Are we breeding a generation of children who are wilfully thick? I suppose that every generation thinks the the one that follows it is made up of ignoramuses and that we are no different; but really, that said, I do despair. I read voraciously as a child. Once I’d graduated from Enid Blyton I moved on to Just William, Agatha Christie and my father’s thrillers (a favourite was Alistair McLean’s Guns of Navarone, which I mentally pronounced to rhyme with phone). My own daughter looks at me with withering contempt when I suggest any of the classics to her. Laura Ingles Wilder, Edith Nesbitt, Kenneth Graham and even good old Enid are treated with massive eye rolls and dismissed as ‘so old fashioned, I don’t get them’. I tell her that, despite appearances, I was not born in the 19th century and that these books were ‘old fashioned’ when I read them but that they gave me tremendous pleasure.
I am by nature bossy and know-allish in that autodidactic way that one becomes when they read a lot (scrappy bits of shallow pub-quiz knowledge); every time I try to explain a concept, word or historical event that comes up (usually on the telly) she sighs, does the talk to the hand thing and says ‘B-O-R-I-N-G I don’t care, I don’t want to know’ or ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’ distractedly as she continues to tap away at her bloody smartphone. My friend, who has the patience of Job and nerves of steel offered to help her daughter with her prep (‘OMG will you stop usuing that word Mum, it’s HOMEWORK’). The subject was an essay on the Middle Ages, so my friend asked, in all innocence, what date were the middle ages, which was the cue for ‘we don’t need to know that!’
We have become so obsessed with preserving and pumping up our children’s self esteem that they no longer experience failure or disappointment at all and are due for a horrible hard landing when they grow up. It seems to me that the rule is that you just offer praise non-stop and never criticise, even when the child is being utterly bone-headed or just plain wrong. At my daughter’s school sports-day everyone’s a winner, they all get medals and prizes, even when coming Paddy last in every single race. At a recent one act play festival every school taking part won prizes, got certificates and special mentions. There is now talk of phasing out exams, and rote learning is now seen as some sort of child abuse. I worry that these super confident children are starting wear their ignorance as a sort of badge of honour; they are defiantly dumb. Adolescent girls today aspire to looking like page bimbos and their older counterparts seem to think feminism is a dirty word.
I am not for one minute suggesting that today’s children are inherently stupid; on the contrary, many are super worldly, articulate and smart, it is just that great swathes of knowledge seem to go completely over their heads. They are welded to smart phones and face time and instant gratification. At the risk of sounding like Mrs Colonel Blimp I feel that they are missing out on the wonderful solitary pleasures of reading and accumulating knowledge. The point about reading, and reading widely is that it acts as a huge safety net. You learn how to spoof, and acquire a dilettantish knowledge concentrate of facts and stories that will carry you through life and exams. Even reading rubbishy books is better than reading no books at all. An early fascination with Dan Brown might lead to interest and further research into Da Vinci, Dante and art history.
Note: Obviously the above does not apply to those of you whose children are at this very moment busy boning up on their Descartes and advanced Mandarin.