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.

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

    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.

    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.

    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?

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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?

    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.

  10. 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. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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??

  16. 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.

  17. 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!

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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!

  21. 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.

  22. 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?

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. “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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

  32. 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.

  33. 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.

  34. 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.”

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