherent in that quote is the
assumption that thoughtful, rational, tolerant dialogue fuels a
democracy. Also inherent in that quote is the warning that such a
dialogue, which ought to be grounded in reason and fact, is in grave
danger of disappearing. It’s replacement, an endless volley of
uninformed, ubiquitous opinion. Everyone is right. No one is wrong.
On to the next discussion.
That’s where I believe we are today. We live in a culture of
extremes, where shades of gray, the places where truth and fact exist,
are discredited, overlooked, not considered cool. Try to present an
argument against the extreme, to marshal facts and logic, and you are
perceived by that extreme as being defensive, your arguments are met
with derision and, even worse, you are personally attacked in the
coarsest, basest of language. And when that extreme position is voiced
by a mob of many, and amplified by an uncritical media, and when their
simple messages can spread virally in a nanosecond via YouTube,
Facebook, Twitter or other social media platforms, you no longer have
discussion or debate. You have unthinking, unfettered chaos.
Whatever the issue, be it the environment, health care, the economy,
or the fate of public education, the formula appears to be the same.
Think about it. When was the last time our nation truly had a
responsible conversation about global warming, access to affordable
health care, employment, and our schools? And think about this. Is our
nation even capable of having those critical discussions today, or
worse, do we even want to?
I do wonder why our country has reached a point where civil discourse
has seemingly become outmoded, where opinion masquerades as fact, where
nastiness and disregard for language hide behind the anonymity of email
or online comments, and where lies cloaked as truth are trumpeted
loudly and brashly.
I wonder about this. I do.
But you know what; I think I know how things can get better.
The answer, I believe, lies in public education, in the
responsibility of educators to teach the importance of critical
thinking, to foster questioning and reasoned argument in the classroom
and out, to place high value on the beauty of words well written or well
spoken, to steadfastly articulate, and defend, the essential importance
of what is fact and what is fallacy, and to prepare students to embrace
those responsibilities themselves, so that they may practice them as
informed, thoughtful citizens.
You see, it is through public education that students are exposed to a
mosaic of diverse viewpoints and backgrounds, have the opportunity to
engage with peers who think differently, hold different values, and have
different life experiences. And it is through public education where
tolerance for those differences are learned and celebrated, rather than
dismissed and scorned.
I truly believe that public education can help create this change.
And during a time when that institution is being unjustly vilified by
elected officials and ideologues, it must be supported more than ever
before. Public education can and must become the bulwark against the
continuing tide of anti-intellectualism.
Graduates of Cherry Hill East and West, I look to all of you to draw
upon your education, to think before you write, listen before you argue,
challenge the logic of your own assumptions, explore the value of the
opposing opinion and wrest yourselves from the comfort of the known.
Those are the lessons you must practice as you move forward in your
lives, and that you must ask of your peers to practice as well. For it
is exactly those lessons that can ultimately bring down the false
equivalence of ignorance and knowledge that is so harmful to our