In a recent article at Minding the Campus, Patrick Deneen, an associate professor at Notre Dame, posted something that, to me, was very alarming.
My students are know-nothings.
That sounds bad, but it’s simply a general observation, that he begins to qualify,
They are exceedingly nice, pleasant, trustworthy, mostly honest, well-intentioned, and utterly decent. But their brains are largely empty, devoid of any substantial knowledge that might be the fruits of an education in an inheritance and a gift of a previous generation. (emphasis mine)
That, for the most part seems to be true: there are many young people today who, for lack of a better word, self-absorbed. The past, to them, seems irrelevant. There is no meaningful attempt to understand anything about the past, not excuse the mistakes or overplay the successes, but simply try to understand and appreciate the past. But Deneen continues justifying his assertion,
They are the culmination of western civilization, a civilization that has forgotten nearly everything about itself, and as a result, has achieved near-perfect indifference to its own culture. (emphasis added)
Deneen doesn’t run them down, but points out some positives:
It’s difficult to gain admissions to the schools where I’ve taught – Princeton, Georgetown, and now Notre Dame. Students at these institutions have done what has been demanded of them: they are superb test-takers, they know exactly what is needed to get an A in every class (meaning that they rarely allow themselves to become passionate and invested in any one subject); they build superb resumes. They are respectful and cordial to their elders, though easy-going if crude with their peers. They respect diversity (without having the slightest clue what diversity is) and they are experts in the arts of non-judgmentalism (at least publically). They are the cream of their generation, the masters of the universe, a generation-in-waiting to run America and the world.
But ask them some basic questions about the civilization they will be inheriting, and be prepared for averted eyes and somewhat panicked looks.
This is true. I taught a youth Sunday school class for two years, and I tried to handle some difficult subjects with grace and logic, but these kids today just seem out of touch with reality. The things that they care about are essentially meaningless: the approval of friends, the right outfit, the right weight. Very few of them, if any, care about understanding the past and how people thought and how that affects us, and about the time you start making headway and get the kids to start looking up and thinking, you get snatched away, hoping that you’ve made an impact.
This is why I think that Deneen’s article is so important and deserves to be considered. So pop over and check it out.