Cultural Literacy

Stacy McCain decries America’s “cultural illiteracy” and bemoans the fact that kids today may be smart but they’re ignorant.

[H]ow many know enough French — or enough European history — to know who Clemenceau was, or what he meant? The Tiger might as well have never lived, so far as the average college student is concerned. Nor would you see any flicker of recognition from that average student if you mentioned Black Jack Pershing, or Leon Trotsky or Whitaker Chambers, or Danton or Marat, or Catiline or Cicero, or Austerlitz or Agincourt or Cannae. How many know even a smattering of French or German? How know anything of Latin? And Greek? Don’t even ask.

What is striking is that, even while a greater proportion of America’s young people are now college educated than ever before, the percentage who are actually educated — that is to say, who possess such knowledge as once befitted a person who was considered “well-read” — is probably smaller than it was 50 years ago. However, because the average level of learning has sunk so low, they are ignorant of their own ignorance. They actually believe themselves knowledgeable, because they know as much as any of their classmates, apparently without realizing what absolute ignoramuses their classmates are.

He blames this on an education system that places self-esteem above all else.  There’s some truth to that.  It’s also true that it’s harder to find good teachers nowadays than it was a generation ago, since that profession no longer has its pick of smart career women.

Mostly, though, we’re comparing an idealized view of the past with a very different educational system of today.

There was never a time when most Americans were well educated in the sense that Stacy describes.  Unless one lived in a big city with lots of new immigrants, there was no reason that our forebears would have been exposed to foreign languages (aside from Latin or Hebrew, for those who grew up in the Catholic or Jewish traditions, respectively). Maybe there was a time when average college students knew a smattering of several languages and were relatively well versed in history and literature.  But that was when only the very brightest and the offspring of the wealthy went to college and the emphasis was on classical education rather than career training.

Now, the expectation is that just about everyone should get a college education.  That changes the nature of the beast.  The students no longer share a cultural heritage and there’s a much wider gap in abilities.  That requires more remedial training in the early years.  Moreover, there has been an increasing emphasis on practical learning with career skills considered the goal rather than education for education’s sake.

We live in a much more complicated world than existed fifty years ago, requiring us to train our young people in a variety of tasks. Most obviously, today’s kids are vastly more technologically literate than those of previous generations. They’re also more mathematically oriented, with high school calculus the norm for college-bound students. Additionally, for a variety of social reasons, we spend far more time teaching diversity education and basic life skills than was the case not so long ago.

The upshot of all this is that something has to give.  We give short shrift to — or eliminate entirely — subjects that were once considered “essential” knowledge for educated people in order to teach things considered important today.

I have a PhD and am much more of a reader than most people.  But I don’t know Latin or Greek, beyond a handful of words that have crept into our language or scholarly jargon, and have long since forgotten which kinds of Greek columns are which or how to recognize the meter of a poem. I’m rusty on my Roman senators and medieval battles, too.

Part of that is because my education has been quite specialized compared to my historical antecedents.  There’s a lot more to know than there was in 1950, after all.  Partly, too, our sense of shared culture has changed.   As Stacy notes, television and other visual media have supplanted reading as a leisure-time activity.   So, even among educated people, you’re much more likely to use modern pop culture references than classical ones.

While I suppose it would be nice if we all knew the things on Stacy’s list, I’m not sure why they’re really superior, from a cultural history standpoint, to the things we know now.

UPDATE: Stacy updates his post with a longish response, the gist of which is that he doesn’t think people nowadays are actually much more technologically literate, either.  He adds,

Does my friend Dr. Joyner really believe that political science is such a specialized field that, in his 19 years of formal schooling, he could not have squeezed in a few semesters of Greek or Latin? Ah, but since classical languages have been discarded in favor of uno cerveza por favor, we find that teachers of Greek and Latin are almost impossible to find, and the new Dark Ages descend unnoticed.

Am I a nostalgist, idealizing the past? No, I’m a realist, who refuses to euphemize the present. We have lost a culture in which allusions to history and literature were the common language of educated men and gained a culture in which allusions to TV shows and movies are the only such references anyone understands.

The problem is that “a few semesters of Greek or Latin” requires either spending more time in school or excluding something else.  I suppose PhysEd could go but we’re already talking about an epidemic of childhood obesity.

It’s true that it’s more useful to have watched “Shawshank Redemption” and to have an opinion on  steroids in profession baseball than to be conversant in Greek literature and French philosophy at the average gathering of intelligent people nowadays.  It’s not entirely clear to me why that’s problematic.

Image: Angela Maiers Literacy Institute under Creative Commons license.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. odograph says:

    One other thing – schools tend to teach regional history (Spanish missions in California, civil war in Virginia). That makes comparison .. strange.

  2. Eric says:

    I love it when adults bemoan the dismal state of “young people’s” education. I especially love it when shows like the Daily Show, Leno, et cetera do a segment going around asking adults questions about history, politics, et cetera and the adults can’t answer even the most basic questions about said topics.

    But, yeah, those kids–they don’t know nuthin’.

  3. odograph says:

    Do you suppose Eric, that there might be a decay function? Maybe a kid can name all the Presidents, the same kid later (in a Leno bit) can name maybe 5?

    (Better then to start with all of them.)

    BTW, for you easterners, you might be amused to know that every kid raised in (southern?) California builds a model of a Spanish mission. A particular rite of passage and shared culture …

  4. John Burgess says:

    James: Not that long ago, a classical education meant learning Latin and sometimes Greek, just to get your ordinary BS. An MS in any science would require the addition of German or, perhaps, Russian. Learning these languages was not bound to any religious identity of the school or student, it was just considered what ordinary, educated people did.

    Even when I was in university, there were language requirements for the stock BS in liberal arts, though they had expanded to include just about any language.

    While I got a start on Latin in parochial schools, it was very much on the syllabus of my public high schools.

    Many prep schools in the US and all in the UK still teach Latin and Greek in addition to foreign languages. It’s the public schools that have moved away from language instruction.

    This may be because so many students need remedial English, even the native speakers.

  5. JKB says:

    Interesting that he bemoans the lack of an education that throws back to fitting in with the “right” people. Fact is that today, so many more resources are available about a much wider world. Couple that with the fact that you no longer have to have the same education to fit in, even into the “educated” circles and you have a weakening of common phrases and clauses for the erudite.

    Some 20 years ago, Dan Quayle caused a stir by commenting on Murphy Brown’s pregnancy. Few didn’t understand the reference but what TV show is that commonly known these days? Did the bemoaning of Jack Bauer’s torture habits enjoy the same common knowledge? Certainly not from me, having only watched about 8 hours of 24’s first season.

    I would agree with the complaint, buried in the lament of the loss of a classical education, that today’s students are not intellectually curious on the most part. Is that a result of the self-esteem culture refusing to put the fear of ignorance in them? Or is today’s average student population diluted by those focused on marketable skills rather than a love of learning? Or is it a result of decades of public education’s efforts to fill their spreadsheets with scores making learning as much a drudge as possible? Entertaining lessons perhaps but in the way of a movie that you only want to see once.

  6. Eric says:

    Do you suppose Eric, that there might be a decay function? Maybe a kid can name all the Presidents, the same kid later (in a Leno bit) can name maybe 5?

    LOL! I can definitely confirm from personal experience that there is a decay function. I can barely remember my name some days until after I’ve had my morning coffee…

    Seriously, though, I somewhat sympathize with these educational doom-and-gloom opinions, because it would be nice if everyone were taught rigorous Latin and Greek, History, English, et cetera. But I think James is right that there was never an educational Golden Age where every kid was taught everything and we all lived together in blissful Intellectualism. It’s simply, as James says, an idealized version of the past.

    I can certainly sympathize with the general contours of McCain’s argument. The practical reality, however, is that we teach the things that are relevant to us now; and what is relevant now is more specialized knowledge that comes with technological advancement–indeed, what we may have considered “general education” back in the day, for example, Latin and Greek, has now itself become specialized! Moreover, let’s not forget that money for schools is almost always coming up short, so school administrators need to make decisions about what gets taught and what doesn’t. That’s the practical reality.

    On the lighter side, I’ve argued with people in the past that the reason why kids often do so well on these “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader”-type shows and segments is that kids are immersed in school from ages 3 to 18, so in a way they have a big advantage (aside from being, well, young); whereas adults are simply working a job that often doesn’t require much intellectual muscle power outside of the specialized whatever they do. Adults are only as “brain smart” and topical as their outside interests take them, and often that’s not far, what with being tired from working, taking care of kids, doing fun stuff et cetera.

  7. Bithead says:

    Do you suppose Eric, that there might be a decay function?

    Exactly.

    I find it interesting that so many are down on the ‘idealized’ version of the past. Perhaps part of the deal, here is that at the time, they were actually working toward an ideal, instead of looking at the long line of high school grads who can’t read their own dimploma, and simply shrugging their shoulders, mumbling ‘it is what it is”.

  8. Bithead says:

    Addendum:

    That said, I wonder if we aren’t slipping the topic a bit. In realing Stacy’s comments, I read him as bemoaning the lack of education about what ou unique American culture is, not so much education in general.

    As I suspect Statcy does, I view this as a function of the educational system being so heavily populated by the cultural left, who scoffs at the idea that traditional American culture has inherrent value, and therefore has moved away from it.

  9. PD Shaw says:

    I did find it odd that at the end of First Grade, my eldest could name four African-American civil rights leaders (MLKjr, Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth, and a fourth I don’t recall), and only three presidents (Washington, Lincoln, Bush). But my general impression of her first grade was that it seemed more rigorous in the reading, writing and arithmetic department.

  10. tom p says:

    We live in a much more complicated world than existed fifty years ago, requiring us to train our young people in a variety of tasks.

    Yep, which leads to the more “specialized eduction” you yourself got…

    The upshot of all this is that something has to give. We give short shrift to — or eliminate entirely — subjects that were once considered “essential” knowledge for educated people in order to teach things considered important today.

    Yep, again, but…

    While I suppose it would be nice if we all knew the things on Stacy’s list, I’m not sure why they’re really superior, from a cultural history standpoint, to the things we know now.

    I have to disagree with you here James. There are things one will get from reading Plato’s “The Republic”, Homer’s “Iliad”, Clausewitz’s, “On War”, or Sun Tzu’s, “Tao te Ching”, (not to mention Marx, Omar Khayam, Thoreau, etc) that one can not get anywhere else, and we are all the poorer for it.

    My own “classics” education in school was all but nonexistent. I had friends who were “forced” to read them at their Jesuit HS while I, a Public school student, didn’t even know who they were talking about. If I was going to get into these conversations I had to jump to. I still struggle with it. (I will never get thru “Ulysses”)

    What do I get out of it? I don’t know, maybe only a bald spot from pulling out my hair when some blogger “discovers” something the Greeks figured out 2500 yrs ago.

  11. Dave Schuler says:

    Unless one lived in a big city with lots of new immigrants, there was no reason that our forebears would have been exposed to foreign languages (aside from Latin or Hebrew, for those who grew up in the Catholic or Jewish traditions, respectively).

    That’s not quite true, James. There continue to be pockets all over the country, even in rural areas, where languages other than English predominate, including German, French, and Spanish.

    This subject does seem to come up every now and again, doesn’t it?

    First, I wonder how many French kids (I mean average French kids rather than their elite) know who Clemenceau was? I also wonder how many French kids (or American kids for that matter) know who James K. Polk was? My point is that we’re in no way distinguished by our lack of knowledge of history.

    Second, languages. I can read Latin and Greek with facility and plow my way through a Hebrew text with a little difficulty. I’m fluent in several modern foreign languages (including some tough ones). But I’m a freak. The United States is different from Europe. Since there are any number of places in the United States where you can go 500 miles in any direction, always able to find English speakers, it doesn’t make any sense for Americans to understand a language other than English (except maybe Spanish). Any European who knows only his or her own language is a dolt or a fool. Our situations are completely different.

    Additionally, whatever our shortcomings in language more Americans speak German than in any country other than Germany, Polish than in any country other than Poland, and Russian than in any country other than Russia. We’re one of the largest Spanish speaking countries and, other than France and France’s 20th century colonies, we’re one of the largest French-speaking countries.

    Finally, education. Universities no longer educate; they train, like one trains seals. That’s the price of the cult of relevance that took over in the late 1960’s. If a university’s role is job-training, for Americans history, language, and culture have little role. If a university’s role is to produce informed, educated people, it will take a revolution. That’s the discussion. Have at it.

  12. Dave Schuler says:

    After having read Stacy’s post, I think he should have revealed whether he reads Latin or Greek and what modern foreign languages he’s fluent with.

  13. tom p says:

    Second, languages. I can read Latin and Greek with facility and plow my way through a Hebrew text with a little difficulty. I’m fluent in several modern foreign languages (including some tough ones).

    Question Dave: Did you grow up in a bi-lingual house? (my GF grew up bi-lingual in Spain, and with in a yr of coming to the US had passable English)

    Any European who knows only his or her own language is a dolt or a fool. Our situations are completely different.

    Indeed, My parents went to visit some friends in Europe and were somewhat amazed by their childrens ability to channel surf thru 4 or 5 different languages with out missing a beat.

    After having read Stacy’s post, I think he should have revealed whether he reads Latin or Greek and what modern foreign languages he’s fluent with.

    For my ownself, I can read Spanish (with a little help from the book) and get by in Mexico (Spain not so well, the pronunciation is a little different) This does not mean I can not bemoan my lack of Latin.

    As to the “discussion”, I would say that these are things that need to be introduced in High School, because as you and James have both pointed out, higher education is far more focused and specialized.

    But I’m a freak.

    Who’da thunk it?

  14. Jay C. says:

    I’ve read Stacy’s post; unfortunately his arguments figuratively robs Peter to pay Paul. He uses the lack of cultural literacy as he observes to attempt to torpedo the esteem movement in education. The overlap really isn’t that much. The esteem movement can be greatly critiqued in depth, with his indictments of education as entertainment, for example, without trying to use a 60s Ivy education as a contrast.

    Just as Dr J notes: “Mostly, though, we’re comparing an idealized view of the past with a very different educational system of today. […]There was never a time when most Americans were well educated in the sense that Stacy describes.
    Today’s educated person generally compares against today’s under-educated just in the same way that those of yesteryear do against each other. I would even guess that today’s under-educated are actually more knowledgable than those of the past simply because of the sheer ease of access to massive amounts of information.

    In my mind, education changes to fit the needs of a market. An individual also filters what he needs, and in today’s era of information overload, mental triage is a self-trained skill, versus simply tuning things out and living in willful ignorance.

    Dave Schuler makes good points, especially on language education. Scientists back in the day were polyglot were because they needed to. Many were stubborn and didn’t really like to publish their papers in a language that isn’t theirs, unless it were Latin. Back then, Latin was the scientific lingua franca. Today, it is English.

    Lastly, on the role of a University, sure, let’s have some informed, educated people. But on the purpose of an education? It’s to serve the economic needs of the student and to gain an upper hand in the market.

  15. Grewgills says:

    Every generation bemoans the following generation’s failure to follow their education and culture. This is no different than any other ‘back in my day argument’.
    James’ points about the percentage of the populace getting an education and the requirements of living in today’s world are at the center of it.
    Look at the average citizen 50, 100, 150 years ago and compare that citizen to an average citizen of today and the modern citizen will know more on a host of topics and the average citizen of that bygone era would also fail on Stacy’s list.
    An illustrative example,

    Between 1900 and 1919, half of the student population [did not] achieve eighthgrade status (Tyack & Cuban, 1995, p. 69), and many of those who were enrolled were “left behind each year” (p. 70). For example, in 1910, only 35% of 17-year-olds were in high school (Conant, 1959, p. 6).

    Anyone want to bet that the education system then produced a populace with more knowledge than our system does today.

  16. Dave Schuler says:

    Question Dave: Did you grow up in a bi-lingual house? (my GF grew up bi-lingual in Spain, and with in a yr of coming to the US had passable English)

    Although not a native speaker of German, my father was as fluent as a native speaker and was generally taken for one when travelling in Europe. He was once arrested in Serbia, suspected of being a German spy. But that’s another story.

    Understanding languages was well-regarded in our home and my dad taught us German. Swiss tradition, I guess.

    The grade school I attended required French.

    And I attended one of those Jesuit high schools you mentioned. 😉 Latin, Greek, and a modern foreign language were all required.

  17. PD Shaw says:

    Interestingly, England is moving away from expecting or requiring foreign languages:

    The University of Cambridge is proposing to drop the requirement for a foreign language GCSE as part of its admissions criteria to attract more children from state schools.

    Cambridge said it is the only university that still insists on a core of subjects students must have studied if they want to apply for a place at one of its colleges…

    The change in the curriculum has been significant, the university said. In 2000 80% of all school students – from both the private and state schools – took a foreign language at GCSE, but that has now fallen to below 50%. The number of state schools where students are required to study a foreign language after 14 is now around 17%, the university said.

    Link

  18. Joe R. says:

    The joke about the “education” back then went something like this:

    Applicant: I’m looking for a job.
    Employer: Well, I need someone to sweep the floor.
    Applicant: But I’m a college graduate!
    Employer: In that case, I’ll show you how.

    As Dave Schuler mentioned, universities train these days. I’m an engineer, so it’s pretty much what you need to succeed in the market when you graduate. I would have liked to have taken more economics, history, and especially philosophy than I did, but it’s just impossible given the math, chemistry, physics, and cross-discipline engineering requirements like statics and circuits. And that’s before you get to the requirements of your chosen field.

    In his response to you he says:

    “Technological literacy,” and yet our best graduate schools in engineering, medicine and science are notoriously full of foreign students.

    Right, and how many Chinese or Indian engineering students can read Latin? Why are they full of foreign students? The answer is not “They learned Greek.” It’s more like “They were doing indefinite integrals in middle school.”

    Tossing all the old ideas aside was probably necessary for us to get to where we are, where your average household has more computing power than all of NASA did in 1969.

  19. By Texas law, all high school students (some exemptions for those with disabilities) must take two years of ‘language other than English’ to graduate. To graduate ‘with distinction’, three years of LOTE is required. Like wise, early America history, US history, world geography and world history are required (Texas history is proudly covered in middle school). To graduate, you have to pass a state standardized test on english language arts (including writing), mathematics, science and social studies (including the above history and geography).
    There are also requirements that you spend a certain number of days in each class to pass no matter what your grade. So get sick enough days (excused absences), make an A on the final and you may not get credit for the class.

    So if there is such an appalling ignorance, it isn’t that they are exposed and tested on the subjects in school. Maybe the test is to easy so the work of incompetent teachers or students aren’t detected, but that is a different issue.

    p.s. I suspect for most of the history he is complaining about, randomly watching the history channel would correct much of the “ignorance” as far as history is concerned.

  20. PD Shaw says:

    we find that teachers of Greek and Latin are almost impossible to find, and the new Dark Ages descend unnoticed.

    Is this true? I checked my local public high school and they offer Latin, German, French and Spanish courses. I find education discussions interesting, but largely anecdotal.

  21. PD Shaw says:

    And I believe the barbarians that first raided the sanctity of the university were the returning G.I.s from WWII. My Grandfather was one of them, and I am pretty sure that he had learned no foreign language at the the remote rural school he attended, though he probably picked up a smattering of 17 dialects of Burmese and Chinese in the war. He and his comrades lived in Quonset huts outside an overcrowded Northwestern University to learn something practical — business. And the univerisities and colleges became addicted to the opportunities for this new class of Philistine.

  22. A says:

    I think that the issue goes beyond training, or the percentage of people who go on to college. I teach world history surveys, and most of the things McCain mentions don’t make the cut, nor do I especially think that they should. We now teach a lot more world history and culture, a fair bit of American history, and a lot less European history and culture — and cultural literacy of students has changed accordingly. I’m not really ready to define that as “ignorance”.

  23. John Burgess says:

    In intention, if not fully successful in execution, the purpose of a ‘classical education’ was to provide the information one needed in life, not just to get a job upon graduation.

    Much of what encumbers school curricula today is ephemera, stuff that no one will know or care about in a few years’ time. Murphy Brown? WTF? Dan Quayle? Same WTF. My life is not richer because once I learned COBOL or FORTRAN, I assure you, though for a couple of years it might have been.

    Much of what encumbers school curricula is TBI, Today’s Big Idea [TM]. It’s the educational fad du jour (or du generation). It’s what politicians dictate in order to get special interest groups off their backs. Get rid of those millstones and there might be class time sufficient to at least acknowledge the depth of history or literature, if not actually explore it.

  24. tom p says:

    And I attended one of those Jesuit high schools you mentioned. 😉

    Aaaah Ha! I KNEW it! I can always spot the product of a Jesuit education! OK, not really…

    I was always a little jealous (and driven) by the Jesuit education my buddies were getting in High School while I merely endured. Theirs was so much more well rounded and far deeper. In my day (mid ’70s) the emphasis for PS’s was on getting students thru the doors (graduating) with a minmum of disruption (drugs, racial stuff, a certain amount of violence) No small feat in and of themselves considering the times and the class sizes (my graduating class was 635)

    I actually had a History teacher stand up on the first day of class and say something to the effect that, “If you just come to class every day, you will pass, even if you fail every test.” Funny thing is, about the only time I showed up was for tests (and mid-day naps), and I still got an “A” in that class.

  25. Rick Almeida says:

    Two things strike me most about arguments like McCain’s: a lack of empirical content and no clear sense of what the teleology of education should be.

    McCain’s argument is full of statements like, “the percentage who are actually educated — that is to say, who possess such knowledge as once befitted a person who was considered “well-read” — is probably smaller than it was 50 years ago”

    Oh. It’s probably smaller. Ok. But IS it smaller? What constitutes a “well-read” person?

    I am far from anything that could be called a “postmodernist,” but nevertheless I think some of the criticisms of the Western canon have merit. McCain seems to lament that the things HE believes are important are not stressed in contemporary education.

    Like James, I have a political science Ph.D. I could not tell you who Clemenceau is; I have never read Sun Tzu. I would imagine that McCain does not have my training in math, statistics, and econometrics. Who is better educated?

    McCain also fails to articulate any real conception of the purpose (or telos, if I wanted to show off my Greek) of a reasonable public education. I do not blame him; it is an endeavor fraught with peril, for then one must demonstrate that the desired educational elements contribute to the end, which is necessarily difficult.

    Most glaringly, McCain then jumps from dubious premises to unfounded conclusion – that the lack of his desired education is due to a focus on self-esteem. No evidence is provided to support the claim.

    Last, in his rejoinder to Joyner (ha ha!), he radically redefines his thesis:

    “I’m clearly talking about college graduates, and I’m saying that the average college graduate knows less — in terms of history, geography, literature and languages — than was true 40, 50 or 100 years ago.”

    Again, no evidence supports the claim, and no argument follows to try to convince me that the issue matters.

    This is supposed to be evidence of a superior education? Perhaps McCain should have spent less time on Latin declension and more on logic and argumentation.

    Indeed, McCain misses an easy target, perhaps because it undermines his core idea. The lack of foreign language education in the US is a tragedy! Not because learning a foreign language is beneficial in and of itself (which it may be), but because there are tremendous instrumental benefits to be had from language skills.

    I’m sorry to run on for so long. Perhaps I should have said simply that “The youth are ignorant and far worse than our generation” is probably the oldest story in the proverbial book.

  26. tom p says:

    p.s. I suspect for most of the history he is complaining about, randomly watching the history channel would correct much of the “ignorance” as far as history is concerned.

    Could not disagree more, yaj.

    I was watching a PBS special via netflix recently and about halfway thru it I had to turn it off in utter disgust. It was a so called “history” of ancient Greece. They went thru the entirety of the Greco-Persian Wars (did you know they ended in 480 BC????) with out even mentionong the Battle of Thermopylae… WTF????

    (I have not read the wiki-link, and I shudder to think what inaccuracies exist there, but at least those are correctible)

  27. Grewgills says:

    McCain has narrowed his focus or perhaps he intended it to be narrow from the outset. He is speaking only of college graduates. He dismisses James’ point about increased admissions claiming that the average college grad is less well informed today than was the case 50-60 years ago. You cannot dismiss the broadening of college education and retain a sound argument about society as a whole. Literacy rates are up over that time. There are roughly 4x the percent of population graduating college than was the case 50-60 years ago as compared to year 2000. Essentially only the top quarter of students in college now would have made the cut. This is simply not a fair comparison.
    To his other point that sarcasm and humiliation of students is a positive in a learning environment, I cannot disagree more. Some may have gone too far in the other direction, but deliberately humiliating a student for incorrectly answering a question in class is neither necessary or beneficial.

  28. tom p says:

    I’m sorry to run on for so long.

    Rick, no need apologize. Your points are well taken and far more elucidating than “The youth are ignorant and far worse than our generation”

    For myself, all I am saying is that something is lossed when these things aren’t even introduced to the general student population… I also think that college isn’t the place for it. There is too much to know about too narrow a discipline by the time one reaches that place.

  29. I dunno, I found my multi-semesters of Spanish to be one hell of a lot more useful than Greek or Latin would have been, said the guy with the Ph.D. who studies Latin America. As such, I have found that “una cerveza, por favor” (and btw, it’s “una” not “uno”) to be a more useful phrase to know than Veni, Vedi, Vici.

    I toyed, at times, with learning Greek or Latin, but time is a rather finite resource.

  30. And, I am with Rick Aleimda:

    McCain seems to lament that the things HE believes are important are not stressed in contemporary education.

    Indeed.

    And I also concur with:

    Perhaps I should have said simply that “The youth are ignorant and far worse than our generation” is probably the oldest story in the proverbial book.

    I honor and cherish education and knowledge, but let’s be realistic about what we are talking about here, and much of it is simply remembering an idealized past that never existed.

  31. James Joyner says:

    I have found that “una cerveza, por favor” (and btw, it’s “una” not “uno”) to be a more useful phrase to know than Veni, Vedi, Vici.

    Indeed. Combined with “ein bier, bitte” and English speaking skills, it will get you a brew virtually anywhere on the planet.

  32. tom p says:

    As such, I have found that “una cerveza, por favor”

    HA! My 2nd phrase of Spanish. My first was “Lo ciento, mi no hablo mucho Espanol…”

    Which I always translated as “Please forgive me, I am just a stupid gringo, I have come to your country and I can’t even speak your language. Take pity on me.”

    Works every time.

  33. John Burgess says:

    Tom P: I once had a professor at Georgetown U., Carroll Quigley by name, who announced on the first day of class that if a student were to parrot back everything he said in a lecture, he’d receive a ‘C’; if the student spelled his name correctly on the exam papers, he’d get a ‘D’ (then a failing grade).

    50% of the class failed, every year, every time.

    Luckily, the summer make-up course was taught by a kindly Hungarian Jesuit, much nicer than the civilian product of the Christian Brothers’ thuggery education.

    I’m still standing on my point that an education for a lifetime is more useful than an education to get you through the job fair at the end of the year.

    My Latin served me very well, both professionally and personally. It made learning French a snap and learning Arabic much easier. It also added much to my wandering around Roman ruins in the Middle East as I could read inscriptions and knew quite a bit about Roman history, culture, architecture, city planning, and of course monuments.

  34. Bithead says:

    I have found that “una cerveza, por favor” (and btw, it’s “una” not “uno”) to be a more useful phrase to know than Veni, Vedi, Vici.

    Not to be confused with Veni, Vedi, Voodo.
    (I came, I saw, I stuck pins in the thing.) Which, frankly, is almost never useful. Indeed, this is my first use of the phrase.

  35. Rick Almeida says:

    I’m still standing on my point that an education for a lifetime is more useful than an education to get you through the job fair at the end of the year.

    Mr. Burgess, with respect, I’m not sure the two concepts are analytically distinct. If you will forgive the presumption, you appear to be of a generation where a college education was rather uncommon, and despite that you were able to secure yours at one of the country’s elite institutions. You were able to benefit from a pedagogical tradition that goes back to the Renaissance and perhaps even before.

    You appear to disdain an education that prepares one for the “job fair,” but I would suggest to you that, in the trenches of post-secondary education in rural South Carolina, preparing students for white collar job opportunities is, in and of itself, a desirable end. It is certainly better than a life in a paper mill or scratching yams out of the earth.

    While your latin training made for a pleasant day examining ruins, half of my students have never been on an airplane, even though there is an airport in town. On the first day of my research methods classes, I show them government jobs that pay upwards of $80,000 per year, and constantly refer back to their requirements as they are drudging through hypothesis testing and scatterplots.

    You appear to have had a life that is enviable, even by my own privileged standards. I would encourage you to look down with less disdain on those who must needs make do with far less, and on those of us who work every day to help them achieve far more than they ever dreamed.