Oh, the Humanities!

From the LA Times review of Mark Bauerlein’s Dumbest Generation:

The problem is that instead of using the Web to learn about the wide world, young people instead mostly use it to gossip about each other and follow pop culture, relentlessly keeping up with the ever-shifting lingua franca of being cool in school. The two most popular websites by far among students are Facebook and MySpace…

This ceaseless pipeline of peer-to-peer activity is worrisome, he argues, not only because it crowds out the more serious stuff but also because it strengthens what he calls the “pull of immaturity.” Instead of connecting them with parents, teachers and other adult figures, “[t]he web . . . encourages more horizontal modeling, more raillery and mimicry of people the same age.”

From “The Burden of the Humanities” by Wilfred M. McClay at The Wilson Quarterly:

Lamentations about the sad state of the humanities in modern America have a familiar, indeed almost ritualistic, quality about them. The humanities are among those unquestionably nice endeavors, like animal shelters and ­tree-­planting projects, about which nice people invariably say nice things. But there gets to be something vaguely annoying about all this cloying uplift. One longs for the moral clarity of a swift kick in the ­rear.

Both articles were linked from Arts & Letters Daily, and both reflect on questions I wrote about in an earlier post on education and classics. Bauerlein’s book implies that people read too little. McClay’s piece suggests there’s peril in reading too much.

There can hardly be a simple answer, but I find the proliferation of articles on these questions interesting. There’s a clear dissatisfaction with the current state of education. Is it just this generation’s “woe is us” lament, or if there is actually a qualitative difference?

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