Friday, 10 January 2014

The Kids Are Alright

Are we becoming more historically illiterate? Do we know less history than we used to? Does this matter?

These are some of the questions that I was happy to talk about on an episode of TVO's The Agenda earlier this week. The other guests were Toronto Star columnist and J A Macdonald biographer Richard Gwyn, York U historian Sean Kheraj, National Post journalist Matt Gurney, and Ottawa U sociologist Diane Pacom.

I stood out somewhat on the panel by not quite accepting the premise of the show. It doesn't seem to me that people are, in fact, any less historically literate than in the past. At the very least, I'd like to see something more than anecdotes to prove that this is the case.

The one thing I wished I'd been able to say was this: the one historical constant in histories of youth and childhood in the modern period is that each generation thinks that its youth are going to hell. They are less respectful. They know less. They don't appreciate their elders. There are the dangers of mass culture - of radio, movies, television, video games, comic books, heck, if you go back far enough, even novels. (Wouldn't most parents today dream of a time when their kids read too many novels!)

So, in other words, we could have historicized the question we were asking. You know, 'plus ├ža change...' and all that.

But The Agenda really is a heck of a show. It was like being a student again, sitting in seminar. And Steve Paikin was a pretty good TA.

(if you're interested, you can watch the show above)


  1. I watched, and enjoyed, the show. I taught Matt in first year when he was intelligent, opinionated and a good writer. He still is. I enjoyed your comment that more Canadians should know about the idea of responsible government. It encompassed all of my concerns about a lack of knowledge of the specifics and the context for our political system. Good stuff. Paikin is very good and the show was a blast.

    Andrew Thomson

  2. Thanks for your comment Andrew. I organize a whole lecture in one of my classes on why Stephen Harper was wrong, and possibly knowingly lying to Canadians about parliamentary democracy. Then I set about explaining why.

  3. I just finished watching it last night, Chris, and just wanted to say great job! I agree with Andrew Thomson that 'responsible government' was a great answer. Thanks for posting this.