Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Youth Culture - Megan McArdle - National - The Atlantic

Megan McArdle is a little bit surprised that "a significant number of teens didn't know who Osama Bin Laden was until we killed him." Megan attributes this to "youth culture," making the observation that
Teenagers live in their own little world, only tangentially connected to the one the rest of us occupy. Today's high-school freshmen weren't even in Kindergarten when 9/11 happened. Why would they remember?
I'm not even a little bit surprised. And I don't think it's anything to do with "youth culture," or "teenagers liv[ing] in their own little world." It is, as I've written before, historical blindness. Kids learn what they're taught, and no one's taught them about this, because for adults, it's still a fresh memory. For today's teenagers, they're obviously not being taught about 9/11 in history class, because it's not integrated into the curricula yet (or at least, if it is, it's certainly not in enough for everyone to have been taught it.) For the adults, it is a secret de Polinichelle, which Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot1 described as "a secret that everyone can know. For this reason the people who do not know it never hear about it - for if everybody thinks you know a thing, no one tells you."

One of my kids recently asked me, "what really happened on September 11?" They know the date, they've grown up with people talking about it, they know that something awful happened, but they don't really know any of the details. (And we were in the US Capitol building when the plane hit the Pentagon, and a couple of my kids got knocked down in the panicked rush to the exits when they evacuated the Capitol. We saw the smoke from the Pentagon. We saw the smoke in New York when we drove home later that week.) We don't talk about the details, all that much, because we all remember it. Except those that are too young. And we haven't taught it as history, because, well, it's still the present, the world in which we live, for those of us old enough to remember it.

Not only that, bin Laden's name isn't even a first-order part of the story. You can talk about Pearl Harbor without mentioning Hirohito; you can tell the story of 9/11 very effectively without ever mentioning Osama bin Laden. "Terrorists hijacked planes, flew them into the tallest buildings in New York, and the Pentagon, and the buildings in New York collapsed. Thousands of people were killed and everyone watched it happen." You've actually got to go into some detail to get to bin Laden.

So frankly, I'd be more surprised than not if a majority of the 13-18 cohort knew who he was...

1 - Mrs. McGinty's Dead

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