The Far-Gone Past and the Fast-Coming Future

My mom has always been a fan of John Rosemond and his parenting ideas, and I have grown up hearing, “John Rosemond says . . .” but it was not until recently that I actually read one of his pieces.

I am not going to pass a judgement on him after reading only one of his numerous articles, but I would like to pass a judgement on and argue back about his point in said article.

In the article, Rosemond is talking about how in America, standardized test scores have gotten lower, but  grades have been getting higher, because of trends in parent involvement and teacher pity (not his exact words, but a pretty good summary). I am not going to argue this point other than saying I am pretty much a walking contradiction to many of his arguments in these areas (neither of my parents have ever helped me on my homework unless it was to teach me what my teacher could not, and even then they did not do the problems for me; US History is my favorite subject so I actually do know quite a few of the basic facts, and no I do not want Brad Pitt as the next President; and I do not remember what happened the only time I did not finish a homework assignment, but I have never missed a homework assignment since, so I think it is fair to say that I have a healthy dose of fear for my parents and teachers).

No, the argument I have a problem with is when he says that American students are “the dumbest in the world” because as a whole, we do not do well on the standardized tests we are given because we cannot remember basic facts such as which country we gained our independence from (England, thank you very much, but that is only the original 13 colonies that England actually owned and were the start of these United States of America (the “these” wasn’t change to “the” until after the Civil War to create a bigger and better sense of brotherhood and community among the states). Quite a bit of the rest was either bought or won from countries such as France, Russia, and Spain. Or taken from the Native Americans. I told you I like history).

Part of the problem I have with this is that all in all, those tests are pretty meaningless. All they really test is your ability to memorize, and that’s not enough in today’s world. Many leaders in today’s businesses are saying they need employees who can communicate, problem solve, and make well-informed decisions (oh, hey, look at that! Memorization of facts and dates isn’t on that list!). And I hate to tell you this, but standardized tests do not assess those things. Instead, they make teachers spend class time preparing for them (because teacher performance is assessed by how well their students do the on the tests, and who wants to get a poor assessment that could possibly cost them their job?) instead of on the above listed qualities employers actually want their employees to have.

And his assessment that “the average 16-year-old is more likely to know the names and backgrounds of the entire cast of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ than the fundamental facts of American history” is patronizing and unfair. I will have you know that I have never even watched “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”! If we are to take it seriously, however, I think we need to consider that this is a reflection of a change in interest in the youth of the world: it is not facts but stories that we want to know. Increasingly, people are starting to realize that not only does everyone have their own story, but that those stories shape who they are, what they can do, what makes them angry, what makes them happy, and we are starting to connect again with each other.

Yes, I realize that last bit contradicts the entirety of what most people in the “Last Generation” are saying about “This Generation.” Yeah, that’s right, I’ve heard the “This generation just doesn’t talk anymore! They are always texting each other or doing other things on their phones!” and I think you are wrong. I probably know more about my friends because of the constant communication texting allows than I ever would if it did not exist. I now know who would be eaten first if we were all stuck on an island together. I know how the soccer game went, even without having to remember to ask. I know how crazy they get at two in the morning. And you know what? I still talk to them all the time during the day at school. Really, more texting happens over summer break when we do not see each other than any other time in the year.

Another argument I have heard made with this is, “If you can’t say it to their face, don’t say it at all,” and I disagree. There are some things you just cannot say to someone’s face. There are some things that should not be said to someone’s face. Usually, I would argue, it is because words and wording is so important and you are more likely to mess up if you are saying it out loud. Imagine how many things were not said in the age before texting. Imagine how many people just could not get the words out, no matter how hard they tried. They got scared. They could not find the right pattern of syllables. They did not want to be laughed at or left behind. It is a lot easier to say it to a screen than a face, and I do not think we should consider that a bad thing.

One of the other problems I have with the suggestion that we would know more about a TV show than our own nation’s history is that this sentence suggests we should know more about our nation’s history. I mean, yes, I think you should know things, but Sherlock Holmes got along just fine without knowing the Earth went around the Sun (it is in the books, look it up. One of the first things Dr. Watson mentions about Sherlock, actually, in “A Study in Scarlet” when he creates a list of the oddities of the famous detective). I think what we learn in schools needs to reflect what kids care about and the trends we are seeing in what is needed in the workforce. Tell me, when was the last time you needed to know America won its independence from England when you were working? Is it a regularly brought up topic at cocktail parties? On the other hand, I know TV shows are often brought up among peers (and by “peers,” I mean student to student, students to teachers, teacher to teacher, parent to parent, etc.) and I have seen the arguments made and lessons taught in TV shows effectively brought up in group discussions and their merits argued.

I think my generation does not look to the past, but to the future. This does not mean that we are going to forget the past or never learn it. Instead, I think we are learning it the wrong way. With each generation, there have to be small evolutions within human genes for the human race to continue to grow and adapt in this ever changing world. An increasing number of demands is being put on each new generation, ranging from what it takes to get into college to shifts in the environment that could effect future natural resource supplies. In all honesty, I think my generation has every right to be cynical and pessimistic about how the world has been left to us and to find joy in whatever we can. Even if that is “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and not US History.

My point is, do not dismiss the qualities, hopes, preferences, and merits of a future generation just because they are different from your own. After all, it is from the adaption of past generations that we have gotten this far.

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