My quarrel is not by any means with the millennials. Rather, it is with the educational system that has served the vast majority of them so badly, and that by all accounts is serving today’s students even more poorly. It has sent these young people out into the world without cultural or historical anchors of any kind. It has taught them little or no history, which has left them without any sort of perspective on our own age’s amazing and horrific events. It has given them little if any grounding in literature, which has left them all but totally bereft of any understanding of irony or shades of meaning, and lacking in tools to appreciate the world view and feelings of people different from them.
Worst of all, it has done nothing to contradict their all but universal belief that any worthwhile knowledge can be had in an instant, either through Google or on their phones. This has proven a severe barrier, not just to their intellectual progress, but to their personal lives more generally; it has led them to believe that all problems, personal as well as intellectual, have some kind of instant technological or chemical or medical solution. Reading serious fiction, such as that of Tolstoy, George Eliot, or Gunter Grass, was traditionally an important way for young people to learn that many problems take time–often a long time–to be resolved. But who among them reads such fiction any more? An attempt to impose medical solutions on problems which would arguably benefit from years of patient counselling and advice is just one of the dire consequences of this failing of the educational system. Seeing that other young people through the centuries have faced problems just like theirs, and prevailed, would be of immense benefit to today’s young people. But nothing on offer in today’s educational system provides young people with that kind of broad, deep understanding. We are all the poorer as a result.