« Hard Times at Duke. | Main | Watkins on Business Mediation. »

October 11, 2010

Cultural Literacy in America.

Île Saint-Louis, the "other" natural island in the Seine River, seen from a famous bridge, and looking northwest.

Art, literature, the humanities, world history and political theory are not just for the rich, the elite, intellectual, and people who attended Choate and Oberlin.

They are the best part of all of us; they can inform, stir and improve every moment. If America could put real education before "jobs", we would astonish--and charm--the entire world.

Education is about more than just getting a job. Cultural literacy has never been an American strength. Oddly, even American professionals, and executives in leadership positions, continue to be satisfied with becoming, and remaining, in effect--"techs". Four years of college or university training. Seven years. Eight years. More. We are not "well-educated" in a traditional or historical sense of that word.

Note: If you don't regularly read this blog--we have a small but steady non-wanker following--here's a suggestion. Before reading further, skim "Thinking Warriors " and "Ernest, the French Aren't Like You and Me". If these posts make you angry, cause a tizzy, give you a headache, or make you pull a hamstring, just try another blog.

Put another way, Americans, the Alpha-humans, the elect and the "winners" in modern world history, are not well-rounded in our knowledge of the world, its people, and how we all got to this point on earth. Browse the American blogs of the Internet for a few hours. Mostly bad neighborhoods--and getting worse and dumber every week. We are insular and at best (being charitable here) semi-literate as a people. We are uninformed about the history, political roots, ideas and art of the West.

Sure, our schools and universities are called "the envy of the world"--and it's all a crock. We are delusional about our true educational achievement for the rank-and-file. We're a pretty dumb lot--and that includes the vast majority of our white collars and execs. The Net, ironically to some, has only made the situation worse; it imparts the idea that everyone (1) has great value and (2) has something very valuable to share. Neither is true. Neither has ever been true.

In short, very few people seem to know what they are thinking and talking about. But that's not important to most of us. We are 300 million "talkers" and know-it-alls, most of whom have four (4) die-hard hobbies: 1. Sitting, 2. Eating, 3. Watching Bad Television, and 4. A Relentless And Seemingly Eternal National Wankfest: Hanging Out With And Talking To The Same People Over And Over Again. Most of us never travel further than Lake Erie. It shows.

The result: not knowing very much, thinking we know everything, having a limited frame of reference about the World--and 80% of us are now Big Enough To Have Our Own Zip Codes.

The future? Well, it's not looking too good. Consider our human resources.

Some view the 18-35 generation as already broken down, and functionally retarded, with lots more budding failures coming up behind them flying the giddy colors of Sloth and McLife. The pattern mentioned above--in which American students at all levels are given poor grounding in global, cultural and historical "basics"--is even worse for these kids. We have dumbed them down silly.

Our short-term solution for younger adults? We've told them all along that they are "just fine". But they are not fine. They are a bust and--please don't lie to yourselves, your customers, co-workers or shareholders--they are dangerous to have in places of work where quality problem-solving is the main daily event. Or on any terrain where you cannot have a "bad day". Mostly drains and bad investments. Our firm will no longer hire them without probation periods--and very tough ones (which can still be a lot of fun for everyone). Nothing less is fair to our clients and co-workers.

Can Americans change any of this? Sure. If we could just learn some things, and put education before jobs, we would astonish and charm the entire world. We would produce better people. We'd have better employees. (Partners across the country again would be able to invite associates to lunch with clients who can read.)

Art, literature, the humanities, world history and political theory aren't just for the rich, the elite or the intellectual. They are the best part of all of us; they can inform, stir and improve every moment.

And, dudes, whoa, can we get in shape, please? Unless you are purposely "beefing up" sans proteins, can we at least ban Twinkies for a year? Foreigners in private already call our smartest people rubes. No need to put the hurt on the world's vision, too.

Posted by JD Hull at October 11, 2010 10:59 AM



for defending the elite, you just made the Tea Party list. you will be one of the first to be sent to a camp.

This is a great sentence, "Art, literature, the humanities, world history and political theory aren't just for the rich, the elite or the intellectual. They are the best part of all of us; they can inform, stir and improve every moment."

This is no longer true in the USA.

Krugman noted in the NYT on 10/7 that it is over here, writing "All vision of a better future seems to have been lost, replaced with a refusal to look beyond the narrowest, most shortsighted notion of self-interest." There is no art or literature in such a world.

Some future historian will mark the end of the USA from his column.

Lawrence O'Donnell (of all people) may have explained why a few days ago. He argues that the cultural shift in America that put women in the business and professional work force de-nuded our schools of the in-expensive talent that used to make public education work.

Carli, Meg, and thousands and thousands of other women, in a former life, were teachers.

Similarly, the tech revolution has pulled male talent from teaching into programing Microsoft Windows, etc.

The public cannot wrap its hands around the idea that to make education work again in this Country would require billions and billions(in the Carl Sagan sense) to be able to hire the talent that could do the job. (Its not about paying existing teachers more, its about paying new teachers more)

My 2 cents is that I tend to agree. Jim Clark and Bill Gates are always complaining about not being able to hire enough smart people. They are talking about a few hundred programers, not tens of thousands of teachers (By the way, I don't agree with there solution of opening the doors to foreign or guest workers. We need fundamental changes in our labor laws that protect workers who invest in a education so that they are assured that they can promptly pay off the massive student debts being incurred. No greater disincentive to learn exists than the current student loan program, whose debts are non-dischargeable)

Posted by: John Davidson at October 10, 2010 10:44 AM

Post a comment

Remember Me?