Gone and forgotten

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?

6 responses to “Gone and forgotten

  1. I’m odd for my generation in that I have never properly read the Bible due to being raised in a completely non-religious family so no religious training at all or any visits to places of worship. Worried that it was a huge lapse, I rectified it by reading it as an adult. I must say that the stories in both Testaments are so about that I knew them even before reading them.

    Because of His Dark Materials and Philip Pullman and others’ comments about it I wish I’d had the experience of having a great teacher lead me in a reading of Milton.

  2. It’s interesting to hear that you already knew the Bible. I believe this is often the case, except that sometimes you then come across something that someone has missed completely.

    This is slightly different, but I was surprised to find my children couldn’t sing the national anthem. How can you manage to avoid something like that completely? They didn’t know the tune.

  3. Interesting! I once went to a quiz where there was a round of, ‘Is it the Bible or Shakespeare?’ – and faced with a list of famous quotations and phrases, it was surprising how many of them we couldn’t pin down. Especially since this was held in a church and many of us had (in theory) been reading the Bible since childhood.

    I suspect my sons, who abandoned Sunday School the minute they discovered football, would have had even less of a clue, and probably wouldn’t have recognised a lot of the quotations.

    But then, what do I know? I’m the woman who sat watching a girl singing on Jools Holland’s New Year bash and said, ‘Who’s that?’
    ‘Duffy,’ chorused the whole room, in unison.

  4. And then, occasionally, I watch University Challenge. And I think ‘she’s 23? How does she know all this stuff??!’

  5. Who’s Duffy?

    Elen – My son is very good at bluffing. His teacher in 6th form was devastated to think he himself hadn’t read Paradise Lost, when Son had. Hah!!! Just sound convincing…

  6. Food for thought here (for the teacher as well as for the mother).
    I am married to the local vicar so we know the Bible fairly well – we believe – but I have not read as many classics as I should like to. Some Shakespeare and Tennyson, but certainly not much Milton.

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