I’m always grumbling about things in the Wall Street Journal, usually (to be fair) items on the op-ed page. This time, it’s a letter in Saturday’s issue. And yes, I do feel like I belong in this XKCD cartoon.
The letter (in response to something about higher education that I don’t remember) recounts the recent interaction of a college junior majoring in English with the old fart who wrote the letter. He said he was an English major 50 years ago, and his favorite author was Faulkner. “What did he write?” asked the college junior. The old fart was shocked, and did not ask who her favorite author might be.
The encounter was related, apparently, as an illustration of the Dire State of
Kids These Days Higher Education.
Dude. She’s a college junior. She’s twenty, or thereabouts. How much of the whole of English and American literature had you read at 20?* Maybe she’s heard of Faulkner but isn’t quite sure she’s not mixing him up with someone else and would rather ask than start talking about the possible mix-up. Some 20-year-olds don’t like embarrassing themselves by getting something wrong. Maybe she’s been studying British literature so far, and will get to American authors next year. Maybe if you actually talked to her about her favorites, and your favorites, you might discover a new-to-you author you might enjoy reading, and maybe you could even tell her what you like about Faulkner and get her interested enough to either take a class or read him on her own. But no, you have to get all huffy and write to the WSJ instead of thinking about the value of reading different things, and, you know, using your education to expand your mind and the minds of others.
*And if you try telling me you knew it all at 20, I am getting in my time machine and going back to quiz you about Piers Plowman.