young graduates students group

How a Generation Lost Its Common Culture

By Patrick Deneen

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.

Related: The Chaos of College Curricula

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.

Related: Courses without Content

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. The end of history for our students signals the End of History for the West.

During my lifetime, lamentation over student ignorance has been sounded by the likes of E.D. Hirsch, Allan Bloom, Mark Bauerlein and Jay Leno, among many others. But these lamentations have been leavened with the hope that appeal to our and their better angels might reverse the trend (that’s an allusion to Lincoln’s first inaugural address, by the way). E.D. Hirsch even worked up a self-help curriculum, a do-it yourself guide on how to become culturally literate, imbued with the can-do American spirit that cultural defenestration could be reversed by a good reading list in the appendix. Broadly missing is sufficient appreciation that this ignorance is the intended consequence of our educational system, a sign of its robust health and success.

Books for Book-o-Phobes

We have fallen into the bad and unquestioned habit of thinking that our educational system is broken, but it is working on all cylinders. What our educational system aims to produce is cultural amnesia, a wholesale lack of curiosity, history-less free agents, and educational goals composed of content-free processes and unexamined buzz-words like “critical thinking,” “diversity,” “ways of knowing,” “social justice,” and “cultural competence.”

Our students are the achievement of a systemic commitment to producing individuals without a past for whom the future is a foreign country, cultureless ciphers who can live anywhere and perform any kind of work without inquiring about its purposes or ends, perfected tools for an economic system that prizes “flexibility” (geographic, interpersonal, ethical).

In such a world, possessing a culture, a history, an inheritance, a commitment to a place and particular people, specific forms of gratitude and indebtedness (rather than a generalized and deracinated commitment to “social justice”), a strong set of ethical and moral norms that assert definite limits to what one ought and ought not to do (aside from being “judgmental”) are hindrances and handicaps.

Regardless of major or course of study, the main object of modern education is to sand off remnants of any cultural or historical specificity and identity that might still stick to our students, to make them perfect company men and women for a modern polity and economy that penalizes deep commitments. Efforts first to foster appreciation for “multi-culturalism” signaled a dedication to eviscerate any particular cultural inheritance, while the current fad of “diversity” signals thoroughgoing commitment to de-cultured and relentless homogenization.

We Must Know…What?

Above all, the one overarching lesson that students receive is the true end of education: the only essential knowledge is that know ourselves to be radically autonomous selves within a comprehensive global system with a common commitment to mutual indifference. Our commitment to mutual indifference is what binds us together as a global people. Any remnant of a common culture would interfere with this prime directive:  a common culture would imply that we share something thicker, an inheritance that we did not create, and a set of commitments that imply limits and particular devotions.

Ancient philosophy and practice praised as an excellent form of government a res publica – a devotion to public things, things we share together. We have instead created the world’s first Res Idiotica – from the Greek word idiotes, meaning “private individual.” Our education system produces solipsistic, self-contained selves whose only public commitment is an absence of commitment to a public, a common culture, a shared history. They are perfectly hollowed vessels, receptive and obedient, without any real obligations or devotions.

They won’t fight against anyone, because that’s not seemly, but they won’t fight for anyone or anything either. They are living in a perpetual Truman Show, a world constructed yesterday that is nothing more than a set for their solipsism, without any history or trajectory.

I love my students – like any human being, each has enormous potential and great gifts to bestow upon the world. But I weep for them, for what is rightfully theirs but hasn’t been given. On our best days, I discern their longing and anguish and I know that their innate human desire to know who they are, where they have come from, where they ought to go, and how they ought to live will always reassert itself. But even on those better days, I can’t help but hold the hopeful thought that the world they have inherited – a world without inheritance, without past, future, or deepest cares – is about to come tumbling down, and that this collapse would be the true beginning of a real education.

Patrick Deneen is David A. Potenziani Memorial Associate Professor of Constitutional Studies at Notre Dame.

183 thoughts on “How a Generation Lost Its Common Culture”

  1. My son is 3.5 and we live in South Florida. Does anyone have advice on how I can start to plan his education? I don’t want him indoctrinated, I want him to be a free thinker. But he’s very social and I don’t know much about home schooling. I don’t want him to be isolated, and I will very likely be working a full time job throughout his childhood/adolescence. Thank you!

    1. Start him now with Saxon Math. Teach him Phonics now & have him reading independently by age 6. Go on-line to Dover Publishing and begin putting classic reading material into his hands (tactile, not electronic). Begin with the history coloring books and eventually work him into the classics. Choose his video time carefully – cinema classics, including foreign film. Find a Classical Curriculum you like. Preferably, get him into an accredited Christian school (or homeschool association) for a positive socialization.

  2. (((Cultural Marxists))) have achieved all that they want. Not one of these little precious snowflakes will risk their perfect resumes or their long and uninteresting live playing Pokemon GO! to resist Socialist revolution. They would have no idea what they are fighting for or Why.

    We can only hope to revive them before demographic change leaves White Man dead in History.

    White Homeland! Northwest Front!

    1. I just finished a Comparative Politics course at Liberty University. One of the texts was “Prevailing Worldviews of Western Society Since 1500” by Glenn R. Martin. I came upon a section on Marxism; more specifically “Fabian Socialism.” It answered virtually all of the questions I had about why our country is not recognizable to me anymore. It is infuriating that we have allowed this to happen, but then, the Fabian Society’s mission statement expresses the “gradualist” method of conquest. Remember the metaphor about the “frog in a pot of water” that heat is gradually applied to raise the temperature.

  3. Me: Εὐλογητὸς εἶ, Κύριε, δίδαξόν με τὰ δικαιώματά σου.Sophocles hear me.. Oh Lord, teach me my rights… a citizen of paradise….

    Sophocles: I hear you and how dare you.. I never wrote such nonsense

    Me: I am not saying that, you did.

    Sophocles: Then why did you summon me in such fashion? Why not a line from the play I wrote, from “Antigone”?

    Me: Exactly the point. Well you see.. I wish to write a few words in a comment section in regards to education and history and the end of history and — oh.. the long and short of it is , that I am trying to avoid committing a false comparison sort of thing and … and not to look like some fool.. well yeah…and I thought that you could be some help..

    Sophocles: With “Εὐλογητὸς εἶ, Κύριε, δίδαξόν με τὰ δικαιώματά σου.a phrase from the Greek Orthodox funeral rites…. Such nonsense was written hundreds of years after my time, in what you term nowadays as the medieval ages..or Byzantines.

    Me: Yes, I am aware of it. However, maybe I am stretching the point…but it sounds odd that before the Magna Carta and after the Golden Age of Athens …

    Sophocles: The word δικαιώματά does not have the same significance of rights in the modern term- now from what I heard lately, they even have the police reading rights instead of a priest… and as for my time we had reached a point where there were 142 constitutions circulating…

    Me: I am aware of that sir, however…

    Sophocles: And how absurd… the rights… individual is dead and he hears them not….he is on his way to Hades…

    Me: No sir in the Christian faith as you may well know, he is on his way to paradise and becoming a citizen of paradise and a servant of God…. a heavenly kingdom.. the reading of the rights is to be heard by the parish attending the funeral so the living could be informed of the afterlife. I guess they had a different or more mature visual then I am some slaphappy angel singing from cloud to cloud… maybe the early Christians that would sound like you were zapped into a muse or something…Furthermore, in the asks for forgiveness and mercy from any sins so as to continue the responsibilities as a citizen and a servant. The parish understood that either burying a king or a slave, the individual had the same rights read to him.

    Sophocles (with a sarcastic tone): interesting State of affairs… Equal opportunity and equal rights and equal purpose.. No wonder the Byzantines got away with ruling for a thousand years..

    Me: And we are coming to my point.. well you see the Byzantines and Early Christians took a few good things from the past, and made a point to destroy all other knowledge, all ancient temples, all other memory from the past and made a new world order.. the only thing common people applied as knowledge was what they were informed by their priest…and there is this issue about not needing history and to memorize in this comment that I read on-line…I would like to reply to this guy…

    Sophocles: What? What fool takes for granted without questioning any matter?

    Me: or authority… like what you imply in your play.. to question authority either academic, scientific, legal.. like Beckett ..Actually the commenter’s argument (Jaq) is that he has all wisdom in his fingertips with the use of technology and.. Directly applied knowledge that is needed for his everyday…

    Sophocles: Ask this fool- how could he know what question to ask if he does not know what the question is? Would he look for the hidden script of my play in some monastery during the middle ages if he knew not that it existed or would he entertain himself for a month to reinvent that which was already written? How would he know what knowledge is worthy for his existence..

    Me: Spoonfed knowledge… like the funeral rite… the only rights an individual needed in the middle ages cause they all took it in good faith..Or for granted

    Sophocles: without the right to question

    Me: Exactly, I consider it the greatest human right- the right to question- to question the stars, the earth, what is love and feelings, to question authority..just like the play you wrote.. “Antigone” just to question-how could one solve their problems without such a right…. And to teach children that their greatest right of all is to question and to learn so they could question…it Is to think and to think..Makes us more human…. Now tell me sir, do I have a false comparison here?

    Sophocles: Now child you are rambling… and I am a tragic play writer .. Continue your rambling… who knows.. you might be able to get a good comedy script out of it….not too divine though…

  4. My son, who just graduated from high school, could answer ALL of the questions you posed. He was homeschooled. He had a 4.0 in his 35 hours of Dual Enrollment College credits and took 7 AP tests with all 5s. He scored a perfect SAT score. He played Varsity football for 4 years, played the viola in orchestra for 8 years and went to Nationals in Speech & Debate for three years. He applied to Princeton and Harvard and did not get in. Why? Who knows. I have thought it was possibly that he is a white heterosexual protestant conservative male. But they don’t tell you why kids are rejected. So maybe part of the problem is that the students who are educated in high school to know about Western Civilization are not the sort of students that colleges like Princeton and Notre Dame want. Maybe that’s why you aren’t seeing kids who can think.

  5. Mr. Deneen,

    I am now 63. My education spanned international travel, degrees from Multnomah School of the Bible, and secular Universities and colleges.

    I have friends who remained in the “Christian” education environment, and “missionary” mindsets.

    My real world seems insane. Nothing makes sense. Friends seem to be on another plain of existence.

    The younger generation, agreed, has not been culturalized, but the cultured generation is also undisciplined in it’s development. I wish that I could cite real world stories, but I cannot if I want to retain friends.

    We come back to Karl Bart: “Jesus loves me, and this I know, because the Bible tells me so.” We are a witness of times and events. Attempted participation mutates into singed persons.

    1. You’re right. As a 46 year old former Marxist, I see Marxist and neo-Marxist fingerprints everywhere. Radicals colonized education, media, and government, and they do nothing but attack traditional identity – specifically that of whites only.

      Everything going on was scripted decades ago.

  6. I’m not surprised they don’t care about Socrates most of them don’t descend from the civilisation they are inheriting.
    Like most European people in the west they descend from the barbarian celts,Vikings,suebi,Germanic tribes etc not the Romans or Greeks.Why don’t you teach them about their own ancestors ? and let them resonate with their own past.

    1. Lincoln’s answer to Douglas on a related question. “Now, it happens that we meet together once every year, sometime about the 4th of July, for some reason or other. These 4th of July gatherings I suppose have their uses. If you will indulge me, I will state what I suppose to be some of them.

      We are now a mighty nation, we are thirty—or about thirty millions of people, and we own and inhabit about one-fifteenth part of the dry land of the whole earth. We run our memory back over the pages of history for about eighty-two years and we discover that we were then a very small people in point of numbers, vastly inferior to what we are now, with a vastly less extent of country,—with vastly less of everything we deem desirable among men,—we look upon the change as exceedingly advantageous to us and to our posterity, and we fix upon something that happened away back, as in some way or other being connected with this rise of prosperity. We find a race of men living in that day whom we claim as our fathers and grandfathers; they were iron men, they fought for the principle that they were contending for; and we understood that by what they then did it has followed that the degree of prosperity that we now enjoy has come to us. We hold this annual celebration to remind ourselves of all the good done in this process of time of how it was done and who did it, and how we are historically connected with it; and we go from these meetings in better humor with ourselves—we feel more attached the one to the other, and more firmly bound to the country we inhabit. In every way we are better men in the age, and race, and country in which we live for these celebrations. But after we have done all this we have not yet reached the whole.

      There is something else connected with it. We have besides these men—descended by blood from our ancestors—among us perhaps half our people who are not descendants at all of these men, they are men who have come from Europe—German, Irish, French and Scandinavian—men that have come from Europe themselves, or whose ancestors have come hither and settled here, finding themselves our equals in all things. If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration [loud and long continued applause], and so they are. That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world. [Applause.]

      Now, sirs, for the purpose of squaring things with this idea of “don’t care if slavery is voted up or voted down” [Douglas’s “popular sovereignty” position on the extension of slavery to the territories], for sustaining the Dred Scott decision [A voice—“Hit him again”], for holding that the Declaration of Independence did not mean anything at all, we have Judge Douglas giving his exposition of what the Declaration of Independence means, and we have him saying that the people of America are equal to the people of England. According to his construction, you Germans are not connected with it. Now I ask you in all soberness, if all these things, if indulged in, if ratified, if confirmed and endorsed, if taught to our children, and repeated to them, do not tend to rub out the sentiment of liberty in the country, and to transform this Government into a government of some other form. Those arguments that are made, that the inferior race are to be treated with as much allowance as they are capable of enjoying; that as much is to be done for them as their condition will allow. What are these arguments? They are the arguments that kings have made for enslaving the people in all ages of the world. You will find that all the arguments in favor of king-craft were of this class; they always bestrode the necks of the people, not that they wanted to do it, but because the people were better off for being ridden.

      That is their argument, and this argument of the Judge is the same old serpent that says you work and I eat, you toil and I will enjoy the fruits of it. Turn in whatever way you will—whether it come from the mouth of a King, an excuse for enslaving the people of his country, or from the mouth of men of one race as a reason for enslaving the men of another race, it is all the same old serpent, and I hold if that course of argumentation that is made for the purpose of convincing the public mind that we should not care about this, should be granted, it does not stop with the negro. I should like to know if taking this old Declaration of Independence, which declares that all men are equal upon principle and making exceptions to it where will it stop. If one man says it does not mean a negro, why not another say it does not mean some other man? If that declaration is not the truth, let us get the Statute book, in which we find it and tear it out! Who is so bold as to do it! [Voices—“me” “no one,” &c.] If it is not true let us tear it out! [cries of “no, no,”] let us stick to it then [cheers], let us stand firmly by it then. [Applause.]”

      1. Thanks for sharing this important speech by Lincoln. appropriate to hear it anew in light of today’s events.

    2. Katie, it seems as if you fall under the category about which is spoken here. These particular students educated under the government’s guidelines do not know how to think, how to analyze situations through a broad lens like the Greeks did not solve problems like the Romans did. Oh and by the way, studying these Greek and Roman philosophers and historians gave rise to our Republic….studying the ancestors about which you speak did not. You’ve more than proven his point by your reply.

  7. Interesting article. In my opinion, this gradual loss of identity and transfer to cultural indifference/acceptance comes from fast-moving and busy lives. Humans tell themselves they don’t have the time to talk deep, or think a little different. To me, humans live off of concrete purpose. Every day, we subconsciously ask ourselves, what do I have to do? What do I want to do? It’s a lesson we quietly learn when we’re young, to produce for ourselves(working), and in our vastly connected society, that production usually ends up helping others. And work, at least in my view, is hard for pretty much everyone. As a result, workers want to lay off the stress. Some will go to the bar for some beer while watching big men throw a ball around. The more introverted will stay at home to recharge, maybe to watch some Netflix and eat pizza. No matter what we do, it sooner or later gets us tired. So we sleep, and awake the next day to do the same things.

    Sooner or later, our repetitive existence bothers us just a bit. For me, it was watching gaming videos on youtube one minute to stumbling on a video not too unlike this article. How humans are so easily subdued and brainwashed, and thus a way was paved for the new world order conspiracy doomsday. But through all the tinfoil randomness, the video maker did make a good point, I think. That we just think about our own lives. That we’re only bothered to know about the latest gossip or the big game, or more grudgingly whether that pain in the butt report has to be done for the conference tomorrow. What sets us apart is whether we give new things, beyond our understanding, a chance. Hmm…how is the Odyssey going to help Jenny with her job interview tomorrow? Or how are the 95 Theses going to help Joe get that beautiful woman that comes in twice a week to go on a date with him? Maybe Jenny will end up reading it and end up trying to draw a conclusion or two, or she’ll dismiss it and start ironically calling you the self absorbed know it all behind your back.

    Now I haven’t read either work so I can’t say their use in real life situations, but I think the point is made. Humans can get so self involved, we only want what gives us immediate satisfaction and/or gratification. Our own little corner of the world.

    But saying the situation is hopeless isn’t going to help. After all, despite me being an 18 year old freshman headed to college in the fall, is trying to gain an understanding of the world by putting my thoughts into words and making this post.

    1. You have a Very short sighted and superficial way of looking at cultural literacy and the profound difference it makes to a nation, it’s people, and its identity.

      Your lack of perspective and depth has made you a slave, and you don’t even know it.

      Enjoy your pizza and Netflix

  8. It is curiously terrifying to be denounced as Hitler by multitudes who do not know when nor where WWII occurred nor who participated nor the outcome.

  9. I would hate to have him as a teacher, or pay him to teach my children. That is not a good attitude to be having as a teacher, whether or not he is correct. A teacher’s focus should be on the subject, and how to help students learn the material, and think for themselves, and to be kind to others and and to be decent citizens, NOT to call students names.

    1. I would have been honored to have Dr. Deenan as a professor and would gladly have paid him to educate my children. He understands that the “focus on the subject” mentality atomizes whatever knowledge is gained. Being brilliant in one field can be little different that being a savant that cannot integrate his or her knowledge into the larger questions Dr. Deenan (and life) raises. Those serious about education would do well to consider St. John’s College in Annapolis or St. Thomas Aquinas in Santa Paula, California. Both are Great Books schools in which students actually read and discuss Plato, Aristotle, Homer, the Bible, Milton, Dante, The Magna Carta, Lincoln, etc. Students also study math and science as it unfolded in history as well as learning Greek and French. These schools educate rather than indoctrinate. May their numbers increase!

    2. Yes, he’s being ideological instead of just getting on with helping those students he can who have an interest. It’s true though that the current state of ignorance was deliberate, planned, an intended outcome. It’s the purest cultural Marxism. People can’t take pride and fight for what they’re ignorant of. In Europe they’re actually proud of being post-historical, post-Christian, post-capitalist, post-national. Trudeau in Canada said: “Canada is the first post-national country.” And that’s the surest sign that Canada’s days are numbered. Sweden though probably has that ‘honor’, and likely won’t exist in 10 or 15 years. He’s making this call b/c if there’s no course correction our culture will vanish within the next 2 or 3 generations.

    3. He didn’t call any students names.
      And this professor is not the enemy. He is a champion for education THAT CULTURALLY MATTERS, and will create more deeply educated and knowledgeable citizens, instead of the empty shells they enter and leave college as.

      He made very astute and accurate observations about the intellectually empty vacuous and clueless status of college students he teaches today.

      Perhaps you are the problem, as the parent of a snowflake student that you’re so scared will feel micro aggressed and will need to scurry to his safe space to recover from the TRUTH.

      Listen to Wayne’s World, and you’ll see who he’s talking about.
      So Wake up. You’re not doing your kids any favors by coddling them from a cultured and vigorous life.

  10. As a retired JD/ChE let me point out that we are largely self-educated in areas outside specialties (such as my law and engineering areas). I have a library that contains both the Iliad (kind of hard to read until the action begins) and the Odyssey (short cut if you want: Oh Brother where art thou). And it was not until years later that I found out how an arrow could pass through all the axe heads (remove the handle and shoot through the hole). I also like to read about modern physics and have a bunch of books about quantum physics which I read but do not understand.
    The mind is a marvelous thing, always seeking new things.

  11. Millennials are natural-born slaves; that’s what they are for, that’s why they were put on this earth: to serve us. It’s a little know fact that many of them have saddles built right on them, just climb on up and ride them all over town. If you don’t own one, somebody else will, so you may as well accept their natural condition. They’re not bright, or hard-working, and entirely useless for conversation, but they are unique in one respect: they are the first generation of slaves to have college degrees–albeit worthless degrees. Just buy their debt from the bank and put them to work at light tasks, like making lattes and iced tea.

  12. Not sure I blame our youth. Rather I blame an older group that should understand and appreciate our Constitution but instead have abused it.

    A professor who specializes in the Constitution has never had a bigger opportunity to help turn the tide. Stop bellyaching and “be the Change”…

  13. Mr. Deneen, I think you are wrong to blame the educational system. I am in my first year as a high school teacher and I experience things much as you do. My students enter my classroom without any knowledge to build on. Worse, they cannot (and will not) read with any comprehension, and they have an attention span which ranges from zero to nil. They will not study at all. They cannot listen. They cannot even watch a movie (they’re all boring). Nothing surprises them and nothing interests them. They are, in short, not students by any meaning of the definition. Nor does discipline work, because my students have learned by the time that they enter my classroom that no amount of suspensions or failing grades will prevent them from attending school or passing on to the next level.

    What, then, is a teacher to do? These children cannot be taught “critical thinking skills” because their heads are so pitifully devoid of anything to think about. What is left but to try to impart a miserly bit of trivia and send them on? Should I do as you are doing and simply blame the previous level, the Middle Schools? Talk to those teachers and they will blame the Elementary Schools.

    I agree that the meddling of the government has played its part, but I do not see that many teachers have radically altered their methods in order to satisfy the demands on NCLB or Common Core. Rather, it is the emphasis on retention and graduation rates which has destroyed the educational system. Children learn from an early age that there are no consequences for their behavior or their performance. The students who do absolutely nothing are offered “recovery credits”. Teachers are pressured to pass a certain number of kids, or else their competence comes into question.

    That being said, the problem is not really the educational system. It is our culture at large. Blame technology. Blame the breakdown of the family. Blame the general contempt for authority in any form which is a hallmark of our age. But when you blame the education tsars in Washington or bad teachers or unions or teaching-to-the test, you are honing in on the smallest of issues, so small as to be irrelevant. The fact is, if students entered our classroom in a condition to be educated, they would be educated. They do not. And the educational system is incapable of withstanding such an overwhelming tide of know-nothing, care-nothing students.

    1. It was and is the fault of education. It occurred in the prior generation, however. We are reaping the effects of the 60’s counter culture believers/participants becoming teachers and leaders. The rewriting of history has been constant since that time.

      You are right, however, that the problems have spread far from the classroom.

      1. The West’s last such romantic rebellion, very similar to the 60’s / 70’s was the period of romantic poetry from about 1800 to 1820. It was a major cultural upheaval. Its negative effect was felt into mid-century, but eventually it brought in a ferocious return to academic standards and excellence. The late 1700’s was also a time of huge sexual & political upheaval, of course.

      1. in part: “Hone in began as an alteration of home in, and many people regard it as an error. It is a very common, though, especially in the U.S. and Canada—so common that many dictionaries now list it—and there are arguments in its favor. Hone means to sharpen or to perfect, and we can think of homing in as a sharpening of focus or a perfecting of one’s trajectory toward a target. So while it might not make strict logical sense, extending hone this way is not a huge leap.”

    2. Always interesting that children of Asian descent come to class in condition to be educated. And (at least in the early grades, don’t know about higher up) so do most Hispanic kids. (“My Mom brought me here from Guatemala because she wanted me to go to school” being a common story.) But after they have been here for awhile, and become “Americanized” who knows?

    3. Walter Karp laid it all out in the 1980s:

      Textbook America by Walter Karp
      “Something had to be done quickly or democracy might one day break out. Educational leaders quickly worked out a solution. Let the secondary schools teach the children of workers what was fit only for workers. As Woodrow Wilson, president of Princeton, sternly advised the Federation of High School Teachers: ‘We want one class of persons to have a liberal education and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class of necessity in every society, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.’ Since there was no way to stop ‘the masses’ from entering high school, the only way to meet the crisis, in short, was to prevent them from learning anything liberating when they got there.”

      Why Johnny Can’t Think by Walter Karp
      “What the public schools practice with remorseless proficiency, however, is the prevention of citizenship and the stifling of self-government. When 58 percent of the thirteen-year-olds tested by the National Assessment for Educational Progress think it is against the law to start a third party in America, we are dealing not with a sad educational failure but with a remarkably subtle success.”

    4. There’s a reason that education in the past made generous use of the paddle and the beating stick. If you’re not willing to beat it into ’em, most of ’em ain’t gonna learn nothing. That’s the way kids are. Most kids are naturally lazy and quite content to remain ignorant and stupid. Very few kids have an innate academic curiosity. Sorry if you don’t like the idea of having to use force and violence to encourage the kids to want to learn, but, I’m afraid that’s the way it is.

    5. You contradict yourself. You say that in this education system, “it is the emphasis on retention and graduation rates which has destroyed the educational system. Children learn from an early age that there are no consequences for their behavior or their performance.” Who is responsible for that if not the education system itself?

      Then you conclude, “the educational system is incapable of withstanding such an overwhelming tide of know-nothing, care-nothing students.” Why should students care if they know it won’t matter whether they study or not? You can’t absolve the system from responsibility for its own policies.

    6. Mr. Deneen, I think you are wrong to blame the educational system. I am in my first year as a high school teacher and I experience things much as you do. My students enter my classroom without any knowledge to build on.

      In other words, the education system from K-8 completely failed to provide these children with a proper education.

      I agree that the meddling of the government has played its part, but I do not see that many teachers have radically altered their methods in order to satisfy the demands on NCLB or Common Core.

      Because the changes have been slight from year to year, with the accumulation of changes being enormous.

      Children learn from an early age that there are no consequences for their behavior or their performance.

      I find it incredible that you don’t understand where your students learned this (the school system, for goodness sake!).

      Blame the breakdown of the family. Blame the general contempt for authority in any form which is a hallmark of our age.

      What group of people do you think has been hard at work denigrating the importance of family and contempt for authority? It’s the education system. The spoiled brats that made up the flower children of the 1960s, that were dedicated to the destruction of the family (the same people in charge of the education system are the same people in charge of the welfare system that completely destroyed the black family, by design BTW) and the same people whose constant refrain was that you are a “square” if you believe in authority.

      Sadly, you are the problem and you don’t even have the self-awareness to understand it.

    7. You said you disagree but then immediately began making the same argument he did. In fact, just by posting this in response, you proved him right.

  14. There are a lot of groups with agendas that control our educational system. The Muslims want us to think that Islam is wonderful and Christianity and Judaism is terrible and that Christians and Jews are the real violent ones while Muslims are peaceful. The Homosexuals want us to believe that there is nothing wrong with everyone engaging in homosexual behavior. The feminists want us to believe that men are bad and that sexuality is an evil social construct for dominating women and that women are victims of men. The multiculturalists want us to believe that all cultures are the same except for our own culture which is bad. They probably think that the world will be at peace if one group doesn’t think its better than the other. The Democrats want us to believe the Republicans are bad. Many on the left want to silence speech from the right and want us to believe that it should be silenced

    1. Gamaliel: First, I like your name. Reminds me…

      Second: Your points are valid. However, I have in my 85 years concluded that in general Democrats are nicer, Republicans are saner.

  15. I took away from this article the fact of the displacement of our -[that is North Americans who exist in a European – derived social and political culture ] civilizational inheritance by the privileging of the autonomous individual, one who is free in her liberty to pursue property (and therefore happiness.) The “facts” of this inheritance are its constitution: accepting this inheritance , meeting it, engaging with it, does not imply stasis or a hankering for the good ol’ days, but is how we know who and what we inherit as we inevitably and necessarily step into new iterations of it.

  16. I have to agree wholeheartedly with the author of this article. I had taught public high school for 33 years. When I began my students came to my class well educated, interested, and capable. 33 years later that was no longer true. One can say I am old and the past was better, and the fact that I am old does not invalidate the things i have seen. Having left high school and become an adjunct at a community college I was thinking things would be better. I was wrong. I teach Astronomy and my students are completely crippled when it comes to basic math,such that i have to punch the buttons on their calculators. They are unable to do with or without a calculator. They did not know the days in year, when the seasons change or the names of seasonal days. I can go on and on, but the author hi the nail on the head.

    This report from the ETS supports the author’s contention. It does not speak well for the future of our nation. I strongly recommend looking at this report.

  17. I’m studying this in my graduate classes right now. Obviously, my educationa and experience is not as high as the author’s but being a millenial currently studying education and teaching, I can offer a different perspective. In my last class, we had a very passionate debate about what knowledge and how much should be explicity memorized and what good it does. I can see the value of how knowledge effects our philosophies and beliefs, however, is memorizing knowledge really that important? What we use, and what our core beliefs are based on, will become procedural knowledge (almost like muscle memory)-deeply ingrained in our character. What we don’t use, no matter how dilligently we study and memorize, we eventually forget- this is true for everyone, not just my generation.
    Look at the questions this professor complains students can’t answer “How and where did Thomas Becket die?”
    I know who he was how he died, but I cannot recall where, at the moment. Likewise, I’ve read Lincoln’s inagural addresses, but I cannot quote them. In an age when this information is available to me in an instant, how important is it for me to know what what city Thomas Becket died in?Is it more important to be able to fling out a quote from Lincoln’s first inaugural address, or to look up the quotes, and be able to explain and apply those words?
    In my opinion, the “why” questions are far more important than having the exact memorized answer of who, what and when. Which is a more important skill, memorizing information, or being able to explain and apply it?
    My last class had a open book, open internet final. Instead of asking us to recall information, the professor asked us to explain it and apply it to our own classrooms. Incidentally, I didn’t have to look anything up to write the final, nor did many others in the class, because in focusing on application, the knowledge had become procedural. Maybe we can’t define “social-constructivism” in the same way it’s written in the book, but we could explain how it applies in our own classrooms.
    Which is more important, being able to remember things, or being able to understand, analyze, explain?
    Look at math, as an example. How much is memorization, and how much is process? I memorized multiplication and division up to 12, etc, but a person does not become skilled in math by memorizing.
    The fact that this professor dismisses “critical-thinking” as “content-free processes and unexamined buzz-words” is telling. Do you agree? Which is more important: content, or process?

    1. The thing is you need to have some content in order to apply a process, which is what Deneen is getting at. I don’t think he wants students to memorize information, but that they have no foundation of knowledge is a problem because they have nothing to build off of.

    2. Sorry Jaq but I feel like your entire reply only supports the author’s thesis. It’s all too common today for people to pat themselves on the back for being able to locate information. It’s also infinitely easier to do so than at any other point in human history (so what’s the big achievement there?) I have relatives who learned to read & write 11 languages including Welsh & Sanskrit in a 1 room schoolhouse in New Hampshire. Pondering what pedagogical riches the past once offered I rue my wasted years watching re-runs. Honestly, I’m sorry to sound so sanctimonious but as a future educator, I strongly urge you to research & reflect upon the BEST out there- be it in the U.S. 100 years ago or in Finland today. The fact that your professors assign open book tests is a pretty sad reflection on the state of things at your school. Don’t you enjoy a challenge? Don’t you want to be better at things and possibly remember facts, poems, statistics, dates of major events? Our minds are a mussle so the more you challenge yourself the stonger you’ll become. You’ll be a better example to your students if you actually challenge them. We always learn more from the tough but fair teachers who we revere. Do they even exist any more? This last generation’s self-satisfaction levels are through the roof (another consequence of educational policy. Hooray). But without the intellect to back up your ego- you just look even dumber for your unmitigated pride.

      1. Your comment is wonderful, and I won’t chide you for a spelling mistake which is probably the fault of that stinking auto-correct reflex built into our portable information palaces. But I got such a laugh where your comment says “our minds are a mussle” — a strange hybrid of electrified tissue and a clam. The brain as clam must be the best metaphor for the modern education problem both you and the author have described so well.

    3. Both. You have some great thoughts, in my opinion, about both content and process. But as a teacher, parent, and a student, I can say that knowing the story that Becket was murdered by the altar in Canterbury Cathedral does not change my life every moment. I can look that up, sure. However, during conversations and readings, I have that as one more way to understand references made. When there is no common cultural knowledge, communication becomes less rich, less textured, less meaningful. Thus, knowledge is dull and so is our thinking. We will never all have the exact foundation as each other; that makes life and relationships and discussions interesting. I have, though, changed my mind that what I have in my memory “doesn’t matter”. Shared knowledge and experience are crucial to growing in more knowledge and experience -and in diversity.

      1. Ah, but by not *caring* that Beckett was murdered in a church, did you not catch the final legacy of it all: Beckett’s death, and Henry’s guilt, led to Beckett becoming a martyr: it earned, in the population, the idea that the church was still the ruler over the kings.

        The result of that affection of the people, and guilt of the crown and its restored allegiance to the church, as it finally manifested in England a generation later, was Richard I and the Third Crusade.

        Had Beckett not been murdered, Richard may not have felt the driving need to go to Jerusalem, with all of the impacts that voyage had…including his imprisonment on the way back and the signing of the Magna Carta under John. The very IDEA of a limitation of the rule of kings may have been delayed for several hundred years. (or not, as the discovery of America was a big change in a LOT of ways, to both the power of the crown and the authority of the church – who knows…)

        THAT is why knowledge matters: I could extrapolate all of that just now, including alternatives, without looking anything up, just by working by all of the historical aspects of England and the Crusades in the middle ages in my head. No one class covered any of that: I got Beckett and Henry in my 12 Grade English class, the Magna Carta from 10th Grade world history, Richard and the crusades from several documentaries, and the impact of America from a book from James Burke.

        But it was all in my head, available to propose this little hypothesis, true or not, for discussion.

        And I’m a computer science graduate (23 years ago).

        My point is that to present an argument, on the fly, requires actually knowing enough and connecting enough to be able to synthesize the argument in your head WITHOUT looking it up. The ability to *connect* all of those tiny dots of trivia that were presented over the 16 years of “education” and your subsequent choice to keep learning and reading and watching documentaries after school was over.

        You can’t connect a dot that isn’t already in your head.

        And dammit, it was *fun* to follow those threads.

        Knowledge is FUN. Really. It is. To discredit it is to remove one of the most important aspects of being human, one that differentiates us from the animals.

      2. And one’s understanding of what it means to be human, to be heir to all that went before his/her arrival on this planet, is severely limited. As is the ability to make sense of one’s life. And finally, on a more mundane but not trivial level, if one cannot quickly and intuitively understand the difference between 1% and .01%, how easily can one be bamboozled my any huckster that happens along, either commercial or political?

    4. Why do you think that memorization and “procedural knowledge” are mutually exclusive? Do you not see that having general knowledge at your mental fingertips is an asset, and do you not grasp the foolishness of relying on intrinsically unreliable, corporate-engineered prosthetic brains (a.k.a. “devices”) ? Finally, does it not matter to you, a grad student in education, that you have made a considerable number of errors in basic English composition, some of which impede your meaning?

    5. Both are important. Content, which is memorized comes first. Process and argumentation last. Our brains are capable of storing volumes of material. My 86 year old demented dad is able to recall and recite poetry he memorized in grade school, which is completely relevant in a particular current conversation. How I wish I had my dad’s Classical education.

      1. I had a shiver reading this–my 88 year old demented father is exactly the same: Just yesterday when I brought up market fluctuations after Brexit he quoted from Kipling’s “If.” He was born in 1928 into a working-class family outside of Boston and he attended public schools. He got a PhD in physics from Harvard in 1955 (after he served in Korea). Alongside his obvious ability in mathematics, engineering, and physics lie the breadth and depth of his knowledge in history, literature, theology, and music (and his fluent reading knowledge in three languages).

    6. Maybe we can’t define “social-constructivism” in the same way it’s written in the book, but we could explain how it applies in our own classrooms.

      If you can’t define it, how can you explain how it applies in your classrooms? What exactly is being applied?

    7. You ask, “In an age when this information is available to me in an instant, how important is it for me to know what what city Thomas Becket died in?[ ]Is it more important to be able to fling out a quote from Lincoln’s first inaugural address, or to look up the quotes, and be able to explain and apply those words?”

      I don’t know that the question, Where did Becket die (or, better put, Where was he murdered and martyred), necessarily asks, In what city did this occur: although that also is important. For there are two important things about Becket’s having been killed by Morville, FitzUrse, & Co. Becket, being the Archbishop of Canterbury, was killed in Canterbury, yes. Where in Canterbury he was killed, though, was in his own cathedral, in the quire, before the altar. In those facts is the genesis of a very considerable amount of English and Western constitutional history, which may be of no moment to you. But … I don’t know what, precisely, you plan to teach, but I hope it isn’t history or English. Because, you see, Becket became a very popular saint as a result, and a symbol of the resistance of Christians to secular tyranny: a lot of English (and a few French, Scots, and Norman Sicilian) churches were named for him (as “St Thomas of Canterbury”); and so were a lot of Englishmen, the name becoming popular from that popular saint. One of these was one Thomas More, of whom you may possibly have heard, who was not uninfluenced by Becket’s story, his life and his death and the reasons why. And until the English Reformation – which differed from that on the Continent in specific ways dictated by the history of interactions between the Church in England and the English Crown, notably including the controversies that resulted in and then were sealed by Becket’s assassination – the place where Becket died became a popular spot of pilgrimage. Tour parties would go there, to the site of that Murder in the Cathedral, as TS Eliot put it (a poet of whom you might have heard). A bureaucrat who dabbled in poetry used that as a narrative framework once: his name was Chaucer.

      The underlying conflict between Becket and Henry, and the perhaps unintended consequence of the assassination, has not gone away; and the influence of that event has not ceased. It is yet a classic instance of the tension between law and conscience. Accused of treason by his assassins, Becket replied, “No traitor, but a priest of God.” His namesake More, on the scaffold, declared himself, “The King’s good servant, but God’s first.” Both explicitly embraced martyrdom if and when it became necessary. And the echoes did not stop with More, or go away after the Reformation. There was a man, also eventually assassinated, who said,
      “Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him who has never yet forsaken this favored land are still competent to adjust in the best way all our present difficulty. …In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to ‘preserve, protect, and defend it.’ …I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
      It’s in his First Inaugural. In the words of the great American philosophers Thurber and Stengel, You Could Look It Up.

      Indeed you could. But if you neither know nor care about the details of Becket’s martyrdom, or Chaucer and the development of English rhetoric, or the judicial murder of a later Thomas by a later Henry, or any of the rest of it, I am not willing to bet the farm you can, in fact, ” explain and apply those words.”

    8. Dear Jaq,

      I’m thinking you miss the point. Memorizing multiplication tables, knowing how to add and subtract, understanding percentages, and other basic math is not meant to make anyone “skilled in math”. It’s meant to make them skilled in life.
      Balancing a check book, understanding credit rates and mortgages, applying for a loan, and most especially in your case and other college students, figuring out how you will pay off your student loan.

      As far as “social-constructivism” is concerned, who cares what the term means? “Truths are never constructed outside of interaction—truth is social” according to Robert Rocco Cotton ( But this is just philosophical mind wandering. The coupling of sperm and egg to create a new individual (irrespective of genus or species) is natural truth, regardless of any social belief. Natural truths trump philosophical goobly-gook every time.

      To put it another way, social “truth” at one time was that the earth was flat, or later that the sun revolved around the earth. Both social truths, but incredibly inaccurate.

    9. Memorizing details if for convenience and should follow the necessity. You don’t memorize multiplication tables to learn math. You have to “know math” in order to make use of your memorization of the tables because if you don’t know what math is then all those numbers are nothing but random junk. Same with someone who remembers remembers the 5th of November. It seems more relevant to understand who Guy Fawkes was and why he wanted to blow up the King and Parliament in 1605 than to remember only that it happened on a particular autumn night.

    10. Both. Content AND process. I’m a teacher of language, and because of this ridiculous idea that “I can just look it up,” my students must be taught to memorize vocabulary and grammar structure. It’s as if I’m torturing them, since few teachers have required them to commit things to memory. Eventually most figure out the obvious: a person becomes skilled in language by memorizing.

      Not only that, but committing to memory some facts helps students in everyday life. My students use “Mexican” and “Mexico” constantly because they’re unfamiliar with geography let alone history. (To be fair, they can’t locate African, Asian, or European countries on a map, either.) I’m sure they can Google them, but that’s only if a more learned individual makes them feel ignorant.

      For example, my sophomores didn’t know that Puerto Rico is a commonwealth and its citizens Americans. They were taught it, but they didn’t commit the information to memory. I’m sure they could have looked it up, but they didn’t until it became a problem (a question on a practice). When they looked it up, they wanted the shortest explanation, not the process by which a commonwealth was formed or the process by which it continues to exist. TL;DR is a daily conundrum. Instead, they asked whoever was handy – often people who didn’t know, either, but were willing to guess. Thus sophomores identified PR as a state, a territory of Mexico, and a place their parents visited on a cruise.

      BTW it’s a problem when people can’t pull facts from their brain at college, too. Because of my age, younger classmates will take whatever I say at face-value because they themselves don’t know. And they’re teachers themselves. But I digress.

      Since you mention math, I will use that as an example. Several of my best students learned early on that the more they memorized (not just multiplication tables but formulas and other common math strategies), the faster they could process data much more effectively. One student in particular was delighted to discover that the only difference between him and the so-called “smart” Asian students was that their ability to recall two- and three-digit combinations (addition, subtraction, multiplication) was more honed than his. So yes, a person does indeed become skilled in math by memorizing, just as a person becomes skilled in a foreign language by memorizing.

    11. Jaq,
      On the surface you make good points, but you miss something very important. ( It’s not your fault if no one taught you). Where Thomas Beckett died is very important. He was assassinated inside the cathedral at Canterbury during the sunset evening prayer service. He was the Archbishop of Canterbury, a very important position at that time.

    12. Regarding Thomas Becket, WHERE he died is not trivial knowledge. That he was murdered inside the sanctuary of Canterbury Cathedral is part of what made his death such a horrific and sacrilegious atrocity.

    13. The most important fact about the location of Thomas Becket’s death is not the city where it took place but that it took place in the sanctuary of the cathedral that was Archbishop Becket’s episcopal seat, Canterbury Cathedral. That the king’s henchmen would commit a murder inside an especially sacred part of a church building was tremendously scandalous. That the murder was political and in furtherance of King Henry’s ambitions to control the Church in England (something another Henry would later achieve) made it even more scandalous.

  18. The current mind is only to economic man. I have recently read about “useless” degrees, mostly those in liberal arts, such as history. “Useless” of course means in terms of makng money. While today’s students are nice and polite enough, that niceness is a veneer on hearts and minds fixed on material consumption. The irony is that the economic future for these young folks is not very bright (many of them are loaded down with crsushing debt) precisely because the corporate national mindset has led us to destroy our prosperity for our children, the very thing they treasure the most: making money. We have met the enemy and he is us.

  19. Professor Deneen,

    Thank you for expressing my anguish over the current state of education in such an articulate manner. How unfortunate it is that we have failed to heed the warnings of Huxley and Orwell.

    There is a remnant though. My husband and I teach at a classical school (K-12) and often it feels as though we are nurturing the one last truffula seed, but we are glad to do so because we, like you, lament the loss of our heritage. Our graduates know of the authors and ideas of which you speak and they are tutored in Latin and logic and rhetoric in hopes that we can save our culture from extinction. The modern classical school movement has been an attempt to reclaim what has been lost and we are seeing fruit. One of our graduates went on to become of a graduate of Notre Dame and is now a Fulbright scholar in Russian Studies. Another has also graduated from college and chosen to teach in classical schools in order to invest in another generation. My hope is that professors like you stay the course and keep sounding the alarm.

    1. One of the delights of having such a classical education is finding and savoring the little Easter eggs of allusions and paraphrases from past great minds (love the Lorax reference :).

      At 25 years old, I don’t have children yet, but when I do, I hope I can find a school like yours if my future wife can’t give them a classical education at home. I think it’s important for likeminded people who do still treasure their inheritance to band together to stem the tide of ignorance sweeping away our modern civilisation.

      I have loved reading these comments because so many of them remind me of the good teachers I was fortunate to have. I feel like being the recipient of a classical education is like winning the lottery and being cursed at the same time to feel very alone in a world which does not even know what it does not know.

      Keep up the good work with your husband! Future parents like myself will be looking for teachers like you!

  20. The problem with this post, which I agree is like one generation claiming “things were better in my days”, is that it doesn’t allow for generational change in knowledge or the massive role that technology is playing in knowledge acquisition and retention. Cory Doctorow’s notion of the outboard brain is really important – we don’t need to waste neural capacity on facts and so, as Kathryn Hayles points out, we save that neural capacity for other more important things and let google or wikipedia be our knowledge retention hub. We can then make use of neural plasticity to maximise other aspects of our brain – using it for multitasking, networking, coding, imagination. Now I think there are huge questions to ask about whether the lack of embedded cultural knowledge is a good thing (see Trump!) but not to take up the technology issue is a little like blaming turtles for warming the sea!

    1. First, I don’t recall the author saying that we should not use technology.

      Second, I completely disagree with your comments: “we don’t need to waste neural capacity on facts…” and “We can then make use of neural plasticity to maximise other aspects of our brain – using it for multitasking, networking, coding, imagination.”

      That’s like saying, “If I don’t know anything, then I’ll know everything.” Hogwash! If there are no facts in our brains, then there is nothing to maximize, no reason to multitask, network, or code, and nothing to dream about. I must know about something in order to think or dream about it. Something doesn’t come from nothing.

    2. I don’t think you can place the blame for Trump’s popularity on the young college age crowd. His core group of supporters are much older than that!

    3. Anti-intellectual sophomoric hogwash, Pete.

      If someone doesn’t know the facts, they won’t know when or whether some random interloper on Wikipedia (worth every penny you pay for it as a legitimate reference resource…and it’s free), or some technocrat with an agenda on Google has sabotaged the truth outright, subtly shaded it away from reality, or steered them away from the truth and over into the weeds of utter nonsense by sabotaging the digital signposts.

      You can’t fool a man who knows where and what things are, but someone dependent on the kindness of strangers to form coherent thoughts, let alone find his own way to them without the merest basic sense of where the truth lies, is in for a lifetime of grief and trouble.

      When you trust others to keep and deliver The Knowledge for you, you as much as hand your mental wallet to strangers for safe-keeping. If you wouldn’t leave all your cash in a jar on the curb and expect it to be there in the morning, don’t leave your brains to the mercy of the internet in precisely the same way.

      But you’re correct about generational change in knowledge: most students of any age now have access to orders of magnitude more knowledge than Ph.Ds from Cambridge or Padua even knew in 1600, but most college graduates now couldn’t pass a standard sixth-grade exam from 1900. Knowledge acquisition is skyrocketing, while retention has plumbed abysmal new depths, and the negative speed of convergence is poised to create a breadth and depth of ignorance in humanity unknown since cave-painting and flint-knapping was the height of art.

      And because the current generation doesn’t waste their neurons on facts, they collectively know nothing, and hence fall for anything. This year’s finalists for the presidency are precisely one such symptom of such purposeful ignorance. The rise of junk science passing itself off as the genuine article is another. {cf. Michael Crichton’s Michelin Lecture at Caltech Aliens Cause Global Warming for an incisive description of how bad it had gotten by way back in 2003.}

      Nor can anyone multitask unless they possess the ingrained knowledge of how to do a given task in the first place, which is where those pesky facts come in downright handy. What passes for multi-tasking currently is mostly mere pounding all the keys on a piano in imitation of a maestro, but without any grasp of rhythm, harmony, melody, or timing. Which explains as much about modern culture as it does about modern intelligence. The arts convey neither truth nor beauty, because lacking any reference from previous generations, the artists wouldn’t know either one if they stumbled over it.

      If the denizens of techno-modernity had their heads buried in deep thought searching for a cure for cancer, or the origins of the universe, while simultaneous collating, analyzing, and synthesizing the thoughts of previous generations of great minds, the appearance of purposeless frenzy might be forgiven when the result was made manifest. But alas, as it turns out, they’re all simply trying to catch more Pokemons while oblivious that they’ve wandered into the bus lanes, or off of cliffs.

      The best things the last three and next ten generations could do, would be to suffer a complete grid-down meltdown failure of society as it is, and be forced, at long last, to crack a frigging book or twenty, out of sheer necessity for survival.

      Lacking that, the perfect metaphor for them all is the feral children stumbled upon by Mad Max in Beyond Thunderdome: a bunch of lost boys and girls with no more clue about anything in the whole wide world save catching what’s for supper. Billions of people are one lightswitch failure away from being exactly such ignorant pre-literate cave-dwellers.

      Those of us who’ve taken the time to learn some bothersome facts know what that bodes for the survival of the entire species, and the timeline from that point back to where we are now.

      Step out of your generational comfort zone, and build a little muscle memory in your neurons: facts take up space you weren’t using anyways, and until you see them leaking out of your ears and falling to the ground, you’ve no notion of how many of them you could cram inside your brain cells ready to serve you at the speed of neural impulse, if you simply made the effort. And by all means, feel free to take full advantage of all available technology to do so.

      As a far wiser man once said: “If you think education is costly, wait until you see the price of ignorance.”

  21. I am absolutely floored by the assertions of this article. First and foremost, it is reductive in such an extreme that it is laughable. I have been teaching undergrad students for nearly a decade now and 100% disagree with the claims of this piece. Every generation of crotchety old-timers mourn the inadequacies of the youth; get off my lawn, cut your hair and get a job, etc. This is not a new sentiment, and I guarantee that when this author was a youth some among the elders of that generation thought similar things. Even further, granting that education needs to be improved (which is a truism as it can always be better), belittling the youth through condescending sweeping accusations and impugning the motivations of an entire generation is NOT going to help. Ridiculous self-important puffery like this does not move the conversation forward in any regard and only widens the perception of the generational divide unnecessarily. If the author really believes what he says herein then it might be time to retire. Just saying.

    1. The strangest accusation is that they don’t fight for anyone or anything. Actually, they do– quietly and in many way more effectively.
      They leave. The writer views that as apathy, but that’s wrong. Is it apathy to boycott something? Apathy to refuse to participate in something you disagree with? Since when is passive resistence the same as apathy?

      1. The following quote is by the late Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and renowned Holocaust survivor who died last Saturday, 2 July 2016, at 87.

        1928 – 2016
        “We must always take sides.
        Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.
        Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

        Socially, in general conversation, to not inflame a discussion is perfectly polite. However, there are serious times when you have to defend your core beliefs. If you don’t do so, you are bereft of the passion necessary or you are immobilized by fear.

    2. ADN, you claim to be an educator yet your reading comprehension leaves a lot to be desired. Maybe it was your own preconception or ideology, but something caused you to completly miss the point. It’s not really about memorizing names, date, or facts, it’s that when a student is forced to do that, there is a certain “understanding” that comes along with the data. In that way, it’s not entirely imporatant to be able to regurgitate that data when you are 30, but that the data helped form how you view societal norms, good/evil, the value you place on “things” (not material things). The article is a good backdrop for why the “young” have gotten behind Bernie so readily. The education system has been “training” them to view things in this way, ignoring historical data, ignoring the difference between equality of opportunity v. equality of outcomes. They can truly “see” that this will work b/c they are unburdened with understanding that the system has completely failed countless times thoughout history. And why is that? B/c the education system is busy educating our young about how bad Western Civilizations are/were instead of teaching the facts of history.

      1. Yes. They don’t understand that “equality” or “equality of outcomes” only comes, in the real world, as a result of coercion, i.e., the opposite of freedom. A little bit of history, or even reading and discussing “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” might help in that regard….

  22. Is this how you characterize your own Children and their motivation? I have 2 sons, 29 and 13. They are genuinely and earnestly honest, nice/respectful and caring of others. Philosophical? No, but neither do they live a one-dimensional monastic life of Hagel. What’s lost in the article and subsequent discussion is that: a) we only need a few Hagels, b) real critical thought is post-grad education, and c) Our Society needs a lot of honest, hard working Citizens with marketable skills.

    1. “Our Society needs a lot of honest, hard working Citizens with marketable skills.” If you were truly honest with yourself, you would admit that most people under the age of 25 in this country do not meet that description.

    2. The best response I have read here . I have much more
      confidence in the current generations than in my peers who
      masqueraded as scholars, while acquiescing to the one percent who virtually own them. We learned nothing from the history, philosophy and political science of the past 7 centuries of imperialism, conquests of territory and subjugation of their original inhabitants .Topped of by wars to end wars and disgusting loss of any moral compass the current world is a ictmm of its own mythology relative e to how their nations have v become mighty and glorious while making 80 % of their populations expendable serfs. The poor, the meek and the humble shall inherit the ruins of this earth, ultimately being taken into the glory of the one true KING. If i am wrong there is nothing.

    1. I bet Socrates said the same things about Plato, who said the same thing about Aristotle. This article is a rehashed lament of each previous generation.

      1. This comment is a perfect expression of ignorance as to who Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were and what they had to say. The absolutely last thing in the world any of them would have said was that their greatest pupils were even minor disappointments, let alone the sort of wholesale disappointments described in the post. Thanks for serving to so well illustrate the problem.

      2. @him “I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words… When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly disrespectful and impatient of restraint.” -Socrates

    2. Actually it isn’t. Because my teachers and university professors never thought of us as know nothings. Because we weren’t. But then I was lucky enough to go through an education system that taught something.

      I got my first job in IT without any IT background because I knew the difference between a noun and a verb – you know, boring grammar and all that – which goes a long way for data analysis. And from that I built an entire career, travel, the lot. A few years ago colleges here had to introduce compulsory English classes for students undertaking IT degrees because many of their students were borderline illiterate.

  23. I too have seen these tendenciesites not only in students, and the general public, but in myself as well. There is a cry in our generation for belonging, an identity attached to something greater than ourselves.

    In many ways, I find my identity in Christ, and through my faith I am grounded. However, I look at our world and begin to understand that we don’t even know what that means–to be grounded. My own Christian culture struggles to escape the fact that there is little holding them together, often times void of a purpose because they don’t understand their own importance. Their faith is broken, because they were never given an adequate example of what it means to be faithful.

    Indeed too, I see this tendency I’m my workplace. Industries build their own cultures that opporate no different than any other industry. These industries offer a commitment to something tangible, but don’t promote a commitment to something greater than their physical existenc– which will one day fall, leaving their sheep buried in their industry’s demise.

    Our government has become no different. We follow pawns paid for by the industries that hire us, telling us what is and what is not important. We have forgotten how to think for ourselves, and fail to realize that the system we stand for is nothing but a distraction–a comedy of smiling faces telling us they can make it right, and leading us believe we have no power to make it right ourselves.

    The truth however, is this…

    There is hope, because there are still curious minds who challenge the sheep mentality. Even in our own confusion, we are searching for the culture, the history, and the future written about in this article.

    All it takes is a little curiosity, and the smallest amount of faith.

    From my perspective, my own faith is what will keep me heading in the right direction, because even in the toughest situations, I have all I need to survive. My curiosity is never ending, and because of this, I know there is hope for the future, because I am determined to understand what will redirect our society out of a place void of grounded culture, back into a people of thought and belonging.

    The key is in our grasp, we need only step back, and redirect ourselves onto the strait path.

  24. I think it’s more than one generation of “Fahrenheit 451” characters flitting through life, accidentally bumping into each other long enough to reproduce. I am one, and I’m fifty years old. I remember making paper snowflakes (fold and cut variety) in American History class in High School. The teacher had been bludgeoned into apathy by the administration. 35 years ago.

  25. Standardized testing drive curriculum! I agree with everything in this article except it leaves out any mention of College Board’s contribution to the Generation of “know-nothings”. Personally, I believe they are more influential than any policy decisions we’ve seen.

  26. This galvanized in my mind all my thoughts about the present student generation and the people who teach them. I graduated from Missouri U. J-School in 1965 (you know what has become of that school), and before that from a Catholic girls’ school where we read all the classics mentioned above, Homer and Beowulf, and studied Latin and French for four years. I have pondered about what has become of education, not really knowing whom to blame. Thank for this, and for having the guts to print it when all about you are professors and liberal administrators that surely rail against your thought.

  27. The author has fallen prey to what I lovingly call “the good ol’ days fallacy.” He either can’t see or refuses to accept that basic human nature is unchanging. The problems he decries have always existed.

    The only difference is that our faults are now being magnified by a rapidly increasing population and ballooning technological sophistication. We’re in a vicious feedback cycle at this point.
    Our strengths and weakness as a species are playing out on ever grander stages.

    Will that be our undoing? I don’t know. I’m sure you can find scores of people that were predicting our imminent doom in 1900.

    They were all wrong.

    But, hey… I’m a millennial. And though I once knew who Saul of Tarsus was, I’ve forgotten, as I’m no longer ensconced in the echoing womb known as higher education.

    1. I once heard that a millennial is one who has no conception of anything prior to his or her birth or anything out or view of their conscientiousness with no moral compass based on how we got here. But what do I know. I was stupid enough to make religion a part of my life, work hard, save money and retire. I had a chance to either “drop out or fall in” in the sixties, I fell in.

      1. Always good to make ridiculous generalizations about an entire generation of people based on something you “once heard.”
        But then, you seem to be agreeing with someone who dismissed critical thinking as a “buzz-word” so maybe it should be suprising that you might latch onto a single description for millions of people without considering it carefully.

    2. Yet there were still many terrible directions in which out society followed. Think about how societies fell under the rule of bad actors like Hitler. Yes, the same things continue to repeat themselves, but the questionew asked in this essay I think is -how do we avoid the mistakes of our past, and reestablish ourselves as a people of purpose-

    1. I only quoted what he said while trying to point out the fact that fascists in the beginning of the 20th century were very much concerned, in the same terms as he is, about that imminent fall of Western civilisation. You could read a book about it if you like.

      Anyways, you’re welcome because I’m sure pointing that out means I’ve never read the Illiad, or the Odessey, that I don’t know who Socrates, Plato, or Aristotle are, and that I don’t know Saul of Tarsus was the name of Paul before he converted while on the road to Damascus to persecute Christian when he was struck down from a horse and blinded by God.

      “Sing, oh Goddess, the wrath of Pelides Achilles! Fatal and baneful wrath that caused infinite woes to the Achaeans, hurling many valiant souls of heroes to Hades, making them prey for dogs and grass for birds, –so fulfilling the will of Zeus– when Atrides, king of men, and divine Achilles first separated fighting… But, yeah, I’m sure you’re right.

      1. Ricky, you do prove the ND’s professor’s point.
        It seems you maybe saw the famous painting(s) or read an excerpt of and did not actually read the source of Paul’s conversion and discussed its significance – by this way, there is no horse mentioned in historian Luke’s book. Acts 9:3-4; Acts 22:4-6; Acts 26:12-14.
        Pharisees prayed regularly evening, morning, and noon (Psalm 55:16-17) and Saul, being a good Pharisees would have been standing on his feet and facing toward Jerusalem and that time.
        Common Christians carried on the practice of praying morning, noon, and evening. Not so today, and many have a seemingly good reason to forget to give thanks to God.

      2. Teresa, please explain to me the significance of Paul’s mode of transportation and how the fact that Ricky thought it was a horse rather a donkey means that civilation is dying.
        The writer’s conclusions are absurd. Students haven’t memorized this information, therefore civilization is dying? How on earth do you jump so far to reach that conclusion??

  28. I attended highschool in the sixties and college in the 70’s with a few years of the green machine in between. I read the classics only because I sought them out and I was fortunate enough to have parents who bought an entire library of classical literature called “Great Books of Western Literature”, not because the educational system required them. Ignorance has been around for quite a while.

  29. I think one of the biggest problems is , as youth is wasted on the young, so is higher learning! Most 18-20 year olds have been so coddled by society and parents they have no business learning about Plato etc. What 21st century teen, most who have never known adversity of any kind, loss, hardship, struggle, let alone ever held a job or toiled at something as mundane as laying a brickwall, could ever understand 1/5th of what they learn or are supposed to learn in college, or at best truly embrace it.

    I read the Odyssey in high school
    and studied Plato at 20. However, at 36 years old with children and a wife, having travelled, and worked and seen this country and the world change, my spirity and person would thrive at college these days! Oh how I wished I would have seen the big picture I so dreadfully and blatantly see as an adult.
    College used to really be for the gifted and intelligent thinkers in society. As it should be. Now it is used for nothing but churning out worker bees who will be in lock
    step with the corporation and NWO!

    1. Corporations really don’t need college people. They just want people who can read, write, and do math. Smart high school grads would do just as well.

      But, they can’t test for these skills because blacks don’t do well on the tests. So they are stuck using college to do what a simple set of tests could do. For corporate needs, college is just a very expensive filter.

      Some areas need specialized training, like engineering or science. But there are all kinds of other jobs where college just doesn’t matter.

      So worker bees for corporations? No. The corporations don’t care. They’d rather just give tests to high school grads.

  30. Very good read and thought provoking. Will be sharing this with friends and some family. Brings up a lot of tough questions and aspects of current culture that everyone should address and hopefully makes everyone look inwards leading to a VERY empathetic change, individually and culturally.

  31. I find it kind of sad that almost everyone is missing the greater underlying meaning and depth to this essay. I find that it is more wide spread in value, perception and time scale.

    To me the teacher is trying to shine light on a vast array of things in society that have been going on for ages and that all of western culture for generations is guilty and responsible for, such as an over all growth in apathy.

    These things are all symptoms and not the true disease. The true disease is still hidden in regards to his last statement as our final or great lesson. The world has been designed and lead in certain ways and you CAN connect the dots, i.e the people behind the curriculum systems/politics/business etc over the decades if not centuries and longer.

    Pushing all towards this final outcome whatever it may be–division, control, reduction of something or the gain of something but we have all been played a lovely song by the Pied Piper and we are nearing the edge of the cliff which leads to a new unexplored world in which all will be lost without proper understanding of the who, what, where, when and whys of how we got there and some assembly of what might need to be done then and after we reach such a nexus.

    1. To me, the writer is complaining that his students lack specific information, and absurdly correlating that with an ignorance of civilization.

  32. How do you expect these kids to get educated with pro palestinian professors, so intent on teaching about the evils of Israel, or having scum racists like Al Sharpton deliver commencement addresses….or having the students too preoccupied with their black lives matter rather than concentrate on what we consider a good old fashioned education!

  33. I understand where the author is coming from in some respects, but it’s a bit maladroit. I don’t see the correlation between knowing who Homer was, or having read both The Iliad and The Odyssey, and being ignorant or indifferent to one’s own culture. In some cases what’s being taught in college isn’t necessarily the truth, but just one account or one aspect of a bigger picture that only becomes realized after they’ve left the system of making the grade. I don’t foresee apocalypse as a result.

    This piece is an overreaction that many educators make about their students out of frustration, just as one older generation judges a new one, just as a father may worry for their naive son or daughter growing up in a world they don’t fully understand yet. Every new generation will have their own experience different from our own. We were all at one point or another considered part of that lowly uneducated youth who would bring about the fall of civilization. However, time marches on and the world keeps spinning because the youth eventually become educated, cultured, and passionate. But through life’s difficulties and by experience do they grow and not necessarily by the curriculum of their Academic careers.

  34. I wonder what “anchor babies” will fight for in the future? Dumped into the system, and inculcated from birth, imagine what history and culture they will support and stand for in the future based upon what they are taught. And we think today’s millennials are bad?

  35. This guy sounds like a Nazi. Like, a literal Nazi. What with all that talk of: “civilizational commitment to civilizational suicide. The end of history for our students signals the End of History for the West[,]” “a systemic commitment to producing individuals without a past for whom the future is a foreign country[,]” “cultureless ciphers[,]” “In such a world, possessing a culture, a history, an inheritance, a commitment to a place and particular people, specific forms of gratitude and indebtedness, a strong set of ethical and moral norms that assert definite limits to what one ought and ought not to do are hindrances and handicaps[,]” “the main object of modern education is to sand off remnants of any cultural or historical specificity and identity that might still stick to our students, to make them perfect company men and women for a modern polity and economy that penalizes deep commitments[,]” “[a]ny remnant of a common culture would interfere with this prime directive: a common culture would imply that we share something THICKER [he means blood, get it?], an inheritance that we did not create, and a set of commitments that imply limits and particular devotions[,]” “I discern their longing and anguish and I know that their innate human desire to know who they are, where they have come from, where they ought to go, and how they ought to live will always reassert itself[,]” “the world they have inherited – a world without inheritance, without past, future, or deepest cares [to their “heritage”, that something thicker that we “share”] – is about to come tumbling down, and that this collapse would be the true beginning of a real education.”

    All of these thing comments have very strong fascist undertones.

    1. Do you say this bc the National Socialists were concerned with a mythologized cultural history? Do we not have a cultural inheritance and history? To recognize its existence and value is not to align with a particular political ideology. Are the Lakota who wish to remember and preserve their cultural inheritance ‘fascistic’? Of course not! To argue otherwise while boasting recent graduation from Note Dame is to make the author’s case.

      1. I mean that worrying about the decline and fall of Western Civilisation, and decrying of modern culture and society as a degeneration of said civilisation was a very real Nazi concern. That idea of resurrecting our traditional civilisation and culture was a fascist concern. Those are the same terms fascists used to describe the effect modern culture was having on Western civilisation. It does not mean that the professor is a fascist, but he is speaking in the same terms they used. Those passages sound like Julius Evola or Oswald Spengler.

        You cannot compare Lakotas to Western Europeans and Americans. Our culture dominates the world, Lakotas do not even rule their ancestral lands. Our culture is not under attack from outside sources, their’s has been for hundreds of years. Even so, I would call their attempts to save their heritage nationalist, by definition. The difference is that their nationalism serves a purpose to save something that would totally disappear if it wasn’t for that nationalist project, their culture. We cannot say our culture needs saving when the truth is that our culture is the one dominating globalisation, and the homogenisation of global culture. People around the world are becoming more like us. Not the other way around. The fact is that Western culture, and American culture specifically, has a hegemony over the world. Our point of view dominates. We can say it has changed, most definitely. But to say our Civilisation is on the verge of collapse, that we are cultureless ciphers (it is impossible to be without culture by the way, for culture is merely the widespread and persistent meanings we give to social actions in society), that we have no heritage, no past, or without identity is absurd. And again, all of that sounds like the same silly concerns fascists had in the beginning of the 20th century. Did our civilisation collapse then? No. The same Western imperial hegemony has continued. We’re still on the top of the world. And Socrates, or better said Plato, is still seen as the beginning of philosophy. Are we in a new world? To be sure, globalisation has no precedent and there is really no turning back (unless civilisation truly collapses and we regress to some sort of dark ages), however, it is our culture that is dominating globalisation. Do I wish more people read the classics? Of course, because nothing exists in a vacuum, the works of art and philosophy that came before influenced the works that came afterwards and there is a chain of influence that can be traced all the way back to the Illiad and Plato respectively within our culture. To know the classics is to become aware of the existence of those influences. To read Aeschylus for example, makes you see Shakespeare in a whole new light. However, I cannot say that our culture is on the brink of collapsing. That’s silly. Can I bemoan the state of Universities and how they are becoming less and less places that truly form well rounded and complete individuals in lieu of specialised market driven worler drones? Of course. Can I decry how Arts and Letters are shrinking while technical and professional fields are gaining more and more ground because market ethics and considerations are driving University administrative decisions? Again, of course. But I can’t say this is leading to de fall of our Civilisation as we know it.

        One point I did not even mention before but I feel it merits mentioning is that in ND, everyone has to read Plato and Aristotle, St. Augustine, Aquinas, Descartes, Locke, Hume, and Kant. Everyone knows about Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. You will be hard pressed to find anyone without knowledge of who these people were and who taught who. We all had to read Paulincian letters from the Bible too, so we all know who St. Paul was as well. All of that is part of our core curriculum. Our professor here lies when he says otherwise.

    2. Ricky, every free and healthy civilization must value what is good, beautiful, and true about their heritage. The only alternative is the complete loss of those virtues by the default ignorance.

      Fascists appealed to pride in the past and won the German people over. However, it was only the fascist appeal that was a charade and a con to manipulate a demoralized German populace; not the value of that which is good in Germanic culture.

      In short, the charge that all these comments have fascist undertones appears to underscore the author’s point still further. You are clearly a part of a generation (class of ’09) who throws words like “Nazi” or “Fascist” like so much paint on a wall, all the while knowing nothing about the crucial history they leveraged in order to come to power.

      In other words, your post sadly demonstrates precisely the author’s point.

      1. Exactly what I thought as I read his comment. So they read these greats of the faith, yet bat not an eye when their President hands an award to Joe Biden. ND seems to be second only to Georgetown in it’s ability to turn it’s back on it’s Catholic heritage.
        As far as the article itself I am not certain, but I get the idea that the author is somewhat puzzled as to how this all happened and there seems to be the feeling that somewhere along the way someone ought to have noticed that all this was happening.
        Plenty of people saw it happening. Plenty of people warned of it happening. However, like the ‘future leaders’ he weeps for, the leaders of those days quietly smiled and assured the people sounding the alarm that they were overreacting and need not worry. Then they closed the door in their faces and went about their business with full knowledge of their crimes. Those who issued warnings were not simply ignored, they were actively scorned, derided and shuffled off to positions where they could do no harm to the march of academic progress.

        None of this was accidental or happenstance. It was planned and carried out by a dedicated group of intelligentsia with the complicity of a much larger group of useful fools…a term which would no doubt escape notice among the students Mr. Deneen weeps for.

      2. And you’d think a graduate of Notre Dame would at least know how to spell “civilization” correctly.

  36. I wonder if some (although probably still a minority, alas) of these students would know more of the answers in a private conversation. In a public class there is always the fear of looking like a “teacher’s pet” or “show-off” or “know-it-all.” And conversely, there is also the fear that you might say something slightly wrong, even if you know the basic right answer, and embarrass yourself or at least lower yourself in the professor’s estimation (especially if it is presented as “This is a test of basic knowledge to earn my respect,” although I am sure Dr. Deneen is more subtle than that). Many students may decide that silence is the most prudent course.

  37. “They won’t fight against anyone, because that’s not seemly, but they won’t fight for anyone or anything either

    They KNOW not to do either — they exist in a world where bad things happen to those who do — where no distinction is made between passionate advocacy and physical violence.

  38. They (and, alas, their Professors) also know nothing about the business, techonolgical, and economic history and the business pioneers who built the standard of living they eagerly enjoy. Maybe they have heard of Steve Jobs, but they just take his, and his forebears accomplishments for granted.

  39. I was in a “Modern US Foreign Policy” class at Notre Dame during 9/11. Although Notre Dame is known to be the apathetic place that the author describes, during that morning we came together to discuss the implications of what had happened. Terrorists had attacked our core values and targeted the centers of capitalism and democracy. After that memorable class, our professor sent us an email stating that it had been the highlight of his teaching career. He thanked us for our sincerity, thoughtfulness, and maturity during what essentially was “live history.” Perhaps things at Notre Dame have changed since then, but I’d challenge the author to dig deeper and find something that his students will want to fight for.

  40. In _The Divine Conspiracy_ Dallas Willard makes a similar point concerning knowledge/shared belief about ethics and what it is to live a good life. The educational system, including higher education, is set up on the assumption that at best we should teach people how to think about such things but that of course we have no body of knowledge about such things.

  41. I was struck by a sentence near the end of this essay about how the students described by Mr. Deneen won’t fight for anything. This might be true of the elite and typically very wealthy students that Mr. Deneen has taught, but it is simply false when used to describe many of the students that I have taught at community college. A bunch of my students from this generation have fought for something. They fought for this country in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some of them were wounded. Some came back with shrapnel or metal plates in their bodies. Some can’t sit in the room unless it is in the back and by the door. I remember one student who had scars on his head where they removed part of his skull to relieve brain swelling. Is that not enough fighting and sacrifice for Mr. Deneen? Do they not know enough history? Are they know-nothings?

    1. I presume that neither you nor they had read Major General Smedley Butler, USMC. otherwise you would not make such ridiculous claims as ” They fought for this country in Afghanistan and Iraq”.
      Not at any stage in history has Afghanistan or Iraq threaten America.
      “I spent thirty- three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle- man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”
      It is quite clear that they (and you) do not know enough history.
      As so aptly stated “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” – Mark Twain

    2. You have mistaken a few veterans in community college for all of today’s college students in general.

  42. Many years ago I attended middle and high school–both very much “lower class.” I nonetheless enjoyed highly motivated English and history teachers. Over the years I read most of the Western classics in literature, I analyzed poetry, and studied rhetoric. In history we studied civics, the development and decline of societies past and present, as well as the founding of our country.

    These things matter, I was told, because it was a sign of intelligence and a disciplined, cultured, mind to be conversant in such areas.

    Today, as a professor with two decades of experience, I sometimes am shocked to find that many of my students know nothing of classical literature, civics, rhetoric, or civics. Many have never heard of Homer, much less know anything substantive about the rise of Western society.

    Their ignorance, however, is a mask for something much worse–something the author nails in his analysis. On 9-11 I entered a classroom holding about 50 students. Everyone was aware we had been attacked and that thousands of Americans had lost their lives. When I asked them how they processed these horrific events I was stunned to find they simply didn’t care.

    They may have been shocked but their conversations about the events of that day focused on them and their future. Several argued that we had brought on the attacks ourselves and that in response we would commit genocide against our enemy–yes, WE would commit genocide against our enemy. Others didn’t believe that terrorist attack on American soil would affect them. They would continue to take courses, graduate, and live their lives free of any hindrance or broader responsibilities. Still others, I recall, were indigent when asked if they had any responsibility to their country. One student barked out “I got better things to do.”

    At this point I realized that something had changed in our culture, in our educational system, and that our country cannot survive the deadly mix of prideful ignorance, selfishness, and apathy.

    My students are not only disconnected from their own history, they are embarrassed by it. They readily embrace historical narratives of oppression and victimization. They reference genocide with a passionate yet entirely hollow understanding of historical fact. Worst yet, they now claim historical parity in suffering and oppression and demand to enjoy all of society’s benefits without ever once making a sacrifice for our Republic.

    1. I’m glad to hear it if your students didn’t immediately enlist and march off to fight in a Clash of Civilizations™ in reaction to the 9/11 attacks. Whether sourced in apathy or circumspection, that phlegmatism seems a better response than what so many of their learned elders and so-called leaders produced.

      1. OMG!! Seriously!?!
        John’s entire post was about WHO his students were inside, NOT about WHAT they needed to do!!
        Your comment is trivial rhetoric. Re read to try to grasp his point.

    2. John – it would be hard for me to make an argument that the wars that the US has sent young men and women to since Vietnam were for important and lofty reasons. My father fought in WWII and history seems to affirm that the sacrifice by that generation was justified. This generation has access to unparalleled information – the VA not looking after Vets, 22 Vets a day committing suicide (8000 now which exceed the 6000 killed in action) 1.5 million killed by the wars since the first Gulf War. I am a teacher and in the pit of my gut I no longer know how to teach – who runs our nations and world and to what end. 85 families owning the resources of 160 million Americans. 400 families worldwide owning over half our planets wealth. It seems they are channeling their environment and the lessons of their culture. An image stamped in my mind was when the 99% were staging their protest within Wall Street and clusters of brokers and bankers, within glass buildings were looking down on them, holding fresh Starbucks coffees, with a look of derision and contempt and boredom. They were the `masters of the universe“ and knew that this dance for attention would be wholly ineffectual – as the Caesars help multi month spectacles to distract the masses – the 99% were being allowed to vent their frustration in a controlled and contained way. Later that year Congress passed legislation forbidding students from renegotiating their loans. The government stands to make 36 billion off of student debt. The banks will take their share. When interest rates are 2 or 3 % and student loans are held at 7% and Visa charges 28% and PayDay loans can be anywhere between 3000% to 27000% – the system is rigged against this generation unless you have been groomed entry from kindergarten on. When a job that will cover food and rent and the specter of debt are as scarce as they are – diving into David Denby`s Great Books for a second time is just not on the agenda. Survival is the starkest reality and little else matters until it is secured. The tipping wage in Alabama is $2:13 per hour. After a 40 hour week `food-stamps` are your only source of survival – yet that need is blamed for societies ills – too many entitlements – blares Rush and Bill from their bully pulpits. I am 57 and when I was in my 20`s I got any job I wanted. I worked in the deli of my local Safeway and made 23 dollars an hour – in 1979. That wage was a fortune in the 80s, those same businesses convinced us the unions should be broken and those on that wage bought out and the wage brought down to 8 an hour. This to safeguard the viability of their business or so we were told. CEO salaries and bonuses and no longer proportional to profits but just a given and the financial elites live on incomes multiples of anyone else. But not the multiples of the 70’s: 1:40 but 1:400 and more. Our students have no choice but to adapt to norms of their culture. Porn is now a 24/7/365 commodity and mostly free. Did we not think this would challenge our innocence. Greed. Getting ahead. Mine. Are all being shouted for anyone who is in a position to heed to siren and capitalize off his fellow man.

  43. I taught at a charter school in Arizona where students universally took all various AP world history courses as well as both AP English courses, and I can assure you that none of my students graduated without knowing a reasonable amount about the various things you mentioned, as well as a great many others. For example, my students read the Iliad in seventh grade and the Odyssey in eighth grade.

    Notre Dame college students may very well be as pervasively ignorant as you say; they probably are. But that doesn’t mean everyone is. And as far as I can see, the author, as a Notre Dame professor, is mostly interested in lamenting the fact that high school teachers and parents did not already do the job that he wants done. Maybe he and his colleagues at the flagship Roman Catholic university should get to work on remedying their students’ amazing ignorance rather than on “weeping” copiously about the problem they apparently are unwilling to even try fixing.

    1. Nathan,

      I think you should familiarize yourself with the author before launching an attack. He is part of the solution, not the problem.

      Also, he wasn’t saying that every young person in the next generation is being miseducated, but that the overwhelming majority are. I, too, teach at a school that produces students that should be able answer the questions he poses, but I am not so naive as to believe that my school (or the combination of schools like it) is going to restore the culture in short order.

      His observation stands: the students (not all, but most) at the schools where he has taught are the future leaders of society (business owners, politicians, etc.), and they are barbarians. He is trying to fix it and we are trying to fix it, but in the meantime there is a whole lot of raping and pillaging going on.

      1. “Barbarians” – very apt description, Polytropos. They may eventually hold positions of power, live in opulent homes, and drive expensive cars (or not), but they are barbarians nonetheless.

    2. Students in middle school rarely read an unabridged Illiad or Odyssey, but if they are exposed to such great works at such a young age, they will not truly appreciate them. How can most begin to appreciate loss of that magnitude when one has barely begun to live? I read both as a freshman in college, along with the Aeneid, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Beowulf that first semester.

      However, we could also criticize the over-emphasis of a four-year degree. The college drop-out rate is 50% and so many of them are like the students that the author describes–those who choose a school for the name, rather than a passion for the education that one can receive. I am not advising, as Nietzsche did, to abandon the public sphere, but rather to realize that we each have our own calling.

      Relevance is the key, whether one is a preacher or a teacher. How do the lessons learned by the ancients apply to us here and now?

      1. ” but if they are exposed to such great works at such a young age, they will not truly appreciate them” which is why they are presumed to have “Teachers”.
        Your comment on “relevance” is nonsense, it is exactly the point that the writer is making. Nobody pointed out to young Richard, that learning arithmetic was relevant to developing QED, they just taught him numbers. Yet Feynman could not have become who he was without the knowledge.
        To put it more simply, I remember when one got in the car and went for a drive, just for the fun of driving. We did not put a destination in the GPS. We did not worry about radar behind every tree, we didn’t care whether we got home at 5 o clock or 9. Such actions are now derided.
        I read for the love of reading, new ideas, new knowledge are a bonanza.
        Some people may enjoy living in “a brave new world”, and consume their Soma happily, others prefer Hunter S Thompson:

        “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

      2. Here in Australia, most higher education is occupationally driven. You can go to unviersity and do a BA in which you can study the great books (or you can do that as part of a combined BA and law degree), but a most of people will go straight to engineering, architecture, economics, accounting, science, medicine or law.

        For years the left has been trying to turn us all into deracinated, cosmopolitan, low-rent versions of the old upper class and sneering at us for being racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. Unlearning history has been a big part of that.

        However, here in Australia our schools are still teaching history and culture. So there seem to be enough people left who know about such things.

        WHat I think the author of this article is really saying is that our modern education system is no longer producinf well-rounded and knoeledgable leaders. The gentleman amateur is being replaced by the robotic professional who has no outside knowledge.
        I once had to give a lecture to my fellow lawyers about how outside knowledge could help in the law. I lectured them on how Shakepeare’s King Lear was a great example of bungled succession planning on behalf of a CEO.
        Later I also used Tennyson’s Ulysses as an example of how disillusuion can set in for senior lexecutives and leaders.
        Now I’m sure that a lot of young people today use culture to make sense of their world. However, their references will be shallow pop songs or TV programs and not great classics.

      1. Kristin and Eliz, You do realize that the article was written about people like you, don’t you? “How do the lessons learned by the ancients apply to us here and now?” Unbelievable! Only the product of modern, mindless education would ever ask that question. The question itself reveals your ignorance. Sad.

    3. Now, wait a minute. I work on a college campus, and I think students should **arrive** there with a minimum knowledge base. College professors should not have to go back and teach things that ought to be learned in high school. So, I find your tone condescending. All that said, there is a much larger issue here: your kids learned these things in AP classes, and I would imagine most AP classes out there cover the exact same subject matter. **All** students should learn these things, not just the fortunate who have access to/can hack AP classes. When I was in high school, lo many years ago, the difference between college prep coursework and AP coursework was depth and degree of rigor. But the essentials were the same. We all read Huck Finn; as AP students, we were expected to write about and discuss themes of regionalism and societal history at the time, as well. So, by the time we all got to college, we were capable of doing advanced work.

    4. Roman Catholic”? The University of Notre Dame is adjacent to South Bend, Indiana. It’s neither Roman nor in Rome.

  44. Down the rabbit hole we tumble.

    “I know what you’re thinking about,’ said Tweedledum: `but it isn’t so, nohow.’ `Contrariwise,’ continued Tweedledee, `if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic!” He exclaimed, “That’s Higher Education!”

    “But what about Diversity?” asked Tweedledum, “Isn’t that the Bestest Thing to do… to be….but never done or did?” “Indeed,” said Tweedledee, “But never done, of course…. Contrariwise what about Multiculturalism?”

    “I’m lost,” cried Tweedledum, having Majored in Both, “Isn’t Diversity part of Multiculturalism or is Multiculturalism part of Diversity…and should we chase one or both or neither and chase instead the Walrus of Sustainability (I minored in that!)?”

    “Bah,” scoffed Tweedledee, “Social Justice it is, is it! The Highest Thing There Ever Was or Will Be Ever! Let us celebrate this Bestest Truth!”

    “Better than Economic Equality?” Dum asked. “Better much,” Dee replied.

    “Better than Inclusion, Gender Fluidity, Gay Marriage and TransGendered Rights? I minored in those, too!”

    “It’s all of those and more,” said Dee. “That’s what America is all about!”

    “It is?” puzzled Tweedledum, remembering vaguely something else or other, maybe not, still unsure. “What about this Constitution Thing or Declaration Stuff or Gettysburg or Magna Something? What about Freedom? Pursuit of Happiness? Self-evident Rights and Bootstrap pulling?”

    “Listening to the Mad Hatter again, are you, Dum my BFF? What nonsense now you mutter, what mistakes you utter! THAT is not the heart of the heart of the matter, no! No need to learn such twaddle, Dum!” Dee said and so proclaimed. “It is all so much simpler now, in the here and now, where everything is always so abundantly relative.”

    “But what about those other things?”, Dum asked, “The Hatter, mad though he is (we all agree) seems to think them somehow Big and Bigger than Big.”

    “Of course he does,” says Dee, he has not taken yet, the Other Pill.” “The one to make it smaller?”, asked Dum. “Indeed,” said Dee, “the very one! And once that Pill is down he will, with us agree: It all is relative, none more none less, all equal and that is Social Justice Diversity Squared”

    “Better than Plain Old Diversity?”
    “It IS Diversity! and Truth & Beauty, too, of course. That is what we’ve learned in school, and all we need to learn.”

    “So time for Unfettered Success?” asked Dum. “Indeed!” said Dee, “Unfettered Success and granite countertops and walk-in closets and Totally Inclusive Equality Forever — let’s cash in those Higher Degrees!”

    ‘Ditto’ said Tweedledum.

    `Ditto, ditto’ cried Tweedledee. And off they went into the Deep, Dark Woods, having totally lost that Road to Learn, long, long ago.

    1. masterwork :)..

      but Tweedledum and Tweedledee are 2 thoughtful, sensible characters. You’d better choose more appropriate names

      1. Excellent point!!
        Perhaps Thing One and Thing Two?
        Moe, Larry, or Curly?
        Dumb & Dumber?

        I dunno. It’s gonna be tough — everyone I can think of is more well-intentioned and sensible than the reality we’re wrestling. Damn!

    2. Cute, and nicely illustrative as well. I t reminded me of a class 35 years ago, or so, in which the Alice books were assigned. The prof started lecturing and the other students were taking notes. As I kept listening I got more and more puzzled by his remarks. I finally put up my hand—politely– and said that I didn’t recognize the material and wondered where he got it. He said–furiously–“You mean you’ve actually read this GD s–t?”(expletives deleted) “I’ve read both books 8 times.” Then you teach this f—g class!” He left and slammed the door.

  45. I don’t think you know your students very well and you give them too much credit. Beneath the thin veneer of “exceedingly nice, pleasant, trustworthy, mostly honest, well-intentioned, and utterly decent” individuals are the largest number of ruthless, self-serving, promiscuous, self-medicating psychopaths modern technology and social media has ever allowed. I think you are either too naïve to see this or as part of the establishment directly involved with their education you just don’t want to admit it. I don’t believe low intelligence leads to a good natured and virtuous individual.

    1. I think there are some of both among today’s students, because I think the education he described produces both –depending on what the child also learns outside the classroom.

      1. When does a student have time to learn outside of the classroom (and why would they want to do so)? They are either doing homework, watching TV, playing video games, or gazing endlessly into their smartphones. Sadly, I am referring to all ages of students – elementary through college.

    2. The author did not claim his students were of low intelligence, but that they were ignorant of Western Culture. Further, you offer a false choice. Is it not possible that the individuals he has met in the classroom are indeed how he describes, while a large percentage of their peers may be as you describe? Your having a different experience of this generation does not justify your insult that the author is “naive”.

      1. don’t really think anything should give him the right to insult or judge.. could be as simple as hes just to interpreting the essay as the writer meant it to be. to me his classroom is just a metaphor or analogy, a thin slice of the pie as a scientific testing ground for his larger more meaningful statements. he is not attacking anyone, just an unseen force or unknown presence or path generation after generation has been walking down unknowingly, missing one or two key turn off/exit signs left by history and now we are faced with everyone on 1 bus stuck at 100km/h, if we slow down or put on the breaks, KABOOM but if we keep going we are met with a highway yet still in construction so either way we are all faced with a tough decision and its going to hurt everyone in some shape or form when we get there. with enough warning and people like him speaking up we might be able to finish the construction and lead to a new exit and get us back on track to our destiny!

      2. Absolutely the case, Springy. I deal with today’s 20 somethings on a regular basis. While some are certainly “entitled,” many are honest, friendly and work hard.

    3. You have that right! The duplicity in the raised-by-internet generation regarding the fake-respect shown elders who can impact their future belies a sinister lack of moral and ethical foundation. This is a generation raised by corporate media…happy to kiss your butt, then kill you and smile for success as they have been trained by media. There is no moral grounding, no great myths setting forth the Hero’s Path, just pimps and hoes and money and Kardashians and porn and power and meaningless oil wars and worship of the rich and famous. Our culture’s poor sad lost children have gone quite psychotically insane, as trained by our cultural norms and CORPORATE education and media systems.

    4. You make a completely unfounded and unsourced statement without justification or qualification.
      You make gratuitous insults about the writer.
      The only accurate point that you make is your last, and you appear to be a living example of your belief.

    5. Stan, you are correct about at least some of them. I live on a street where these students rent a house. I’ve watched them pee on my home, shout obscenities all night, and drink while breaking bottles on my sidewalk. I hope there are some kids who aren’t like them at this school, but many of the gatherings have exceeded 200+ kids in one back yard, so I’m not overly optimistic.

      1. You’ve got to be kidding me. They are college kids. College kids will do this. This HAS NOT CHANGED IN THE PAST HALF CENTURY.

    6. Stan,
      I agree! But if you think the college students of today are ‘psychopaths’, wait until you see what is coming down the pipeline!

      1. You’ve proven the author’s point, Shefdog! Our civilization has been crumbling for a long time. Our present situation didn’t just happen overnight.

    7. Stan, you need to re read the article. Your comments about how this generation is is exactly his point. Either you didn’t read in it’s entirety or you are not grasping what he has described. This article is dead on.
      Additionally, there is a big difference between an educated person and an intelligent person.
      He also touches on that as well.

  46. This very audibly echoes Philip Rieff’s observations from 1966. It is truly astounding that the developments he described then have only worsened in the half-century since; that the decline simply continues without that world yet having “tumbled down.” And in 2006 Rieff remarked on “the rise of the armies of principled illiterates” who insist “that we read nothing but ourselves.”

    1. With the collapse of the American industry base, we no longer need people who can build things and design factories, all the USA needs are clones who can drone away for 40 years in a mind-numbing job, that is easier to swallow if one doesn’t have a mind.

    2. Christopher Dawson, The Crisis of Western Education (1961): IX The Study of Western Culture opens this way:

      One of the chief defects of modern education has been its failure to find an adequate method for the study of our own civilization. The old humanist education taught all that it knew about the civilization of ancient Greece and Rome, and taught little else. In the nineteenth century, this aristocratic and humanist ideal was gradually replaced by the democratic utilitarianism of compulsory state education, on the one hand, and by the ideal of scientific specialization, on the other.

      The result has been an intellectual anarchy imperfectly controlled by the crude methods of the examination system and of payment by results.
      I am sure there is much in this study that is quite germane to this discussion. We had the prophets. They were not received in their own native places.

    3. The quote I mean is: “Rieff remarked on “the rise of the armies of principled illiterates” who insist “that we read nothing but ourselves.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *