As a child in elementary school, I was the epitome of an underachiever. You could always count on me to get the lowest score on a test, because I lacked even the basic knowledge of an unsophisticated street kid.
I secretly admired the smart children in school and wondered how they always seemed to know the answers to any question the teachers would ask. I would have been doomed to failure but my mother, who was a domestic, keenly observed that her employers did a great deal of reading. She determined that my brother and I would become avid readers in the hope that we would emulate them. We resisted the change from our entertainment-focused lives, but because of her tenacity, my mother always prevailed in the end.
One day, I noticed that I, too, knew most of the answers to the questions the teacher was asking, because I had recently been reading about the subject matter at hand. I was inspired to read everything I could get my hands on, and my academic ascension quickly landed me at the head of the class.
Reading made me knowledgeable and completely changed my perception of myself and the world around me. I began to question things and to study subjects on my own, and I took great joy in astounding adults with my knowledge. The point here is, my perceptions of the world and my role in it were drastically altered by the accumulation of knowledge.
The Founders of America said that our system of government was based on a well-informed and educated populace. Such people could not be easily led by less-than-honest politicians or by a press with an agenda that was politically biased. There was a time in America when basic knowledge and education were highly valued. Some people say it is not as necessary to be extremely knowledgeable today because we all have smartphones on our hips and can gain access to virtually any knowledge within seconds.
This may be true, but it does not take into account the fact that we as human beings process new information based on the information we already have in our memory banks. For instance, if I knew there was a rabid dog on the loose, I would likely regard any stray dog I saw with fear and trepidation, whereas if I didn't know about the rabid dog, I would probably ignore the stray dog until it was too late. The more knowledge we have, the more difficult it is for others to lead us astray, and with knowledge, sound bites become much less effective.
In order to be a well-informed, people must be more concerned about their personal finances and the national debt than they are about whether their favorite football team prevailed or who is featured on "Dancing with the Stars." I have nothing against sports and entertainment, but first things first. Prior to the destruction of many pinnacle nations that preceded us, there was excessive preoccupation with mundane things as well as the loss of values and national identity.
Equally as detrimental was the toleration of corruption in the government. Today, we have all types of politically correct ways to say that someone told an outright lie. Unless we are able to face the truth and deal with it intelligently and courageously, we will continue the downward spiral that has characterized so many pre-eminent nations throughout history.
It is time for all Americans to awaken and realize the importance of self-education and the acquisition of analytical abilities. It is not enough to simply say, "I will vote for anyone who speaks well and promises to give me stuff." Most illegal-drug dealers and pimps have a good "rap," but once they have ensnared their victim, their true character is manifested. Once the victim may have been deceived, the master can say, "You agreed to this, and it's now the law."
It doesn't take a genius to realize that I am alluding to the wonderful promise made by President Obama during his first campaign when he said, "If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor, period." His promise made taking a big risk on the adoption of a massive new federal program much more palatable. Now that it is apparent that this was the old bait-and-switch scheme, the question is this: Will we be smart enough to abandon undeserved loyalty to the purveyors of massive government intrusion and mastery of our lives, or will we continue to believe anything we are told by our masters — as long as their promises make us feel good?
Could it be that God in His mercy and love for us is sending us progressively stronger messages that we are rapidly traveling down the wrong track? As a black American, I understand the immense pride many Americans of all backgrounds feel because we elected a black president, but it is time to be humble enough to admit that our electoral decisions must involve much more critical analysis. Our thinking should have nothing to do with party affiliation or race, but rather should concentrate on knowledge, truth and the American way.
I would be delighted if we deleted party affiliation from all ballots, encouraging people to vote for ideas and records of accomplishment, not parties. We must once again begin to value truth, decency, hard work and the can-do attitude that produced the greatest nation in the history of the world.
Ben S. Carson is professor emeritus of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University.