Thanksgiving and Temporal Bigotry

(This is a rerun of a 2003 post at Photon Courier. New links added at the end.)

Stuart Buck encountered a teacher who said “Kids learn so much these days. Did you know that today a schoolchild learns more between the freshman and senior years of high school than our grandparents learned in their entire lives?” (“She said this as if she had read it in some authoritative source”, Stuart comments.)

She probably had read it in some supposedly-authoritative source, but it’s an idiotic statement nevertheless. What, precisely, is this wonderful knowledge that high-school seniors have today and which the 40-year-olds of 1840 or 1900 were lacking?

The example of knowledge that people usually throw out is “computers.” But the truth is, to be a casual user of computers (I’m not talking about programming and systems design), you don’t need much knowledge. You need “keyboarding skills”–once called “typing.” And you need to know some simple conventions as to how the operating system expects you to interact with it. That’s about it. Not much informational or conceptual depth there.

Consider the knowledge possessed by by the Captain of a sailing merchant ship, circa 1840. He had to understand celestial navigation: this meant he had to understand trigonometry and logarithms. He had to possess the knowledge–mostly “tacit knowledge,” rather than book-learning–of how to handle his ship in various winds and weathers. He might well be responsible for making deals concerning cargo in various ports, and hence had to have a reasonable understanding of business and of trade conditions. He had to have some knowledge of maritime law.

Outside of the strictly professional sphere, his knowedge probably depended on his family background. If he came from a family that was reasonably well-off, he probably knew several of Shakespeare’s plays. He probably had a smattering of Latin and even Greek. Of how many high-school (or college) seniors can these statements be made today?

(In his post, Stuart compares knowledge levels using his grandfather–a farmer–as an example.)

Today’s “progressives,” particularly those in the educational field, seem to have a deep desire to put down previous generations, and to assume we have nothing to learn from them. It’s a form of temporal bigotry, and is the direct opposite of the spirit of appreciation upon which we should be focusing particularly at Thanksgiving.

As C S Lewis said: If you want to destroy an infantry unit, you cut it off from its neighboring units. If you want to destroy a generation, you cut it off from previous generations. (Approximate quote.)

How better to conduct such destruction than to tell people that previous generations were ignorant and that we have nothing to learn from them?

Addendum: Jonathan and Ginny both wrote thoughtful posts in response to the above. And Rich Karlgaard, publisher of Forbes, passes along some thoughts on the role of gratitude in business.

6 thoughts on “Thanksgiving and Temporal Bigotry”

  1. The easiest way to see the fatuousness of such a pronouncement is to take a look at an old ADMISSION test to a HIGH SCHOOL, in this case to Jersey City High School 1885 (HT: Harry Stein). Some sample questions chosen at random –

    Algebra: Write a homogeneous quadrinomial of the third degree. Express the cube root of 10ax in two ways.

    Geography: Name four principal ranges of mountains in Asia, three in Europe and three in Africa.

    U.S. History: What event do you connect with 1565, 1607, 1620, 1664, 1775?

    Grammar: Write a sentence containing a noun used as an attribute, a verb in the perfect tense potential mood, and a proper adjective.

    The slow motion decline of the U.S. education system is a sad thing to observe. Instead of demanding excellence from its students it now dwells on so-called self-esteem.

  2. Despite some differences, I do wish one and all at this site a healthy and happy Thaksgiving! And yes, I am left of center and I dislike those who would destroy America. But I wpould not like to see it destroy itself through tossing constituional rights aside under the age-old guise so often used by other in the past: we do this for national security–that is always the justification for imposing a Chavez-lke change upon freedom. Here, then, for you all:
    chicago is awesome

  3. I concur: Happy Thanksgiving.

    Now then, I remember when we used to have 3 co-equal branches of government. Laws were passed by majorities in both the House and Senate. They were then reviewed and signed by the President. If anyone thought a law was unconstitutional it could be presented for review by the Supreme Court.

    Seven years have now passed since the present administration took office. Laws have been passed and signed to protect national security. Some of these actions have been challenged per the above procedure. In the small number of cases where the Supremes have decided against some part of a particular national security law, the administration has, with Congressional action when necessary, changed the law to reflect the Supreme Court’s decision.

    I suppose one can say that the current national security “zeitgeist” is in some way “unconstitutional,” but that’s hard to argue without specific challenges according to the existing court system. But, in the end, the “left of center” has one basic yardstick: Bush = ____ (pick your favorite dictator among Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Chavez, etc., etc., ad infinitum).

  4. “Did you know that today a schoolchild learns more between the freshman and senior years of high school than our grandparents learned in their entire lives?”

    Did you know that today a schoolchild eats more between the freshman and senior years of high school than our greatgreatgrandparents had their entire life? Heh.

    It appears all that extra food just adds more fat, not lean muscle.

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