There is a legal axiom that everyone should know and fear in the biblical sense, “Ignorance of the law is not a valid excuse.” When I first heard this hypothesis, my initial thought was, “How totally bogus!!!” As I have learned, as my literacy levels have climbed, and as my understanding has deepened, I understand the principle in this axiom more completely. The principle is not to sow doubt and fear in a populace but to promote learning because liberty is both precious and easily removed. As a point of reference, the preciousness and removal of liberty have been studied. Through their ignorance, those who are illiterate of the law are more susceptible to be disadvantaged by the law.
How did the housing bubble happen?
Sure, the government reduced regulations, played with interest rates, and created the problem. Banking is a business, and the first rule of business is to return profits to the investors, so the banking industry dove headfirst into getting people into homes. State governments helped fuel this problem with deregulation, tax breaks, and incentives, increasing their debt levels to invest in housing people. I will fully support that everyone involved possessed altruistic motives: altruism, the belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for others’ well-being.
Except … research supports the conclusion that despite fairness doctrines written into laws, illiterates are more disadvantaged in legal dealings. Never forget, functional illiteracy was a desire of Dewey in the late 1860s as a means of reducing the power, liberty, and freedom of populations through K-12 education. We must start understanding the origins of the problem to empower and plot a working solution. Academic research is purposefully vague and inconsistent on the lines of congruence between functional illiteracy and individual wealth and economic mobility, all while taking advantage of the inconsistencies where the law is concerned.
Stevens (1985) reviewed the data and found a relationship barrier, “the crudeness of the literacy/illiteracy measurements, and a finer distinction was required.” The data he used was from the 1870s and showed that literacy barriers were dependent upon age; the older the person, the less likely they were to be literate and more likely to be taken advantage of by the law. Does this sound familiar where the housing bubble was concerned?
Jen Deaderick, writing for the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER; 2018), provides vital insight into how hard and deeply the housing bubble affected lower-income people and minority populations. One of the more brutal consequences of the housing bubble was the extreme credit card debt carried by lower-income minority populations and how these populations have never recovered to 2007 income levels.
Demos and NAACP co-authored a research report declaring how credit card debt in lower-income and minority households is seen as a “safety-net.” While these populations are actively working to pay down their credit card debt, the credit card usage remains high, and the pay-down and usage cycle hinders wealth growth. I have now asked this question of school boards in several states and with teachers in high schools, “Why is economics not taught in high school? Especially how to budget money, creating money, money intelligence, etc.” The answer is always the same, “That is a good idea, but there is no time or interest in teaching those uninteresting topics.” I have found that teachers are some of the highest credit card users in the various professionals, far outstripping commissioned salespeople.
Returning to the premise that functional illiteracy, chiefly where finances and the law are concerned, sees a tremendous and disproportionate abuse of lower-income and minority people at the hands of contractual law. According to the law hypothesis stated above, their illiteracy is their fault, and thus the abuse is their problem. Yet, if a person’s illiteracy was purposefully inflicted upon them by, say government, who is responsible for the illiteracy?
I fully submit that after K-12 Education, a person is recognized as an adult, fully responsible for their actions or inactions based upon what they learned in school, to become a productive member of society. I have learned and am still learning tough and difficult lessons regarding personal literacy and financial decisions, literacy and law, liberty and literacy, and much more. Yet, I read, I try to expand my mind, I make choices and suffer or enjoy consequences based upon those choices. I understand the process because I have wanted to know more.
Research on reading shows that a vast majority of Americans never read a book after high school, including those who go onto college. Worse, many students in junior high and high school never read a book; but complete reading assignments using search topics and Google. Why; because being literate is considered “nerdy,” “reading is difficult,” “reading is not intellectually challenging,” and the excuses run on ad nauseam and ad infinitum. All of which has been the aim of the acolytes of Dewey and Wundt since the 1860s.
Stevens (1985) expressed an idea important to literacy and freedom.
“It is obvious that if literacy skills are required to exercise voting rights, for example, the worth of liberty for the illiterate person is severely diminished.” In the decisions of State v. Sweeney (1950) the Court argued for “equal opportunities under the law,” but added: “lt is not possible for constitutions or legislation to make all men equal in understanding, intelligence and education.” State legislation tended in the direction of equality of education even to the point of “compelling the youth of our country to take advantage of these opportunities.” But the Court acknowledged that “in every phase of our social and civic life, the uneducated man is at a disadvantage.”
Except the case can be made that the State, with the Federal Government’s aid, has created the uneducated person, purposefully to abuse a population for political power. When teachers tell a student they cannot learn, need Ritalin, are dyslexic, as agents of the State, they are declaring the student’s potential—locking the student into a life of purposely being taken advantage of by contractual law and other forms of law. Who gave the teachers the right to demand a student be placed on harmful drugs to exist in a modern classroom, the State. Who gave teachers the authority to diagnose a student as “dyslexic,” the State. Why were teachers granted this power; why was the power stripped from parents; because Dewey wanted to control populations through literacy ability. Dewey considered a literate person a danger to society, following an unnatural god, and possessing the power of a tyrant because they knew their language and could express themselves.
My next younger brother, Steven, is an imaginative, brilliant, and incredible person. But, he got frustrated when trying to learn; the more frustrated he got, the more unbearable to be around he became. Years of being told to shut up, sit down, and pay attention, has left him a shell of a person. Teachers actively refused to answer his questions because he has a problem correctly describing the question in words. He does not have a learning disability. His brain works differently from the rest of a classroom population. When he found a teacher that could help him, that was the height of his education in K-12. He was passed onto another teacher to “be their problem” until he dropped out of school in frustration. Unfortunately, in my family, two other brothers followed the same pattern. Three lives have been blighted and wasted because the teachers measured potential by poverty and failed to educate, the school boards refused to teach and educate, and the State supported the teachers and school board.
How often does this story repeat in your family? How often does this story repeat in your school? How often does it repeat in your community, state, and nation? The short answer, “Too bloody often!” These are the people to whom the law abuses, contracts are a noose around their necks, voting ballots are a blur, and who will never leave the captivity of illiteracy!
Would you, the audience reading this blog, be surprised to find yourself in the same category as my brothers? Abused by contractual law, abused by other laws, held in captivity due to your limited education and poor literacy abilities. I am not judging you or your potential; by merely reaching out to find information and reading this blog, you are trying, and I commend you for your efforts and will help your progress any way I can. But, we all have been abused, seen our potential limited, and lost liberties and freedoms based solely upon the education received at the hands of the State. Surprised; I was when I started researching these topics. Now, I find myself feeling more like a soaked chicken with a raging case of hemorrhoids.
Your command of your language has been intentionally limited, and each successive year, it has been reduced. For example, while insignificant, my knowledge of literature is greater than my sister’s, and her command of the language is magnitudes greater than my youngest brother. Want an interesting experiment, next time you have multiple generations of your family around, ask them what words mean and how to use them in sentences. You will find similar generational gaps in literacy, even if those family members do not read.
I met an incredible family in Northern Ohio, 18 kids born to the same husband/wife team. When the younger kids need help with homework, they call a big brother or sister. Dad is a construction worker, very skilled with his hands, brilliant in planning and carrying out projects, but never considered “worthy” of higher education. Mom is well-read, intelligent, and a savvy thinker, but the school boards deemed her potential. In both cases, the school board was exceedingly wrong, but the hold was too powerful to shake. Their story is replicated, maybe not with as many kids, from Maine to Washington, from Florida to Montana, and every stop in between, and it remains abhorrent to me!
Your potential to learn is not governed by what a teacher or school board has determined. Your potential is only limited by you and your choices. If you know someone who struggles, please help them, for you will find that empowering a mind to learn is the most incredible feeling in the world! To know you have brightened a mind to shake off the shackles of captivity gives you the confidence to improve your own understanding and to repeat the feat! Please, help end the abuse of the law, through literacy which increases liberty and freedom! Because we are all connected, increasing liberty and freedom for one person increases liberty and freedom for everyone. The truth is apparent, “One raindrop raises the sea!”
Stevens, E. (1985). Literacy and the worth of liberty. Historical Social Research, 10(2), 65-81. https://doi.org/10.12759/hsr.10.1985.2.65-81
© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
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