01 Apr 2017

Today’s Students Not Part of Our Common Culture

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Patrick Deneen has more bad news from the Academe.

My students are know-nothings. They are exceedingly nice, pleasant, trustworthy, mostly honest, well-intentioned, and utterly decent. But their brains are largely empty, devoid of any substantial knowledge that might be the fruits of an education in an inheritance and a gift of a previous generation. They are the culmination of western civilization, a civilization that has forgotten nearly everything about itself, and as a result, has achieved near-perfect indifference to its own culture.

It’s difficult to gain admissions to the schools where I’ve taught – Princeton, Georgetown, and now Notre Dame. Students at these institutions have done what has been demanded of them: they are superb test-takers, they know exactly what is needed to get an A in every class (meaning that they rarely allow themselves to become passionate and invested in any one subject); they build superb resumes. They are respectful and cordial to their elders, though easy-going if crude with their peers. They respect diversity (without having the slightest clue what diversity is) and they are experts in the arts of non-judgmentalism (at least publically). They are the cream of their generation, the masters of the universe, a generation-in-waiting to run America and the world.

But ask them some basic questions about the civilization they will be inheriting, and be prepared for averted eyes and somewhat panicked looks. Who fought in the Peloponnesian War? Who taught Plato, and whom did Plato teach? How did Socrates die? Raise your hand if you have read both the Iliad and the Odyssey. The Canterbury Tales? Paradise Lost? The Inferno?

Who was Saul of Tarsus? What were the 95 theses, who wrote them, and what was their effect? Why does the Magna Carta matter? How and where did Thomas Becket die? Who was Guy Fawkes, and why is there a day named after him? What did Lincoln say in his Second Inaugural? His first Inaugural? How about his third Inaugural? What are the Federalist Papers?

Some students, due most often to serendipitous class choices or a quirky old-fashioned teacher, might know a few of these answers. But most students have not been educated to know them. At best, they possess accidental knowledge, but otherwise are masters of systematic ignorance. It is not their “fault” for pervasive ignorance of western and American history, civilization, politics, art and literature. They have learned exactly what we have asked of them – to be like mayflies, alive by happenstance in a fleeting present.

Our students’ ignorance is not a failing of the educational system – it is its crowning achievement. Efforts by several generations of philosophers and reformers and public policy experts — whom our students (and most of us) know nothing about — have combined to produce a generation of know-nothings. The pervasive ignorance of our students is not a mere accident or unfortunate but correctible outcome, if only we hire better teachers or tweak the reading lists in high school. It is the consequence of a civilizational commitment to civilizational suicide.

Another must-read.

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3 Feedbacks on "Today’s Students Not Part of Our Common Culture"

Seattle Sam

The only reason we knew a lot of those things entering College was that they were required teaching. We didn’t get to choose whether we wanted to learn about the Canterbury Tales (I’d have preferred not to at the time). My daughter is an English teacher at a fairly good high school in California. She teaches four — count ’em four — books a year. She says this is because a) that’s the curriculum given her by the state and b) the students won’t tolerate any more than that. Tolerate?



JK Brown

Yet another Rupert Cadell opens the trunk to see what their smug pontifications have wrought in a mind unfamiliar with Western history

Brandon: What are you doing?
Rupert Cadell: It’s not what I’m going to do, Brandon. It’s what society is going to do. I don’t know what that will be, but I can guess, and I can help. You’re going to die, Brandon. Both of you. You are going to die.
[opens a window and fires three shots]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-9dD6wNFBYU&ab_channel=1948clips



JK Brown

A better, more explicit clip of Rupert’s realization

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V6JVQ7miq8U&ab_channel=ByWayofBeautyDotCom



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