So I find Peter most interesting this week. Or maybe quickest to respond to coherently. Anyway, are the kids dumb? I readily grant that a significant number of kids now are gaining useful, valuable, cool, and worthy skills at the expense of skills that maybe also were very laudable and impressive before the late-90s technological boom but aren’t so much anymore. My paleocon sympathies do not run to the depths of the abacus.
But surely that doesn’t mean all old skills are passe, and I don’t expect anyone, including Peter, to argue that that’s so. Nonetheless part of the curmudgeonly criticism Peter’s against recognizes that kids generally are being phased out of a rough-and-ready relationship with the natural world. I’m not an expert here but it seems to me that increasingly anyone who gets their hands dirty is one of our contemporary amateur experts at Extreme Rock Climbing, Extreme Eco-Living, Extreme Harsh Climate Enduring, etc. I hear there are now mega-marathons that require you to run 50 miles around a single building. Go crazy on it if you like, but isn’t it so that an entire set of knowledge — an entire education, if you like — is under a condition of neglect today? (More than one entire set, natch.) Specifically what I’m driving at is a kind of cultural knowledge. Maybe you could call it soulcraft, without getting too crunchy or cosmic.
And it’s here that we should notice that Bush’s program to pump up science and math ed falls woefully short of the mark (The New York Times tellingly called this attack of mine a ‘most unusual conservative criticism’) because it helps contribute to the notion that cultural education or soulcraft takes care of itself if open minds and open markets are in place, and all the government has to do is reallocate financial resources to make sure the Chinese and Indians don’t flood ‘our’ (meaning world) markets.
I wish to end on the note that what’s bad is therefore not whether ‘the schools’ are “churning out ignorant teens who are becoming ignorant adults” — we have survived just fine under much more mass-ignorant circumstances — but that the kind of ignorance becoming widespread is much more dangerous to our flourishing as a polity and a culture. That being a big new claim I’ll pause there. But I think we should agree that that’s the issue in play.