Pop Quiz: Students these days…
We’ve all heard it. Most of us have said it. Barely a day goes by when I don’t at least think it: that timeless complaint of pedagogues everywhere, “Students these days just aren’t as prepared/hard-working/bright/polite/serious/talented/literate as they used to be.”
It’s usually followed by a curmudgeonly, “In my day, things were different. Students were much more X, and teachers made sure of it!”
But were they, really? This seems to me like a special pedagogical variant on the good old Golden Age Fallacy, and it’s one that seems to have been around a long time. A perennial favourite quote to demonstrate the fallacy is this one commonly misattributed to Socrates or Hesiod, or even to an inscription in an Egyptian tomb or on a Cuneiform tablet:
“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”
As it turns out, this particular chestnut is only a century old, a paraphrase of a passage from the 1907 Cambridge dissertation of Kenneth John Freeman, which subsequently took on a life of its own in various newspapers and other outlets over the course of the 20th century. Despite this common misattribution, however, the quote does describe a real phenomenon in ancient literature (which is what Freeman happened to be summarising in the passage). A good, if somewhat more salacious example can be seen in the following bit of Aristophanes’ Clouds, wherein a speaker offers a bit of a parody of the phenomenon:
The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it to appear Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 3pm ET (or later T_T).
Featured image: Detail of Euclid or Archimedes instructing the youths, from Rafael’s fresco “The School of Athens” (1509). Vatican City: Apostolic Palace, Stanza della Segnatura.