Saturday, September 10, 2011

The colonials were better readers than modern Americans

That's the topic of this post over at Freakonomics: Were Colonial Americans More Literate than Americans Today? The answer is yes, perhaps not quantatively, but qualitatively. The people who could read were far better readers than we are, as the post notes. I attribute this to the more rigorous standards of basic education (the study of Latin and Greek tend to enable people to follow complex synatax more effectively in English, plus the study of those languages boosts English vocabulary when it comes to complex words which are often derrived from Latin and Greek roots). The near uniform exposure of colonials to that jewel of the English language, the King James translation of the Bible, didn't hurt either. 


Phil Johnson said...

Ah, but, we're far ahead of them at watching television than folks were back in the eighteenth century. I have never heard of even one person who watched television or listened to talk radio back then.

jimmiraybob said...

And don't forget the other jewels of the East written by William Shakespeare, a wordsmith in his own right.

Even Jefferson could overcome his objections to the frivolity of fiction when it came to WS.

Per PJ, I have no idea how colonial America limped through history without a Snooky or The Situation.

Jason Pappas said...

When I first started reading the Founding literature I was stunned at what they assume of the readers. When I read Jefferson's letter recommending books to prepare for college, it was clear that even today's college graduates would be unprepared to enter their institutions of higher learning.

Bernard Bailen, on the other hand, seems to think it was mere window dressing. Of course they weren't rigorous as a specialist might be today. Still, the Founding Fathers outshine today's graduates of our colleges. I'd take a grounded 18th century man of letters over a sophisticated overly-specialzed contemporary scholar that insulated from the real world.

One more thing! The average person respect education and aspired to knowledge even if they had little means for full time study. It wasn't "authentic" to act stupid and ignorant.

Anonymous said...

A Wry Memorial

The Swarthy Ones took over;
And made weapons of four planes.
The riders had no cover;
They suffered dreadful pains

That ended once their deathtraps
Burst into roaring fires
Turning instantly to mere scraps––
Cinders––made of former flyers.

The burning towers crumpled,
And fell into the street.
New York was more than rumpled;
Briefly, it knew defeat.

The nation drew together;
We felt collective grief.
Anger broke its tether;
To express it gave relief.

But only ten years hence
We're at each other's throats;
We've built ourselves a fence
Over which the Devil gloats.

We've failed to give the orders
To build a proper wall
Sealing off our borders
To the fiends who’d have us fall.

Instead, we've made division––
Went to war against ourselves––
And are mired in derision
Sparked by partisan elves,

Who forget this blessed land
In pursuit of powers lost
In close elections manned
By fraud. So, tempest-tossed

The country is in turmoil.
The enemy's our own.
He says it's all for Big Oil,
And he'll soon usurp the Throne.

The heap of twisted rubble
Raising toxic fumes for weeks
No longer gives us trouble
Because of media leaks

Designed to throw us off the scent
Of whom we need to blame
And encourage ruinous dissent
That hopes to break the frame

That holds us all together
And preserves our liberty,
So many now doubt whether
We really should be free.

And each rabble rousing louse
Should 'neath these words be pinned:
"He who troubleth his own house
Shall inherit–––the wind.

~ FreeThinke - 9/11/07

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Wow, Anon! Nice poem!

Mark D. said...

I remember reading an essay by Forest MacDonald where he wrote about how American and French officers in the field together during the Revolution communicated. Most of the Americans didn't know French, and few of the French officers knew English. So, how did they talk to each other? Simple. They spoke Latin to each other. Americans who had gone through grammar school knew it well enough to speak a basic version of it. As did their French counterparts.

This is just one small example of how much better, in a crucial way, colonial education was compared to our own educational system.

Phil Johnson said...

How could speaking Latin serve the interests of our economically based society?