It seems to be an accepted fact that for each generation the behaviour of the young gets worse. We were all better than our children. People have been saying this for generations.
So when Andrew Motion complained of the literary equivalent in the Guardian this week, I wondered if it’s any different, really. We can’t all know exactly what the generation before us thought of as the norm. Things change, and the young know many things the older ones don’t.
Andrew thinks children need to read the Bible more. I don’t think he’s wrong, and his reasoning is sound. But it’s not the children’s fault they aren’t given the same Bible background that we had. And I suspect we don’t have what people had 50 years before us. We’ve survived.
They need the Bible to understand Tennyson and Milton and TS Eliot. Fine, but will they read much Milton? I’m sure he’s slipping, too.
The worst thing about my own dear Swedish teacher in the 6th form was that she was almost two generations older than me. She couldn’t understand why her favourite student was quite so dense. Neither did I. Then. Afterwards I worked out that she taught in a way that expected me (us) to have a background we didn’t have. Couldn’t have. If she’d known, she would most likely have been able and willing to bring us up to speed.
I don’t know my Bible all that well, and Greek mythology is Greek to me, most of the time. I couldn’t analyse poetry to save my life. Another teacher suggested a Finnish poet as a good starting point, but that just made things worse. She was a generation in-between, so her suggestion was probably geared to her own knowledge, not mine.
I think children should learn the Bible, if it’s at all possible. But these are the children we sometimes worry about reading at all. Or attending school.
So what have you forgotten, or never learnt? And is it a serious handicap, or does it feel normal?
My children don’t know what I know. I don’t know what they know. What will be their children’s shortcomings?