The old guy with a scythe steps aside for the new babe in a diaper, and our usual reflection for this time of year is one of unusual anticipation of what the babe and the new president will bring us. Hopes are particularly high this year, despite the hard and immutable fact that some of the mistakes brought to us by the old guy with the scythe are bound to be transferred to a new generation.
"Youth is wasted on the young," George Bernard Shaw famously observed, and an old fogie's knowledge gained through experience is usually wasted, too. An African proverb gets it just about right: "When an old man dies, a library burns." But education and experience is there for the new generation if it only looks, an intellectual and emotional foundation for collective experience. The victors get to write history, but it's up to the rest of us to be critical and creative in interpreting that history.
We're counting on the new president to save jobs, salvage homes, extend health care, win wars in two places, receive immigrants who seek a better life and repel those who want to do us harm. And that's just before lunch. We organize ideas through the political parties and can only hope that the leaders put in positions of power act on reflections forged by educated minds.
Many roads lead to Washington, but we can be sure of detours along the way -- and none of us can be sure of what lies at the end of the road we take. Robert Frost said it well in his poem "The Road Not Taken." Some will veer left, others right and still others the straight and narrow path in perilous times. But whatever road we choose to follow, we ought to be able to unite behind the importance of what our children learn. We want the next generation to be prepared with knowledge based on "the best that's been thought and said in the world," in Matthew Arnold's famous formulation. Sadly, such education is being lost.
Most college graduates today have studied only a smattering of great books, and those often taught with ideological bias. This failure filters down to the youngest among us, narrowing opportunities for an expansive education because their teachers are trained by academics that show disdain for our cultural past.