I was tempted to to tack this post by David Foster of the Chicago Boyz on “The War on History” onto the previous item, but it’s worth standing alone. As Foster writes:
In 2008, historian David McCullough spoke to seminar of some twenty-five students at an Ivy League college, all seniors majoring in history, all honors students. “How many of you know who George Marshall was?” he asked. None did.So why is this happening?
A big part of the problem is the temporal bigotry that seems to be inculcated in so many “educators.” This is the belief that people today are so much wiser and more knowledgeable than people of past eras that we couldn’t possibly have anything to learn from them. In a post several years ago, a blogger mentioned that he had encountered a teacher who said “Kids learn so much these days. Did you know that today a schoolchild learns more between the freshman and senior years of high school than our grandparents learned in their entire lives?” (“She said this as if she had read it in some authoritative source”)
It is easy to take this teacher’s assertion apart, as I did in this post, but her attitude seems to be a depressingly common one among those who teach for a living–and, I suspect, even more common among the ed-school denizens who are responsible for teaching the teachers.
It also seems to me likely that the blank-slate theory of human nature which is held by so many on the Left, consciously or implicitly, has something to do with this. If human beings were indeed infinitely malleable–if there were really no such thing as human nature–then people living 500 years ago, whose life experiences had been very different from our own, might not have so much to teach us.
The attempt to blame the poor history results on NCLB and the increased emphasis on reading/math seems to me to be pretty lame. The testing and the reading/math focus were not put in place at random; they were put in place because the schools were known to be doing a poor job in these areas and because everything else–including history–depends on some level of proficiency in one or both of these subject. It is certainly not impossible to teach reading and writing and arithmetic and history–most American schools once did exactly that, not perfectly by a long shot, but better than they are doing at present–but that was before the era of teachers’ unions, over-administration, and the dominance of theory and political indoctrination in the ed schools.
Oh what the heck, let’s tie it into Lileks’ post. Of the midcentury past, James wrote:
It’s irrelevant that the system was flexible and responded to change, so that the boons of the suburbs would be available to all eventually; its original sin provides the lens through which it must be viewed. Let me coin a word: homogenism. Bias and prejudice against something because it looks like it’s all the same. And we all know that the suburbs, with their all-white makeup, was unlike the city of New York from which its residents fled, with every neighborhood awash with enthusiastic, spontaneously generated diversity. Chinatown, Little Italy, Harlem – mere names. As for the acceptance of gays, was it easy to be gay in Harlem in the old days? No? Then don’t talk up the glories of the Cotton Club and Apollo eras. Everything in the past is bad, except for those few golden strands we can weave today into a gossamer cord that leads to the perfect future.
Or Forward into the Past, if you’re so inclined.