Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Losing Touch

A USA Today article laments the cultural amnesia which has settled over the last couple of generations of Americans. There is, it appears, a diminishing awareness of the history, literature, religion, etc. that have shaped our nation, and this causes historical, literary and Biblical allusions to pass right over the heads of many of us:

Twenty-five years after the federal report A Nation at Risk challenged U.S. public schools to raise the quality of education, the study finds high schoolers still lack important historical and cultural underpinnings of "a complete education." And, its authors fear, the nation's current focus on improving basic reading and math skills in elementary school might only make matters worse, giving short shrift to the humanities, even if children can read and do math.

"If you think it matters whether or not kids have common historical touchstones and whether, at some level, we feel like members of a common culture, then familiarity with this knowledge matters a lot," says American Enterprise Institute researcher Rick Hess, who wrote the study.

I recall once referring in a high school class to an event as reminding me of Moses parting the Red Sea and being greeted by a roomful of puzzled faces. When I asked why they were perplexed it turned out that only a handful of students knew what I was referring to and one of them only knew because he'd seen the movie Prince of Egypt.

Even when they're taught history and literature, of course, many students don't learn it, but even so, we do seem to be drinking from many more cultural wells than did our grandparents. Allusions which would have been widely understood a generation or two ago are met with blank looks today, but this isn't so much a failure of our schools as it is a consequence of cable tv and the internet which offer so much variety that we no longer have a shared cultural repertoire. It used to be that everyone pretty much watched the same television shows, saw the same movies, listened to the same music, and read mostly the same newspapers, magazines and books. That's no longer the case and one result is that our cultural heritage feels like it's slipping away from us.

People can argue to what extent this is true and whether it's good, bad or indifferent. For my part, I think it forebodes ill. A healthy society is one in which there is a high degree of cohesion, and cohesion depends upon a shared language, shared religion, shared values, shared literature, shared historical and cultural experience, etc. Modern culture exerts a centrifugal force on society, pulling us away from each other, by limiting the things we share in common, and that's not a good augur for the future. The less we share in common the more difficult it will be for us to live together as one people.


Bait and Switch

Like the spouse of a chronically unfaithful husband, Americans who trust the promises of our government and this administration to secure our borders have been betrayed yet again. The Washington Post reports that:

The Bush administration has scaled back plans to quickly build a "virtual fence" along the U.S.-Mexico border, delaying completion of the first phase of the project by at least three years and shifting away from a network of tower-mounted sensors and surveillance gear, federal officials said yesterday.

Technical problems discovered in a 28-mile pilot project south of Tucson prompted the change in plans, Department of Homeland Security officials and congressional auditors told a House subcommittee.

Though the department took over that initial stretch Friday from Boeing, authorities confirmed that Project 28, the initial deployment of the Secure Border Initiative network, did not work as planned or meet the needs of the U.S. Border Patrol.

The announcement marked a major setback for what President Bush in May 2006 called "the most technologically advanced border security initiative in American history." The virtual fence was to be a key component of his proposed overhaul of U.S. immigration policies, which died last year in the Senate.

Investigators for the Government Accountability Office had earlier warned that the effort was beset by both expected and unplanned difficulties. But yesterday, they disclosed new troubles that will require a redesign and said the first phase will not be completed until near the end of the next president's first term.

The whole thing seems like a shell game, a scheme to drag out construction of a fence until the American people finally just come to accept their responsibility to subsidize Mexican poverty. George Bush's failure to stanch illegal immigration will haunt this nation in numerous ways for generations. Despite the many good things he has accomplished as president, achievements we've discussed on Viewpoint on numerous occasions, his failure to deal with illegal immigration is seen by many Americans as stupid at best and treacherous at worst. And the depressing thing is that no matter who gets elected in November the situation will only deteriorate further.

HT: Michelle Malkin.


Obamian Logic

Two more key al Qaeda in Iraq figures were killed in Mosul yesterday which brings to 142 the number of leaders and operatives killed or captured in and around Mosul since an offensive was launched in January to wipe them out.

Bill Roggio has details on who the latest casualties were.

Here's a question for Senator Obama: If, as president, he will pull our troops out of Iraq as he promised but send them back in if al Qaeda shows up there, why pull them out while al Qaeda's still there? Am I just obtuse or is there something peculiar about Chauncy's logic?