From an early age, I was aware that there was a world before I was born. Most of my peers and I were familiar with many of the bits and pieces of information that comprised the customs, traditions and culture of the generations that came before us. We watched old movies on television and were familiar with the likes of the Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin, Jimmy Cagney, Peter Lorre and many other entertainment icons of the early to mid-20th century. We recognized and understood the significance of the Barbershop Quartet, ice cream socials and cakewalks. We were aware that many of our grandparents and their peers spent a least some of their college years saying things like 23-Skidoo, swallowing goldfish and dancing the Charleston. We could relate stories of the bleak years of the Great Depression that were passed along by our elders and when adults spoke of the “War”, we knew which war was being referenced.
However, it appears that the cultural landscape visible to the citizens of our latest generation is not nearly as wide, rich or robust. As an educator, I often have the opportunity to discover what our young people of today know of the past. With a very few exceptions, it appears that most have very little knowledge of the popular culture and customs of generations before their own. I have yet to come across one who could explain the significant of Morris the Cat, the Summer of Love or the Rat Pack. They are unable to identify “Eagle” as the name of the Apollo 11 lander, much less name all three of the astronauts who carried out that mission. I wonder how many of them recognize the terms “pet rock” or “energy crisis”. When it comes to music, most are aware, at least in some sense, of the Beatles and a few of the “big name” rock bands of the ’70s but they are virtually unaware of the Monkees phenomenon, the Moody Blues and Louis Armstrong. It is as if the world was created just twenty years ago, already filled with cell phones, video games and the Internet.
I believe that this phenomenon leaves our young people at quite a disadvantage. A working knowledge of the past is required to fully understand the world of the present and prepare for the world of the future. The elements of our society is build upon the foundation of past events. I struggle to understand why the transmission of cultural knowledge has slowed so drastically in recent years, but I would like to propose some possibilities. Keep in mind that these suggestions are not the result of scientific research, but of my own observations, experiences and conjecture.
Perhaps the age-old custom of passing along information from older to younger generations through stories and anecdotes has fallen out of favor. Has there been a general decrease of communication between parents and grandparents and their progeny? Is so, was this change initiated by the elder generations or by the younger? Do younger people find cultural history irrelevant to their world? If so, can this information be made more interesting to them? I don’t believe that the information is unavailable to them. We discovered the past without the benefit of having the Internet at our fingertips throughout our waking hours.
I am quite interested in learning about the observations and experiences of others in this regard. Whether of the younger or older generations, please let me know how you see the situation. Does it exist as I have suggested? If so, how can we revive the “forgotten past” and make it meaningful to our younger generation.