Thursday, April 22, 2021

Chronological snobbery

Michael Dirda:
.... Until the last third of the 20th century, education broadly meant familiarity with the best that had been written or thought, discovered or imagined, painted or composed. The classics, in other words, the high spots. In my own childhood, adults still sent away for International Correspondence School courses, working men and women hurried to night classes after supper, and “30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary” by Wilfred Funk and Norman Lewis reached the bestseller list. High culture mattered. Leonard Bernstein taught music appreciation on television, Clifton Fadiman shared his infectious enthusiasm for great books in “The Lifetime Reading Plan,” Dr. Bergen Evans discussed English usage on a weekly radio program titled “Words in the News.”

Today we’re liable to dismiss all this as an antiquated, even antiquarian, approach to what it means to be educated. To think that people once actually pored over books, scribbled on three-by-five note cards, wrote papers and paid homage to what Yeats called the “monuments of unageing intellect.” How naive! In 2021, by contrast, the past — that seemingly inexhaustible reservoir of knowledge, culture and human achievement — is too often portrayed as little better than a vile sink of iniquity. With a smug sense of our own superiority, we downplay our ancestors’ real accomplishments to dwell on their moral failings. Just wait till our grandchildren get hold of us. ....
Michael Dirda, "Remember when high culture was revered? Louis Menand’s ‘The Free World’ made me nostalgic," Washington Post, April 22, 2021.

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