If there's anything that is guaranteed to enrage me it's the modern obsession with canvassing everybody's opinion about everything. However ignorant, uninformed, brainless, bigoted or just plain daft you may be, your opinion on every subject from the composition of the England football team to nuclear war is eagerly solicited by virtually every television and radio programme, encouraging us to believe that everybody is longing to know our every thought on every subject.
"What do you think?....text us with your views...ring and tell us how you see it...Karen in Telford says...John in Solihull writes...and so it goes on until you could scream.
Do they really want to know what you think? No. They just want you to keep on listening/watching, and to kid you that you are taking part in some valuable democratic exercise: your opinion really matters.
All pretty harmless stuff, you might say, and it does give the ordinary man in the street the chance to have his voice heard. Perhaps. But it also gives everyone the totally wrong impression that any view, however wrong-headed or irrational, is the equal of that put forward by an expert on the subject. Indeed, opinion has replaced knowledge in far too many aspects of life. Dropping knowledge and reason in favour of unsubstantiated opinion is at best worthless and at worst downright dangerous.
Moreover, this obsession with sound bite judgments has, it seems, infected education as well as the media.
Children are told that what they think, however flawed or naive the means by which they arrive at this opinion is worth as much as an informed opinion, a reasoned response after careful study and so exam questions, flirting with this dangerous infection, are increasingly geared to baseless opinion rather than to knowledge. For example, students of Latin are invited to speculate: "What do you think Hannibal was thinking when he crossed the Alps?"
GCSE literature students read Macbeth and then are asked, "What do you think Banquo was thinking as he went on his ride?"
A level literature students are invited to waffle hopelessly with "Which of the two loves the other more, Antony or Cleopatra?"
And bemused younger children are asked to "get together with a partner and imagine what it would be like to be a Jew in the Middle Ages."
Now, it appears, the curse has struck in science as well, in the form of the new science exam, "21st Century science," which is to be taken by a third of all GCSE students who, so it seems, are deemed incapable of learning a few scientific facts and must therefore spend their time in endless discussion of topics such as GM crops and bird flu.
One can only despair that so little is expected of so many children and echo the judgement of the Institute of Ideas that to replace physics, chemistry and biology with this is "more suitable for the pub than the classroom."
The aim of education, it seems, is to turn as many children as possible into ignoramuses who think they know it all.