“If there are no stupid questions, then what kind of questions do stupid people ask? Do they get smart just in time to ask questions?”
So, a really depressing thing happened this past Monday.
I went to a small shop to buy a small thing, and as I was making my purchase, I noticed the store was empty. The only employee was a young man no more than 19 or 20 years of age. He looked bored, so I asked him, “How’s business?”
He responded, with a shrug, “Been pretty dead in here, but, you know, it is Memorial Day…”
I stood there for a couple of heartbeats, contemplating whether or not to inform him the three-day weekend at the beginning of the summer is Memorial Day, and that today is, in fact, Labor Day, but it seemed pointless. Having spent a fair amount of time with teens and young adults over the past few years, I realized his reaction would either be one of annoyance or apathy. Millennials do not like being corrected. It both embarrasses and threatens them. They would rather go through life sounding like dumbasses. And so, feeling pretty glum about the future, I just got the hell out of there.
The day before, I had a brief conversation with a friend of mine who graduated from Lee High School. He said he had been approached by a young alum who said it was going to cost around $250,000.00 to change the name from Robert E. Lee High to something non-racist, and if my friend would like to make a donation to the association for the name change. My friend asked this person what was wrong with calling it Lee High? The young grad replied, “He was a controversial general.” My friend then asked, “Which ones aren’t?” He didn’t say what the reaction was, but I bet it was one of annoyance and apathy.
It is a sad fact of life in America that the further away from a classical education our public schools travel, the more illiterate, incapable dumbasses we send out into the Real World. Education has become ‘reactionary,’ in that it molds itself around the mood and attention spans of the students, rather than setting goals for their levels of comprehension and intellectual growth. This is where we get the silliness of Participation Trophies and the idea of grading the little pukes based upon how much they ‘try,’ and not whether they actually spell the damn word right. While this relatively new idea of education may make the adults in the room feel better about themselves, it hardly benefits the kids and, moreover, is probably doing them irreparable harm.
The pseudo-social idea behind it is that by focusing on self-esteem beyond all reason–while simultaneously reinforcing the notion that excellence is never earned and failure is almost always a kind of victimization–you create healthier, less psychologically damaged adults. Politically, of course, you also create more socially-aware individuals, and that is ultimately good for everyone.
Both ideas, of course, are total bullshit.
What you end up creating is what we have:
A generation of folks now entering their late-teens and early-twenties who are incapable of filling out a job application, changing a tire, making change from a nickel, paying a bill, feeding themselves with anything that comes from a can, successfully operating a wall thermostat, or, for that matter, knowing the difference between Memorial Day and Labor Day. These are people with no attention span, less drive, and very little intellectual curiosity, all of which you desperately need in order to live a rich, fulfilling life. They don’t read, they don’t wonder, they don’t contemplate, they don’t dream, and, more often than not, they wait for someone over forty to tell them what to do rather than seek the inner-gratification of figuring crap out for themselves. I am not being mean. I am being observant. And it makes me sad.
Current educators will tell you that a traditional, classic education emphasizes way too much on Shakespeare and Algebra, and creates unfair standards that only serve to produce ‘winners’ and ‘losers’.
Again, I call Bullshit.
It is BECAUSE I was made to study classic literature that I learned not only how to comprehend pretty much anything written in English (or Latin and Greek, for that matter), but also how to write a resume and understand the directions in an auto manual. It is BECAUSE I was given a solid base in American and World History that I am able to understand current events and develop, for myself, a set of political views that aren’t based upon what somebody on TV told me to believe. It is BECAUSE I was forced to be at least sufficient in Unified Math and Algebra that I am able to solve common, everyday problems for myself, again, without having to ask someone else to do it for me. Finally, it is BECAUSE I had to ‘earn’ a decent grade that I learned the value of effort and self-motivation, both of which have served me beyond all measure in my creative and professional lives.
Suffice it to say that maybe we should be more concerned about what is going on inside our schools, or rather, what is not going on, than what we name the damn things.
Then again, maybe the system itself is more than satisfied with producing functionally illiterate, mediocre weirdos. Much easier to hand those folks a sledgehammer and tell ’em to go smash a statue…
Jesus loves you and so do I,