Quetzal. Know what it means? If you’re a Scrabble player, you might. Tomorrow is National Scrabble Day, which reminds me how much pleasure being a Scrabble nerd has given me — and how stupid we’ve become as a nation. Sure, some words are a waste of time to learn. Did you know that “za” is a legit word, slang meaning pizza? Has anyone ever asked for a slice of za?
But building vocabulary is important, and a thirst for knowledge even more so. Love of learning has always been a cornerstone of American innovation and world leadership. Unfortunately, we also have a parallel history of anti-intellectualism, and it’s getting worse. “Idiot America” author Charles P. Pierce wrote “the rise of Idiot America today represents . . . the breakdown of a consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is good.”
It’s no accident that the majority of students at NYC’s elite public schools Bronx Science and Stuyvesant are Asian immigrants, or the children of immigrants. Meanwhile, the children of Indian-American immigrants dominate the National Spelling Bee.
When American basketball stars Kyrie Irving and Shaquille O’Neal said the world is flat, many howled with laughter before they both explained their remarks. But too many of those chuckling scoff at other settled science. Fox News mocks climate change science, and has even suggested “fair and balanced” teaching of evolution to include creationism. Hey, why not also have flat-earth proponents present their case in classrooms? After all, those who have fallen off the edge of the earth can’t speak for themselves, right?
Pierce was inspired to write “Idiot America” at the Creation Museum in Kentucky, which displays a dinosaur wearing a saddle. But this isn’t about a war between religious fundamentalists and scientists: it’s about glorifying ignorance.
President Donald Trump has called global warming a hoax created by China. At last week’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the subject was avoided. In the fight to save the planet, America’s absence is flat-out embarrassing.
Oh, and quetzal? It’s a brightly colored bird species. But don’t worry about learning the word: It may become extinct if global warming goes unchecked. Talk about angry birds!
Playwright Mike Vogel blogs at newyorkgritty.net.