If you want to be depressed, read Mark Bauerleins essay on youth culture, declining levels of civic and historical knowledge, and the way in which our new communication technologies reinforce student insularity. His conclusion:
College professors complain about the result, noting the disaffection of students from their course work and the puny reserves of knowledge they bring into the classroom. But they hesitate to take a stand against mass culture and youth culture, fearful of the "dinosaur" or "conservative" tag. The disengagement of students from the liberal-arts curriculum is reaching a critical point, however. And the popular strategy of trying to bridge youth culture and serious study — of, say, using hip-hop to help students understand literary classics, as described in a June 19 article in the Los Angeles Times — hasnt worked. All too often, the outcome is that important works are dumbed down to trivia, and the leap into serious study never happens. The middle ground between adolescent life and intellectual life is disappearing, leaving professors with ever more stark options.
One can accept the decline, and respond as a distinguished professor of literature did at a regional Modern Language Association panel last year after I presented the findings of "Reading at Risk." "Look, I dont care if everybody stops reading literature," she blurted. "Yeah, its my bread and butter, but cultures change. People do different things."
Or one can accept the political philosopher Leo Strausss formula that "liberal education is the counter-poison to mass culture," and stand forthrightly against the tide. TV shows, blogs, hand-helds, wireless ... they emit a blooming, buzzing confusion of adolescent stimuli. All too eagerly, colleges augment the trend, handing out iPods and dignifying video games like Grand Theft Auto as worthy of study.
That is not a benign appeal for relevance. It is cooperation in the prolonged immaturity of our students, and if it continues, the alienation of student from teacher will only get worse.
Hat tip: Stanley Kurtz.