I don’t think we know how ignorant younger people are about history today, let alone what it will be a thousand years hence. At the rate knowledge about what went on before seems to be disappearing, it woud be a very sunny optimist who would predict there would be any recollection whatever of Hitler and the Third Reich.
To promote her new Holocaust-themed novel 94 Maidens, author Rhonda Fink-Whitman recently visited the campuses of Penn State and Philadelphia’s Temple University, and asked the local college kids what they knew about the Holocaust and World War II. The answer is: not much.
Questioner: Which country was Adolf Hitler the leader of?
American College Student: I think it’s Amsterdam?
Questioner: What was Auschwitz?
American College Student: I don’t know.
Questioner: What were the Nuremburg Trials?
American College Student: I don’t know.
Questioner: How many Jews were killed?
American College Student: Hundreds of thousands.*
Grievance studies have in the main replaced history in both secondary schools and universities in the English-speaking countries, and forget about military history — there is no subject matter suffering from greater neglect. The steady march of the left through the educational system beginning in the ‘Sixties has thus ended in victory. This has been accompanied by a tragic loss in literacy and thinking. The Dead White Males (as the Marxists know them) who created the foundations of Western Civilization have been dethroned in favor of theories that argue the meaninglessness of words and even existence itself. The corrolary to that is the individual must give way to the greater good of the ant hill, and the village it takes to raise a child is merely a way station en route to that goal.
<The popular culture, which is also in the hands of the left, has helped in the deterioration of standards, whether moral or intellectual. As Mark Steyn wrote: "Popular culture is more accurately a 'present-tense culture': You’re celebrating the millennium but you can barely conceive of anything before the mid-1960s. We’re at school longer than any society in human history, entering kindergarten at four or five and leaving college the best part of a quarter-century later—or thirty years later in Germany. Yet in all those decades we exist in the din of the present. A classical education considers society as a kind of iceberg, and teaches you the seven-eighths below the surface. Today, we live on the top eighth bobbing around in the flotsam and jetsam of the here and now. And, without the seven-eighths under the water, what’s left on the surface gets thinner and thinner."
If the advance in historical forgetfulness has gone so far so fast and seems even to be accelerating, I think George Orwell may be the best guide to how the future will treat the present and the past. At some point, the good of the ant hill may determine that there be official truth. A kind of history death panel will decide Hitler’s standing. At the rate his crimes are being forgotten, it might be a toss of the coin that depends on the needs of the collective.
This is from the WSJ, June 18, 2011: “We’re raising young people who are, by and large, historically illiterate,” David McCullough tells me on a recent afternoon in a quiet meeting room at the Boston Public Library. Having lectured at more than 100 colleges and universities over the past 25 years, he says, “I know how much these young people—even at the most esteemed institutions of higher learning—don’t know.” Slowly, he shakes his head in dismay. “It’s shocking.”
He’s right. This week, the Department of Education released the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress, which found that only 12% of high-school seniors have a firm grasp of our nation’s history. And consider: Just 2% of those students understand the significance of Brown v. Board of Education.
Mr. McCullough began worrying about the history gap some 20 years ago, when a college sophomore approached him after an appearance at “a very good university in the Midwest.” She thanked him for coming and admitted, “Until I heard your talk this morning, I never realized the original 13 colonies were all on the East Coast.” Remembering the incident, Mr. McCullough’s snow-white eyebrows curl in pain. “I thought, ‘What have we been doing so wrong that this obviously bright young woman could get this far and not know that?'”