Dunno Much ‘Bout History

 

A couple of days ago, I overheard two of my colleagues talking about football.  One of the mentioned the red and yellow uniform of the San Francisco Forty-Niners.  I spoke up:

“The uniform is red and gold, not yellow.”

“Yellow, gold, what’s the difference?”

“It’s gold, because they’re the Forty-Niners.”

“What do you mean.”

“You do know what a ‘Forty-Niner’ is, right?”

“A football player.”

“Yes, but what is the team named after?”

“I don’t know.”

“The ‘Forty-Niners?’  1849?  The California Gold Rush?”

{Blank stare}

Years ago, I was working in a section with two doctors about my age, another, much younger, nurse and a still-younger tech. The docs and I were talking and the name Eva Braun came up. Neither the nurse or the tech had any idea who she was. At first I thought they were kidding, and said “Hitler’s girlfriend.” Nope. Never heard of her.

Now we know why idiotic ideas like “(Insert Republican president here) is worse than Hitler,” “The US today is a dystopia,” or “Donald Trump is a greater president than Abraham Lincoln” gain traction. Our glorious educational system has apparently stopped teaching history.

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  1. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    JosePluma: Our glorious educational system has apparently stopped teaching history.

    The system has been campaigning against the teaching of “dry facts” for as long as I can remember.  Sometimes some other pejorative than “dry” is used as an adjective, but basically our educational system is against it.  There is a long litany of excuses.  (I am probably not up-to-date on the latest jargon, though.)  Our illustrious, high-salaried district superintendent once explained at a public meeting that if people need to know those things, they can look them up.  He didn’t explain how they would know there was something to look up, though.  

    • #1
  2. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    I once read of a professor’s assistant who asked him, “Who is this Malcolm the Tenth?”

    • #2
  3. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    “To destroy a people, you must first sever their roots.”   –Alexander Solzhenitsyn

    • #3
  4. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    I once read of a professor’s assistant who asked him, “Who is this Malcolm the Tenth?”

    At least he knew his Roman numerals!

    • #4
  5. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    It was 1988. I was working for a finance company as a loan officer. The clerks all had at least high school educations and most were quite young, so not that long out of high school.

    I made some passing reference to “The War between the States” and the clerk I was talking to said, “Huh?” Figuring that as a Yankee, she only knew one name for it, I clarified, “You might know it as the The Civil War.” Still nothing. “Lincoln? Slavery? The North and South? Gettysburg?” Still nothing. “You had history in school didn’t you?”

    “Yes, but I don’t remember any of that.”

    I was maybe six years older than she was at the most, but we lived in totally separate worlds.

    • #5
  6. dnewlander Coolidge
    dnewlander
    @dnewlander

    Man, I thought it was terrible in 1989 when I referred to “The Great White Way” at CMU. And no one around me knew I was talking about Broadway.

    Of course, I once, in 1990 had a cashier at a McDonald’s on the Ohio Turnpike want to give me over $2 back when I gave her $5 on a $3.80 total.

    At least people in Pgh know their team colors are Black and Gold. No matter which of three sports you’re watching. I’d post the video, but this is not the PIT.

    • #6
  7. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Well, sure, people today are largely irreligious, innumerate, and ignorant of history, but making and sharing snarky memes has never been easier. 

    • #7
  8. Kephalithos Member
    Kephalithos
    @Kephalithos

    I was grading an architectural-history research paper last semester, and it contained a line like this:

    The house was built by Chief Justice John Marshall in 1868.

    Evidently, this student had done some property research, discovered that a John Marshall owned the lot around the time of the house’s construction, googled the name “John Marshall,” and assumed that the first search result — an article about that John Marshall — was about her John Marshall.

    • #8
  9. Spin Coolidge
    Spin
    @Spin

    I thought they were the forty-whiners…

    • #9
  10. Spin Coolidge
    Spin
    @Spin

    If you enjoy football history, you might enjoy this:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ovdbrdCIP7U

    • #10
  11. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Arahant (View Comment):

    It was 1988. I was working for a finance company as a loan officer. The clerks all had at least high school educations and most were quite young, so not that long out of high school.

    I made some passing reference to “The War between the States” and the clerk I was talking to said, “Huh?” Figuring that as a Yankee, she only knew one name for it, I clarified, “You might know it as the The Civil War.” Still nothing. “Lincoln? Slavery? The North and South? Gettysburg?” Still nothing. “You had history in school didn’t you?”

    “Yes, but I don’t remember any of that.”

    I was maybe six years older than she was at the most, but we lived in totally separate worlds.

    I remember a fellow Ricochetti a while back make made a post about arguing with a ticket-taker.  The ticket-taker overheard him and his friend talking about Lincoln as a popular Republican president.  The woman immediately started to argue Lincoln wasn’t a Republican, but a Democrat  Nothing the guy said convinced her she was wrong.

    I hope the original poster reads this, and gives us a rehash or link to his post.

    • #11
  12. Jon Gabriel, Ed. Admin
    Jon Gabriel, Ed.
    @jon

    This is totally unfair, but a chance to make fun of my older sister — a job I’ve slacked off on since we became adults. My dad, brother (then age 16), and I (age 11) were all history fanatics from an early age. My sister … not so much.

    The three of us were discussing some WW2 battle and my sister (14) wanted to feel included.

    “So, who won that war anyway?” she asks.

    Bro says, “Germany. That’s why we all speak German now.” (We were also sarcastic from an early age.)

    Sis: “Oh, okay” and walks off.

    Yes, we still make fun of her for that at every family gathering. And it’s rather annoying she’s more successful than either of us.

    • #12
  13. Jon Gabriel, Ed. Admin
    Jon Gabriel, Ed.
    @jon

    A huge deficit I notice is Biblical illiteracy. Not talking about the faith, per se, but just being minimally conversant on the cornerstone of all English literature. Drop an idiom like “the patience of Job” and the blank stares are everywhere.

    • #13
  14. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    You know you’re getting old when even major arts and entertainment events you experienced as a youngster are utterly unknown to young people. We recently saw the traveling production of Jesus Christ Superstar (it was yuge and controversial back in the day (released in 1970). There were theater bombings over it!). When I tried to talk about it with my masseuse and physical therapist, they had no idea what I was talking about. Andrew Lloyd Weber? Phantom of the Opera? Longest running musical theater production in London at one time? Nada.

    At least one of them knew about Jesus and his Passion. I think. 

     

    • #14
  15. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    My mother had an illness during her childhood that kept her bedridden for the better part of a year. The local school system provided a tutor and books which they absolutely did not want back. This was 1938 and she was in the 8th Grade. Looking at those books today, no 8th grader is going to tackle that curriculum.

    Now most people believe history began the day they were born. There is no sense of proportion, either. My youngest child has never known life without the Internet or mobile phones, yet two of his four grandparents were born before the advent of network radio and talking pictures. My oldest three never had fewer than 150 television channels. 

     

    • #15
  16. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    We each have our horror stories, I’m sure.

    I know a bright, charming young professional woman, thirty-something, who graduated from the University of Michigan — and had no idea what I was talking about when, one day, I mentioned the “tragic record of collectivism in the 20th century.” She knew someone named “Stalin” existed, and someone named “Mao.” But she knew nothing of wholesale executions, gulags and work camps, or mass starvation.

    • #16
  17. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    We each have our horror stories, I’m sure.

    I know a bright, charming young professional woman, thirty-something, who graduated from the University of Michigan — and had no idea what I was talking about when, one day, I mentioned the “tragic record of collectivism in the 20th century.” She knew someone named “Stalin” existed, and someone named “Mao.” But she knew nothing of wholesale executions, gulags and work camps, or mass starvation.

    Similarly, when people talk about TV shows and entertainer-celebrities (including the news media ones) I often don’t know what they’re talking about.  Sometimes I have a clue, but often I lack even that. I’ve gotten tired of hearing myself ask for clarification, so now I sometimes just move on without saying anything. As far as I can tell I don’t really need to know. Maybe it’s the same for these people who don’t know about collectivism. 

    • #17
  18. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Jon Gabriel, Ed. (View Comment):

    A huge deficit I notice is Biblical illiteracy. Not talking about the faith, per se, but just being minimally conversant on the cornerstone of all English literature. Drop an idiom like “the patience of Job” and the blank stares are everywhere.

    Yup. When my editor was going over a forthcoming book, she flagged a line in my chapter about Gilley’s. It read “Then the serpent entered this honky-tonk paradise. It got discovered.” Her note read, “What is this about a serpent?”  Before explaining I started out, “You are a millennial, aren’t you?”

    • #18
  19. Jeffery Shepherd Inactive
    Jeffery Shepherd
    @JefferyShepherd

    I play bar trivia.  Last night the subject of Christmas movies came up.  I mentioned to a team member who is a 30 year old guy that Jimmy Stewart completed 25 bombing missions over Germany and retired a brigadier.  They guy had never heard of Jimmy Stewart.

    • #19
  20. Suspira Member
    Suspira
    @Suspira

    Along the frontier of non-historical ignorance, one day I discovered a sales rep at the newspaper I worked for had no idea that a dictionary could tell you how to pronounce a word. This woman was a college graduate and had been raised in the most affluent Zip code in the state.

    I was dumbfounded.

    • #20
  21. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    EJHill (View Comment):
    Now most people believe history began the day they were born.

    I once started a talk to my oldest son’s fourth grade class this way:

    “Do you kids know the difference between history and ancient history? History is everything that happened since you were born. Ancient history is everything that happened before you were born. How many of you were born before April 12, 1981? [The date of the first shuttle launch.] Okay, for all of you with your hands up, I am going to be talking about history. For the rest of you, this is ancient history.”

    • #21
  22. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Jon Gabriel, Ed. (View Comment):
    Yes, we still make fun of her for that at every family gathering. And it’s rather annoying she’s more successful than either of us.

    Depends on how one defines successful.

    • #22
  23. Kephalithos Member
    Kephalithos
    @Kephalithos

    Jon Gabriel, Ed. (View Comment): A huge deficit I notice is Biblical illiteracy. Not talking about the faith, per se, but just being minimally conversant on the cornerstone of all English literature. Drop an idiom like “the patience of Job” and the blank stares are everywhere.

    I plead guilty.

    But I’m Catholic, so I have an excuse . . .

    • #23
  24. Jeff Giambrone Coolidge
    Jeff Giambrone
    @JeffGiambrone

    One thing I have noticed is that many young people can’t read or write in cursive because their schools have dropped it from the curriculum. A few years ago I took my daughter and her friends to a “Mystery Room” where you had to find a number of clues to solve a mystery. I had to read all of the clues to these teenagers because none of them could make heads or tails of the cursive letters needed to solve the puzzles. I don’t know how the schools expect the kids to learn much history if they can’t read original historical documents that are in cursive. It probably won’t be long before colleges have to have remedial courses in cursive writing for history majors.

    • #24
  25. Kephalithos Member
    Kephalithos
    @Kephalithos

    Jeff Giambrone (View Comment): One thing I have noticed is that many young people can’t read or write in cursive because their schools have dropped it from the curriculum. A few years ago I took my daughter and her friends to a “Mystery Room” where you had to find a number of clues to solve a mystery. I had to read all of the clues to these teenagers because none of them could make heads or tails of the cursive letters needed to solve the puzzles. I don’t know how the schools expect the kids to learn much history if they can’t read original historical documents that are in cursive. It probably won’t be long before colleges have to have remedial courses in cursive writing for history majors.

    Something similar, albeit more dramatic, happened in Turkey when Atatürk jettisoned the Arabic alphabet.

    That said, I’m not sure that most history majors (if there are any left) will miss cursive. The average history major spends his time combing through printed sources, not written ones.

    (I graduated with a history degree in 2018. Only once did I encounter a lexical roadblock — and that’s because I wanted to use a Latin-language source which hadn’t been translated into English since the time of Chaucer (!).)

    • #25
  26. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Jeff Giambrone (View Comment):
    I don’t know how the schools expect the kids to learn much history if they can’t read original historical documents that are in cursive.

    You have discovered the Progressive plan. Those who know nothing about history are more compliant to the ideas that, historically, have never worked before.

    • #26
  27. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Jon Gabriel, Ed. (View Comment):

    I once learned if you hear a famous quote, most of the time it’s either from the Bible or Shakespeare . . .

    • #27
  28. Kephalithos Member
    Kephalithos
    @Kephalithos

    Arahant (View Comment): You have discovered the Progressive plan. Those who know nothing about history are more compliant to the ideas that, historically, have never worked before.

    It’s worse than that.

    University history programs being what they are (technocratic, bureaucratic, dry as dust, and infatuated with critical theory), I think it’s time to revise Santayana’s quote:

    Everyone is doomed to repeat history, even if they learn it.

    • #28
  29. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Stad (View Comment):

    Jon Gabriel, Ed. (View Comment):

    I once learned if you hear a famous quote, most of the time it’s either from the Bible or Shakespeare . . .

    Shakespeare? Who’s that? 😜

    • #29
  30. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Kephalithos (View Comment):
    Everyone is doomed to repeat history, even if they learn it.

    It’s simply a matter of being outnumbered.

    • #30

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