The Assigning of Value to Opinions Based on Education

Sometimes, you may wonder as I have — what was all this reading for? Reading articles upon articles dealing with the same topic. Topic? Let’s pick out an arbitrary one, say the mandating of math education in American high schools.

You meet another person, Person A. Both you and A begin relatively ignorant of background information informing said topic, but agree at a gut level that math education to a certain level should be required and enforced. It makes one more employable and brings more job security. It develops a person’s ability to think logically and sequentially.

Person A settles on his opinion and does not go out of his way to read anymore about math education. You, on the other hand, procrastinate from whatever else you are supposed to be doing, paying bills, feeding your family, to research the debate surrounding the topic. You come across effective defenses for both sides, requiring math classes versus letting high schoolers study whatever the hell they want.  Your opinion swings back and forth for a while, depending on the article you are reading at the time. But the pendulum ultimately stops swinging, and you find yourself gravitating back to your initial opinion that Algebra II is a necessary evil.

You and Person A come to the same opinion, the same beliefs, except you spent many many more hours reading. Did you waste your time?

Clearly, no. I can safely bet that your opinion, when elaborated, is more subtle and multi-faceted than that of Person A. You would be better prepared to defend your opinion from assailers. You have exercised your muscles for analysis and skepticism.

But in the 24-hour-soundbyte-driven media culture, it is not easy for that additional education to come off. How do you demonstrate that your ten seconds of “You need to learn math!” are better than Person A’s dictum?

Opinions of opinions. We live in a culture that at least claims to value (rightfully) diversity of opinions for completeness, thoroughness, democratization of thought. How do we screen for how “qualified” someone is to voice an opinion without quashing diversity? At what point should “outsider,” uninformed opinions be solicited and taken into account, as they sometimes must when two opposing camps come to prioritize the competitive protection of their respective hypotheses over cooperative pursuit of a more and more complicated truth (economists)?

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