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When I was a boy, my grandmother was gravely disappointed to discover I was not being taught Latin. She saw this deficit as more than a hole in my education; it was a sign my generation was going to pot. I am now at a her age and it’s my turn to worry about today’s youth. She was worried about Latin: I worry about more basic things like American History.

As an aside, I recently read few of us (despite America’s zeal for Christian values) actually ‘know’ the Bible.  Apparently less than 10% of Americans can name all Ten Commandments.  I can. Didn’t anyone else go to Sunday school?

Someone can recite all the books of the Old Testament.  We both seem to know a lot of history. I thought this was standard education, but we seem to be anomalies.

I regularly encounter examples of Americans cluelessness about history. Last week, while in a cafe, a young man asked me what was it I was reading. At first I feared he meant the book itself; perhaps he had never seen an actual book before. To my relief, his question was about the book’s topic “The Civil War of 1812” . I explained it was a commemoration history for the bicentennial of the War of 1812.  He asked who fought in it. I told him it was a complicated theatre of USA vs. England – with Native Americans and Canada thrown into the mix. The war was started to determine who would rule  North America.  I could see from his blank facial expression this was all going in one ear and out the other.   I in turn asked him if he knew how and when the National Anthem was composed; this fact is often the one item about the 1812 war that Americans know.  He did not.  I sensed I was not eliciting shame or stirring his interest, but boring him.

Knowing the state capitols – at least the state names – is a barometer I use when bear-baiting other’s knowledge base. When young people ask me “Do you have any questions, sir?” I reply “Yes, I do: what is the capitol of North Dakota?”  They usually don’t know.

I stopped asking when the last lad looked shocked and asked “Where’s that?”.

Mea maxima culpa. 

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September 2012

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