Because of a post on FB yesterday (not mine) I remembered that almost forty years ago, when I was an exchange student in Ohio, the history books said something like “the American dream is dead, if in fact it even ever existed.” Not those words, but that was the general thought.
Even back then this annoyed me no end. I saw things like my thoroughly middle class host family going out and buying a TV for the kitchen, so mom could watch TV while cooking. They did this on the spur of the moment, one day. In Portugal at the time (now I swear mom has a TV in every room, and being the woman who listens to audio books while doing household chores, I’m out of stones to throw) such a purchase would take weeks if not months of planning and preparing.
But meanwhile people were moaning and bitching the American dream was dead, and if you weren’t born elite, you’d never become elite.
It’s all in how you talk about it. All in what you consider elite and the American dream and a good life, I guess. And yes, the time I was in the US as an exchange student was… depressing. We had Carter and Malaise. There was a feeling of the closing of opportunity mostly because the “environmentalists”had convinced us all that we were about to run out of oil. Or at least they’d convinced those of us who were young enough.
Then there was Reagan.
In the eighties we knew America was becoming haves and have nots, the early version of the one percenters, and media preached how you know, a few would be riding private jets while the rest of us watched from our thatched cottages, if we were so lucky,or our mud holes, otherwise.
Science fiction magazines were filled with dystopian stories about how the decline of America had started under Reagan and now it was all feudal techno overlords and the struggling, starving peasants.
This continued into the Clinton years. Sometimes I wonder if it’s still the mental picture of our “elites” who are struggling so hard to stay on top, because you know…
But anyway, my point here was that we’ve been packed full of idiocy in American schools, probably forever. Mostly because academics like theories, and therefore tend to jump on the theory bandwagon.
And yet America continues to succeed. And the scales continue falling from people’s eyes.
Years ago my son’s then 11th grade class attacked my blog at the command of the English teacher who took offense at my not “respecting” her by making fun of an assignment that confused culture and race.
What was notable about that was how incoherent and agrammatical these people were (who were getting As, mind you. Son was getting Bs because he used PRONOUNS. The idiot teacher apparently didn’t know the difference between that and adverbs. I finally got the attack to stop by telling her that if one more of the idiots came to my blog I was going to post my son’s “corrected” assignments, after scanning them in. It stopped, cold.)
People from abroad were horrified and said “but how can America succeed if this is how they educate their children” (in an elite program, mind.)
My reaction was “It don’t make no nevermind. They’ll learn.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald was always wrong when he said “there are no second acts in American life.” (He meant there was no time for appreciating the fruits of your labor before the inevitable decline of old age. And no, I also don’t know what he was drinking. I’d guess turpentine, but I’m mean.) He is particularly wrong today.
We are such a wealthy country we can afford to fill our kids heads full of shiite and the economy and society don’t collapse. They don’t collapse because there are second and third, and sometimes fourth acts in American life. We live longer and more healthy than (the mostly socialized medicine) rest of the world. At sixty or so, when our grandparents wound down to elderly we’re often starting our second (or third) career.
But more importantly we can learn, and never more than now when online learning for whatever fascinates you is available.
I used to be amazed that every American had a hobby, but even more amazed with people well past thirty (and fifty, and sixty) going out and taking classes and trying to learn things.
By human standards, we’re more neurotic than shaved monkeys, that’s true. Compared to the rest of humanity, we seem to value not at all sitting back and chewing our gums by the fireside while pondering where we’ve been and what we’ve done. We value looking forward and doing and creating more.
Well, a portion of us do. The rest like talking about how they’ve been hard done by and sitting back and enjoying being victims.
But they’re not a majority. And in the end they’re not important.
What gives America its tempo, its abilities, is the going forward and doing other things.
Yeah, my generation (all over the world, really) was spectacularly maleducated, but not as much as our children. But we got better. And they will too. Unless we coddle them and are afraid to tell them the hard truths.
Don’t do that. Growing up hurts. But it leads to spectacular third acts.
And keeps America playing at the center of the world, as the engine of civilization.
Let’s get on that.