Blogs > Liberty and Power > What They Aren't Reading

Mar 7, 2009 9:27 am

What They Aren't Reading

A snarky Washington Postcolumn chastises college students for not reading left-wing revolutionary books the way students did in the 1960s and 1970s--the days of Eldridge Cleaver, Germaine Greer, and Anais Nin. Campus bookstores are selling the Twilight series about vampires, the latest by J.K. Rowling, and a lot of books about Barack Obama.

But Ron Charles misses the point. It's not that students aren't reading his favorite books, they are not reading serious books at all. They seem to have lost the interest and ability to imaginatively create mental worlds or to compare alternative explanations of cause and effect.

That is the import of Mark Bauerlein's book The Dumbest Generation and of Tom Bertonneau's series on the Pope Center site (which I have mentioned previously). Dissecting the responses of middle-of-the-road college students on exams in his classic literature class, Bertonneau finds that students are confused about the B.C./A.D. distinction, mix up the Odyssey and the Aeneid, and even misspell words listed on the" cheat sheet" he gives them at test time. They haven't done the reading (even by the end of the course); all that they know they picked up in class, and apparently they weren't paying much attention then, either.

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RickC - 3/9/2009

Didn't Hans Herman-Hoppe suggest that democracy itself plays a significant role in the modern shift in time-preference we've been experiencing over the last few decades?

William Marina - 3/9/2009

What I believe Bauerlein means is "Ignorant," and not "Dumb," as the appropriate word in his book's titiel. A schooling system that tends not to stress History and Literature, etc., keeps even Bright students in Ignorance.

William Marina - 3/8/2009

The relationship between the Economy and the Debasement of Culture is nicely illustrated in Frank Rich's column in the NYT today: "some Things Don't Change in Grover's Corners," especially with respect to the corruption of our universities, something I witnessed first-hand in over 4 decades of teaching and administration within several institutions.

William Marina - 3/8/2009

Many years ago a speech I gave on time at a Libertarian meeting was published in Hong Kong as "Inflation and the Disintegration of the Social Order"

It concerned time preference, as the real basis for class, and how inflationary policies, pursued now for many decades, have long-range cultural consequences.

The "me," "right now," "instant gratification," generation, has less and less use for such things as reading, especially when you can get instant gratification viewing You Tube. Maybe sci-fi and vampire novels are still in vogue, but newspapers are also going down the tube.

The recent policies of the new Administration will take the inflation to levels that earlier generations could only dream about. It is apt, however, to be more of a Nightmare in the long run.

Oh, and by the way, that has more than a little relationship to Americans failure to save on much of anything!

Jane S. Shaw - 3/7/2009

Okay, Anais Nin was not leftist but she was revolutionary, as I recall, because she wrote about having an affair with her stepfather -- right? That was revolutionary, but, it is true, not leftist. I was a little too condensed.

But my point is that college students aren't reading much at all. The issue, as I see it, is not that they are failing to challenge orthodoxies but that they don't read. I do believe that Ron Charles, not I, misses the point of what's happening with today's college generation.

Jeff Riggenbach - 3/7/2009

To anyone who knows her work, the inclusion of Anais Nin in a list of "left-wing revolutionary books" is somewhat disconcerting. Nin didn't have a political bone in her body. But if you go to the original column Jane Shaw is free-associating (hallucinating?) on, you discover the problem. Shaw has missed the point. Ron Charles isn't talking about "left-wing revolutionary books" at all. He's talking about books that challenge the orthodoxy of the time in which they're published - whether it's political, sexual, or cultural orthodoxy.