News

The Death of Common Sense

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | April 12, 2014

“It is a thousand times better to have common sense without education then to have education without common sense.”
Robert Green Ingersoll

The death announcement began with these words, “Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense, who has been with us many years. No one knows for sure how old he was, since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape.”

As I read the anonymous satire on the loss of Common Sense, I realized that someone had captured many practical insights. “He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons… knowing when to come out of the rain; life isn’t always fair and, maybe, it was my fault.”

“Common Sense’s health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. Reports of a 6-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition.”

“Common Sense declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer sun lotion or an aspirin to a student. It lost the will to live as criminals received better treatment than their victims.”

“Common Sense finally gave up the will to live after a woman failed to realize a steaming cup of coffee was hot and after spilling some in her lap, she was awarded a huge settlement.”

“Common Sense is survived by four stepbrothers: I Know My Rights; I Want It Now; Someone Else Is To Blame; and I’m A Victim.”

If common sense is “the natural ability to make good judgments and behave sensibly,” then there really is evidence that it has died or, at best, is near death. As Frank Lloyd Wright said, “There is nothing more uncommon than common sense.”

Here are some examples of how middle school children answered test questions revealing their lack of common sense:

Q: Name six animals that live specifically in the arctic.
A: Two polar bears and four seals.

Q: Explain the phrase “free press.”
A: When your mom irons your pants for you.

Q: Is the sun more important than the moon?
A: The moon gives us light at night when we need it. The sun only provides light in the day when we don’t need it. Therefore, the moon is more important.

It is one thing to lack common sense in the classroom. But when it is missing in real life, the effects can be catastrophic. We have all seen people do things and we ask, “What were they thinking?” Each year the Darwin Awards recognize unusual displays of people who lack common sense. These events actually happened.

When his .38 caliber revolver failed to fire at his intended victim during a holdup in Long Beach, Calif., would-be robber, James Elliot, did something that can only inspire wonder. He peered down the barrel and tried the trigger again. This time it worked.

An American teenager was in the hospital recovering from serious head wounds received from an oncoming train. When asked how he received the injuries, the lad told police that he was simply trying to see how close he could get his head to a moving train before he was hit.

When a man attempted to siphon gasoline from a motor home parked on a Seattle street by sucking on a hose, he got much more than he bargained for. Police arrived at the scene to find a very sick man curled up next to the motor home near spilled sewage. Apparently, the man admitted to trying to steal gasoline but he plugged his hose into the motor home’s sewage tank by mistake. The owner of the motor home declined to press charges saying that it was the best laugh he’d ever had and the perpetrator had been punished enough.

Yes, common sense is becoming very uncommon.

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, Pa. 
Responses can be mailed to president@vfcc.edu 
Official page: Facebook.com/DrDonMeyer
Follow on Twitter: @DrDonMeyer
Archives at www.vfcc.edu/thinkaboutit