Saturday, June 16, 2018

'A Group of Companions'

My high-school English teacher, an optimistic but not simple-minded woman, dated the death of culture to circa 1970. Starting around that time, she could no longer make casual references in class and expect to be understood by students. Nothing esoteric. Her examples were Duke Ellington and Winston Churchill. Kids no longer knew who she was talking about and, worse, didn’t care. After half a century, teachers have grown at least as ignorant as their students. Jacques Barzun in “Of What Use the Classics Today?” (Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, 1991):

“The need for a body of common knowledge and common reference does not disappear when a society is pluralistic. On the contrary, it grows more necessary, so that people of different origins and occupation may quickly find familiar ground and as we say, speak a common language. It not only saves time and embarrassment, but it also ensures a kind of mutual confidence and goodwill. One is not addressing an alien, as blank as a stone wall, but a responsive creature whose mind is filled with the same images, memories, and vocabulary as oneself. Since the Biblical source of those common elements can no longer be relied on, the other classics, the secular scriptures, remain the one means of creating a community of minds, a culture—indeed, a society in the original sense of the word, which is: a group of companions.”

1 comment:

The Britophile said...

I mistrust your high-school teacher's memory. I was in public high school in anew Jersey from 1968-72, and most of my classmates and I knew Ellington (who appeared on TV variety programs all the time) and Churchill (whose funeral had been hroadcast live a few years earlier). I do know that scholars and teachers throughout recorded history have bemoaned the ignorance of their students, forgetting that there was a time when they themselves had never heard of the people to whom their elders referred.