KQED’s Michael Krasny to speak in Petaluma

Author-talk show host to address education’s future in a literacy-challenged America|

“We’re in crisis, whether we realize it or not, in regards to the growing state of general ignorance in this country,” remarks Michael Krasny, speaking on the phone from his home in Marin County. “And education has always been the antithesis of ignorance, so we really need to get our act together.”

Krasny, the longtime host of KQED radio’s “Forum” talk show, is the author of several books, the most recent of which, “Let There Be Laughter: A Treasury of Great Jewish Humor and What It All Means,” was published last year. Krasny is also a professor of English and 20th Century American literature at San Francisco State University. This Sunday afternoon, Aug. 20, he’ll be speaking at the Petaluma campus of Santa Rosa Junior College, addressing the topic of education’s future, as part of the ongoing Literacyworks Lecture Series. The event is a fundraiser for Literacyworks, which supports low literacy, low income adults interested in attending community college and technical education programs.

Krasny’s talk will summarize his views on the state of education in America, the challenges currently facing teachers and students, and where our education system appears to be headed.

“In some ways, I’m not exactly what you’d call an optimist, not by a long shot,” Krasny admits. “I’ve been an educator most of my life. I’ve been a college professor for many years. And though it’s not classroom teaching that I do on the air, with Forum program, I do think of that as education, too, of a kind. So I think I will have some salient things to say about education in my talk. I certainly hope so.”

Education is a subject Krasny been pondering recently, as he completes work on a new book examining the idea of honor and citizenship.

“For me, education connects to citizenship, and to democracy, in a very intimate way,” he says. “The book I’m working on explores several notions of what it means to be ‘honorable,’ tying it into learning and formal education, the idea of showing the importance of education, because of its connection to our ideas of honor and citizenship.”

Asked to reveal a few of the primary challenges to our education system, Krasny points to recent reports suggesting a strong causality between the internet habits of Millennials and a rapid decline in literacy.

“There is a good deal of concern that young people are simply spending too much time online and with their devices, and we are beginning to see quantifiable negative effects from it,” he says. “I read somewhere that the average amount of time young people spend online, or on a device, is six hours a day.

“And that’s on the low side.”

Whether the internet is training young minds away from the kind of learning that comes from books and classrooms, or is merely presenting a distraction during class and study time, or a little of each, is still being examined. Krasny cites a study that showed more than fifty percent of young people, when asked which country America declared its independence from, did not know that the answer is England.

“They were guessing things like Afghanistan and Russia,” Krasny says. “That’s pretty grim, really. I think the best way to wrest people from that is to give them a better, more challenging education.”

Another way that technology is connected to rising illiteracy, Krasny suggests, lies in how the internet has displaced newspapers as the primary method through which Americans receive information.

“Newspaper have become part of the problem,” he says. “I just did an interview with David Perlman of the SF Chronicle. Perlman retired from the paper after nearly 70 years, having served as a reporter and as science editor. He was lamenting the fact that science desks have all but disappeared from newspapers. With declining readership, cutbacks have taken away reporter positions that used to be standard. Many of those roles - science writer being just one of them - were once conduits to literacy and citizenship and all of the things I’ve been talking about. But when you cut back so much, eliminating science reporting, book review sections, all of that, is it any surprise that scientific literacy and readership of novels and non-fiction writing is declining?”

Krasny acknowledges that he does have quite a bit to say on the subject of education, but is still not entirely sure what focus his talk on Sunday will take.

“I’ve got a lot of thoughts. I’m not sure how they’re all going to connect up,” he says, “but I hope to shed some light on the importance of education, and some of the things we have to emphasize going forward.

“There certainly have to be some radical changes,” he concludes. “As I suggested earlier, I think that to have civic literacy, we need to emphasize citizenship, and in my opinion, literacy is citizenship.”

(Email David at david-templeton@arguscourier.com)

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