Not Listening, Not Being Taught… or Not Caring?

The 1960s, and especially 1968, were a tumultuous time in U.S. culture and history. In the middle of the Vietnam War, there were continual protests and flag burning and draft card burnings across the country. Students attacked nearly 200 ROTC buildings on college campuses, and there were violent protests against the war at more than 250 colleges. There were protests everywhere, especially in Washington, D.C. At one protest at Kent State, actually in 1970, National Guardsmen shot student protesters, killing four and wounding nine others. Between 30,000 and 40,000 young men fled to Canada, rather than be drafted into the army and fight in Vietnam.

There were more political killings and attempts than at any other time in U.S. history. President Kennedy was killed; Texas Governor John Connally was wounded in the same attack; Senator Robert Kennedy was killed while running for the Presidency. George Lincoln Rockwell, head of the American Nazi Party, was assassinated. Numerous black leaders were killed: Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and James Chaney are the most notable, but the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, lists 41 civil rights workers who were killed because of their efforts to obtain civil rights.

After Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968, riots erupted across the nation in more than 100 cities, including Washington, D.C., Chicago, Baltimore, Kansas City, Detroit, Louisville, New York, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati. More than 40 people died, and over 1500 were injured, with more than 15,000 people being arrested.

The beating of an African American motorist by LAPD officers in August 1965 set off riots in the Watts area of LA that lasted six days, with 34 deaths, over a thousand serious injuries, more than 3,400 arrests, and property damage in excess of $40 million [roughly $300 million in today’s dollars].

When my wife the professor brings this up to her students, most of them look blank. When she pointed out to her female students out that little more than a century ago women were essentially property and couldn’t vote in most of the U.S. until 1920, or that women couldn’t get credit cards without the approval of husband or father until the late 1950s, they didn’t believe her initially. Then they just shrugged.

The other day, I got an email from a young woman, an educated young woman in her late twenties, who asked me why I’d said the 1960s were as more turbulent time than the present. So I started asking other educators I know about this, wondering if what we’d seen was just an outlying oddity. It might still be, but the half-dozen other educators I talked to had similar stories.

From what I’ve seen, it’s almost as if the younger generation doesn’t know recent U.S. history, and, to me, at least, this seems to be a recent phenomenon. I was taught about World War I, the Great Depression, and other historic events that occurred in the generation before I was born. What bothers me about this is that there seems to be an assumption on the part of the younger generation that progress is a given. A study of history shows it’s not, but those who don’t know history won’t see what can and has happened. Rome did fall. So did the Eastern Roman Empire, and the Ottoman Empire, not to mention the British Empire (although it didn’t fall so much as was relinquished because of economic and political pressures), and a lot of others. Germany went from being a comparatively open and free nation into Nazism. For centuries, Europe was racked by wars and uncounted deaths because religion dominated politics.

In some ways, there’s nothing new under the sun, that is, if you know what came before. If not, you’ll get what you deserve. The problem is that so will those of us who saw what could happen and were ignored because the majority believed progress would continue without work and without an understanding of the past.

13 thoughts on “Not Listening, Not Being Taught… or Not Caring?”

  1. Tom says:

    … What bothers me about this is that there seems to be an assumption on the part of the younger generation that progress is a given. …

    If progress is a given then behaving in an advanced mode should be automatic. That is for me the sad aspect of humanity; the lack of advancement in our behavior toward each other – personally and internationally.

    Seeing the so called populism ( which in my opinion is overt national socialism) rise in Europe, of all places, indicates that the lack of ability to learn from past mistakes is universal.

    “Unless it happens to me it really does not mean anything”. Is this the basic weakness of animals and is this why various species become extinct? Or do we suddenly develop an irresistible desire to work and build on what came before rather than destroy it?

    I think that there is a possibility that a large enough mass of people will do the latter, but I am concerned about the quality of the timing given the example of common knowledge and behavior which you have described.

    1. Tim says:

      Populism is an interesting term here in the UK. After the BreXit referendum and the Greek and US elections, the press used two terms depending on their political agenda:

      The Popular vote was a Good Thing
      The Populist vote was anything but

      Both were used to describe the same result: a majority decision delivered by a democratic process.

      Discuss 🙂

      1. Tom says:

        I agree that the EU governments I have labeled National Socialist were elected by democratic processes; as was our President who at one instant thought he was a nationalist. My opinion, colored by my bias, is based on what I have seen reported as their actions after the elections. My primary concern is their efforts at diminishing their national legal systems (although I do not think the Italians have done so). And their clamour for protecting their culture is based, not only a denigration of immigrants, but also aimed at long term smaller sections of their own populations (in Hungary and the Czech Republic it is overtly anti-Romany).

        I was thinking more of Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary. Lesser popular votes were handed to the same sort of political parties in Estonia and Austria. But considering how our government is being dismantled my term of national socialism may soon be applicable here as well.

        A political contestant friend of mine keeps on reminding me that if the politicians do not listen then the people have no other alternative than revolution. Maybe that is what populism in our world represents?

        1. Tim says:

          Your last paragraph is a sore point for some in the UK as the referendum result to leave the EU is being delayed since the majority of MPs lie in the other camp and so vote accordingly.

          1. Tom says:

            You remind me of my time in Scotland during the politicking prior to the referendum. I still wonder at how similar the TV news broadcasts were to the stuff of the US media preceding the Presidential election of Trump. As I understand it the security agencies in both US and UK have concluded that Russia abetted the trolling etc. for the benefit of Trump and Brexit. If this is so then perhaps the majority of MPs are trying to save the UK from damage to both the UK and the EU which would benefit Russia.

            We know from Greece and Rome that the masses cannot be trusted (yes the US is an exception to the rule … perhaps). That is why consensus and debate that matters to a nation is restricted to the elected officials. The responsibility of the citizens is to elect the people who will do this for the best interests of the nation. How do we teach our selves the need to do the work neede before voting in an election or referendum?

            Our present penchant for freedom is a pipedream at best and a fly in the ointment of governing a nation at the least. Looking back, perhaps both our electoral results could have been avoided; but we have to deal with what we have.

            So is there a solution for the UK other than another referendum? How does the government tell the people “the masses messed up so do it again” (Cameron is available as scapegoat), even if that is possible?

    2. R. Hamilton says:

      Neither populism (which is a very vague term!) nor nationalism is “national socialism” (aka Nazi-ism). The latter also included systematic mass murder (bit of a difference between a trickle of questionable police shootings, perhaps influenced by individual or local bigotry but at present certainly not by any _national_ policy, vs 6 million+ in death camps), mass oppression (of a number of groups, not to mention of most opposition), totalitarianism, etc.

      Nationalism _can_ be simply a desire to retain territory, property, culture, and prosperity. SOME immigration can contribute to all of those, but some greater level can also threaten all those – even if 99% of the immigrants simply want to survive and survive better than they would have where they came from. Most people that don’t plan on becoming suicide bombers want that, and want further improvement for their and their children’s future. Those already here certainly don’t want to reduce their own prospects. Something between zero and unlimited immigration is probably the best choice; reasonable people need not entirely agree as to levels and standards.

      There is room for compassion…but there is also room for expecting most people, even in bad situations, to first and foremost take responsibility for their own problems and their own locale, rather than expecting others to rescue them.

      1. Tom says:

        Nationalism consisting of pride in and effort for one’s nation and its primary culture is not a problem. Nationalism which precludes segments of ones nation from pursuing their culture where it does not clash with the culture of the majority is a different concern. Nationalism which produces fear of living to any subgroup of a nation is a completely different matter. Hence, my addition of the word socialism to describe the type of nationalism which concerns me.

        Pinochet’s regime in Chile is a recent example of national socialism which did not have an associated genocide as there was with Hitlers version. The lawlessness and secret police killings were still a part of this sort of dictatorship associated with overt national socialism. I am not sure whether Duerte’s Philippines’ is an example of national socialism or not. Immigration has not usually been a factor in national socialism – emigration yes. Immigration is being used by our present nationalists as a convenient excuse for failure to govern effectively under a different strained international condition.

        I would love it if people would take responsibility for their actions and not blame others for their own failures ( I know that is un-American but that is our need). Our muse reminds us of the need to balance the costs and benefits of whatever we do because we will be responsible for the result even when other people are involved in the journey toward the desired result. It use to be that parents taught their children this inevitability of action and result in the protected environment of the family. With our dispersed and only electronically connected family how is this supposed to happen? Via the school of hard knocks, which will result in shorter lifespans, or, some other way. Expecting the schools to perform this function seems impossible. Maybe in nations run by national socialists, communists, or other dictatorships where the children learn their life rules in regimented school programs.

  2. Lourain says:

    “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana
    I think that this is a failing and an advantage of young people. The old and cynical quit trying to change things for the better because they remember the failures. Human nature doesn’t change. The stupid and self-centered are always with us.
    Young people don’t have that experience…don’t remember pain of failure, so they work for change. And because they work for change, things do improve.

    1. Tom says:

      From my own experience the fairue of old people is tied to their lack of energy. Agreed that the energy can be renewed by a goal with a plan that combines as a ‘holy grail”.

      I wish I could get past my negativism to see the improvement achieved by the youth. I see nothing but impediment to such effort by the young. I do note that the average age of the politicians with doable plans is 20 years younger than the politicians I grew up with.

      The note on human nature is the cause of most of my cynicism.

  3. Chris says:

    When I was going through high school (Fall ’89 – Spring ’93), the Korean and Vietnam wars were barely mentioned in our history classes. My Air Force JROTC class covered them a bit more, but mainly as it related to air power and strategy, not policy or politics. The political upheaval here in the US was mentioned, but it only covered the dramatic acts, with no depth about deep seated motivations. Those are all things I learned more about from reading (encyclopedias and some fiction set in those periods), or when I got to college.

    If current education is like it was then, most students will learn more about ancient Mesopotamia than the slow rise of Nazism from the rubble of WWI.

    1. Shannon says:

      I’m with you, Chris. I don’t recall studying any history past WWII, in high school or college, and I’m younger than you. I do think lack of living memory influences people’s stances on many things. Vaccines come to mind as do military operations.

    2. Howard says:

      Wait, what is this “Vietnam” and “Korea”? 🙂 My “one of the better schools in PA” circa Fall ’83 to Spring ’87 made no mention of anything past ’45. We covered dropping the atom bomb, but never talked about who won WWII. I don’t doubt that Egypt, Greece, Rome, etc. should be taught (if nothing else, they give context to modern history). Having minimal education about 20th century history isn’t helpful given things like, oh, Roe vs. Wade, Space Race, Korea, Vietnam, Civil Rights Movement, etc. all are relevant today – by reference, context for current events, or to explain government policies.

      College didn’t help as my Western Civ class was the ancient stuff all over again. What little I know is from newspapers, the occasional book, and playing WWII wargames. Those sources mean I know more than many of my peers, but still have glaring holes.

      And again- good high school education and a BS from a good college. I fear what the folks that had bad high schools, did poorly, etc. know.

  4. JerryChops says:

    Having finished high school in 2014 I must say that I have found the education system in America to be a collosal failure. Between the years of 7th grade and 11th grade I had 3 classes spend 2 semesters apiece on WWII Nazi Germany. The rest of my history courses focused on the world pre-1980.

    I have very little knowledge of anything that happened between 1980 and 2015. Prior to 2015 I didn’t pay attention to politics or the world at large but age seems to have changed me.

    What can be done about our current political situation? I am uncertain how to fix this. Few people I speak with consider our current president a smart man and several support him and spew a tirade of baseless facts when I speak against.

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