okay, help me out bloggy buddies…
i am currently reading “december, 1941” by craig shirley (great book, by the way) which is basically a journal of daily life in america in…wait for it…december, 1941. i have been around a long time (born in 1956), but i am still stunned by how different the world was then.
and i’m not just talking about minimum wage (30 cents an hour), music (big band), and the population (130 million). i am dismayed by the cultural erosion in america.
my concern is not about spirituality (although there are spiritual implications), but civility.
shirley writes about the sudden disruption of normalcy and the agonizing devastation of families. in he book, he transcribes several letters from young service men and women to their parents. i was taken aback by how articulate they were, and how refined their language. shirley writes:
Hundreds of thousands of mailboxes were filled each day with letters to and from G.I.’s, and within a matter of months millions of mailboxes would be filled with long missives from sons and daughters in uniform in the far-flung regions of the globe. Uniformly, the letters were tender funny, inquisitive, brave, confident, patriotic, self-deprecating, and well-written.
Public education in America in 1941 was the best in the world, and dedicated teachers led by rote, by repetition, and by discipline mixed with a heathy dose of tenderness and the knowledge that the hand that rocked the cradle truly ruled the world. A high-school diploma was a hard-earned document and those young Americans who received a diploma had language skills, writing skills, citizenship skills, geology, biology, physics, Latin, Greek, and an expansive list of books read. According to 1940 census only 24.5 percent of kids received a high-school diploma in 1941, and less than 5 percent completed four years of college. All in all, well-educated, even erudite and mannerly, young men and women came out of high school ready to go out into the real world and contribute to society.
i had a similar epiphany when i read “alexander hamilton.” author ron chernow wrote:
While applying to Princeton Hamilton may have decided to “correct” his real age and shed a couple of years. If he was born in 1755, he would have been applying to college at eighteen, when fourteen or fifteen was often the standard age for entrance–a highly uncomfortable state of affairs for a wunderkind. (Gouvernor Morris had entered King’s College at age twelve.) Prodigies aren’t supposed to be overaged freshmen.
hamilton finished his undergraduate degree in just one year. hamilton then entered the military where he held a very powerful position as aide-de-camp to general george washington. after the war, hamilton studied law intensively for three months and passed the new york state bar in 1783. to say that hamilton was prolific would ridiculous understatement. he wrote the federalist papers almost single-handedly. a self-taught economist, hamilton served as america’s first secretary of treasury, founded the u.s. mint, and created the banking system that we use to this day.
so here (finally) is my quandary…
how is it that seventy-eight percent of american students graduate from high school, but “Nearly half of America’s adults are functionally illiterate” (national adult literary survey of 1993)?
why were teenagers in 1941 able to letters that were “tender funny, inquisitive, brave, confident, patriotic, self-deprecating, and well-written” while teenagers in 2012 can’t spell?
when our founding fathers finished undergraduate degrees in a few months while supporting their families, why does it take our children five years to complete their degrees while be totally supported by their families?
what happened to our society and what does the future hold?
and does the church have a role to play?