Yes, Mayor Ballard, but Are We ‘Sustainable’ Culturally?

April 23, 2012

For immediate release (592 words).


“The City of Indianapolis is committed to providing a more sustainable, livable community for all of its residents and visitors,” said Mayor (Greg) Ballard. “We hope the additional bins added over the past few weeks inspire patrons to participate in that spirit during Super Bowl XLVI.”


— Press release, Indianapolis Department of Public Works, Feb. 1, 2012

Handing down a civilization’s legacy to the next generation should be one of the first purposes of education and of at least equal importance to organizing the disposal of refuse. Yet, we do not have to search far to find disturbing examples of historical and cultural illiteracy within our citizenry.

While a lack of such knowledge cannot be exclusively thrown at the feet of the education system, regardless of where the blame falls, our culture is in danger of failing to produce a generation of knowledgeable citizens that passes on that culture to the next one. In other words, our culture may not be sustainable, to use the phrase of moment.

Allow me to provide some firsthand experience:

I once asked the following series of extra-credit questions on an exam given to 100 students over the course of two semesters:

  1. Who were the first four U.S. presidents?
  2. Who were the first four American Idol winners?

Nineteen students knew the presidents; 51 students knew the Idol winners. Only eight students answered both correctly. Two students included Lincoln as an answer to the president question.

I am using sustainable here in a different connotation (“sustaining our history”) than the current popular usage. For example, as defined by the Indianapolis SustainIndy program (the city has a Director of Sustainability) it means “using best practices to create lasting environmental, economic and community vitality — enhancing our quality of life now and ensuring that future generations of Indianapolis residents have an equally good quality of life.”

That sounds harmless. In practice, though, sustainability is much more than choosing the correct waste bucket or putting out extra trash bins for a Super Bowl.

The National Association of Scholars, an independent network of scholars and citizens, identifies this important caveat in their position that states that sustainability appears to be “a benign-sounding term that seems to mean environmental stewardship but piggybacks on multiple non-environmental ideas such as population control, affirmative action, gay rights and anti-capitalism.”

I assert that those of us who have a deep passion for transmitting our culture need to argue for practicing real sustainability.

What can be done? The “Real Sustainability” movement needs to start at the grassroots level. To borrow an environmentalist phrase, there are plenty of opportunities to simply “do your part.”

Are you a teacher? Why not add historical components to your class? For example, when I teach Introduction to Management, my course chronicles management over time – from Egyptians building pyramids to Bill Gates building Microsoft. In doing so, students are exposed to various cultural changes since management practice does not exist in a vacuum. Why not try this with such disciplines as Psychology?

For anyone who wants to raise the bar, a talk-radio host, Dennis Prager, has advocated a “July 4th Seder” that is modeled after the Jewish Passover Seder. In the Passover Seder, multiple generations of one’s family gather to retell the story of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt. What is stopping this practice from occurring on the 4th of July with Americans’ struggle for independence from Great Britain? The family is there, the feast is there, and the fireworks and patriotic songs are there; why not take the opportunity to retell our story?

These suggestions are initial steps toward addressing a system that is emitting pollution worse than any compound of chemicals found on the periodic table. Young minds must stop being polluted with useless, fad-based knowledge that weakens intellectual capabilities. If we want to really save the environment — be it environmental or patriotic — we had better get serious.

Jason Fertig, Ph.D., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review, is an assistant professor of management at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville. Contact him at


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