A Question for the Brave New World

When I went back to my hometown as a young soldier on leave, Christmas, 1961, it was enough of an event to bring my granddad in from his hardscrabble farm.

We sat around the living room, my mom and step-dad, sisters, and granddad, mulling over the war we were certain to have with the Soviet Union soon.

At that point I was as well-educated (by usual standards) as any of the people in the room and all our ancestors by virtue of having completed high school prior to entering the Army.

In talking about the (then current) brink-of-war crisis my granddad muttered something in Latin.  My mother and step-dad cocked an ear.

“Cicero’s probably not the best place to gain any wisdom about America today,”  My step-dad frowned and adjusted his dentures, followed by another Latin quote.

“Neither is Pliny.”  My mom shook her head at both of them.

Young man who knew everything worth knowing, I was.

I didn’t know any Latin, didn’t know who Pliny was, nor Cicero.  I was as ‘well educated’ as anyone in the room and considered my knowledge sufficient to have a wealth of valuable opinion on the issues of the day.  I felt a vague discomfort with them spouting Latin back and forth at one another and naming people I knew nothing about.

I had reason to recall that conversation in 1976, the US Bicentennial year, when the state of America and the state of education was being examined and bandied about.  Thoughtful minds were concerning themselves that Americans were becoming illiterate and ill-educated.

The thinkers of 1976, asked Americans to ask themselves whether they were better educated than their parents and grandparents, despite many more years spent in formal educational institutions.

The general answer in polls was that Americans considered themselves more canny, better informed than their parents, though weaker in most areas of knowledge once considered essential for a person to be ‘educated’.

The moving finger writes and then moves on.

Are you better educated than your parents and grandparents?

Better educated?
Less well-educated?
Know more about everything but less well-educated?
Less well-educated, less well-informed than parents?
Smarter and with more common-sense without Latin, history, philosophy, and other useless studies?

Sam Cooke- Wonderful World

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