THERE is a nagging impression that ignorance in the United States is spreading faster than Florida state taxes. According to ``60 Minutes,'' Newsweek magazine, and many other sources, America is failing in standard, basic education. Young people are coming out of high school and college with a level of knowledge far below those in other parts of the industrial world: A package of learning so small it is laughable - or would be, if it weren't so horribly serious.
A column by William F. Buckley Jr., points out that Sen. Bill Bradley has discovered that 25 percent of college seniors in Dallas couldn't name the country south of the Texas border. One can argue that Texans were always unaware of the microcosm called the rest of the world, but the plague of ignorance is obviously not limited to Texas but is nurtured nationwide. Even in egg-headed Boston, 39 percent of college seniors can't name the six New England states.
What is so ominous is that the ignorance is often defended. Why be educated? One can learn a trade, punch a computer, or fix a car without knowing much of anything else. This argument might hold up in the Soviet Union, if it were voiced there - which it isn't - because the Soviet Union is run, for better or worse, by an elite.
But if the US is going to represent democracy in the world successfully, it has to see something as big as the nose on Uncle Sam's face. A democracy is a government by and for the people. It is all very well to point out the rightness of this idea, but democracy can succeed in the way it was intended only in a nation of educated, intelligent people. There is nothing achieved in the rule of the uninformed.
Americans are taxed to provide for children's education. Instead of the children's getting educated, many succeed only in getting pregnant. Perhaps one day the public will find grounds for asserting that ignorance itself is immoral, if not sinful.
And as for moral advancement, the Bible provides some advice. Proverbs says, ``Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.''