We had two anthropology professors at our kitchen table for a meal and conversation this week, and though they were most interesting and engaging I was left feeling a bit glum after they left. In a nutshell my feelings were due to the fact that the two of them, along with a professor of sociology who also joined us in our home, confirmed what I have long felt to be true. The dumbing down of our society is well underway.
The conversation flowed from why the classics are not read anymore to the degree that attaining higher education is almost an exclusive use for finding a job that pays a large salary. The idea that education and learning should be a goal in and of itself is not something that carries any weight in today’s world. What students need to know as opposed to what they should know has always struck me as something most worthy of discussion. It certainly separates people when it comes to the role of education.
I firmly hold that students should be reading the works of Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson, be able to read cursive, and talk constructively about Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Emile Durkheim. But there seems to me to be a wide swath of short-cuts and deletions that have simply neutered the process for too many in our educational system. This is not to fault individual professors, but more of a damning indictment of the larger educational system and the citizenry who allow it to take place. Sadly all this is not limited to our shores as one of those at our table lives in Ireland and lists the needs of business and corporate desires as a major reason for the way their education is packaged for students.
Perhaps no other story best sums up why I felt downcast after what was a truly wonderful meal and lively conversation of just the type I relish than hearing what has changed over the many years of teaching for one of those at our table.
Many years ago after a stimulating lecture that included the back-and-forth from students the period would end, book packs would be slung over shoulders, the door would open and countless conversations would start. Some students would greet others from a different class, others would dialogue among themselves from the lecture hall they had just exited.
Now all that has changed.
As the professor in our home told the story he moved in slow motion as if he were mimicking a western where the sheriff pulls a gun from his holster strapped to his waist. What he was imitating were the students all reaching to their pocket and pulling out the social media gadgets that isolate and insulate them from what most of us might know as real human interactions.
The world is changing just as it always has. I am not the first one to question what the changes mean for society and if they are creating larger problems that we are not prepared to address. But I am just not ready to discard all that which has been a foundation for my life, and for so many others in this nation.