A few weeks ago, I was checking the homework my elder kid had to do for the mid term vacations. As usual, his French teacher had given him a book to read. For the first time, it was neither a too boring nor a too scholar one.
– You’re Lucky, Jules Verne is a great author and The Mysterious Island one of his best books.
– Jules Verne? Who’s he?
I was shocked. At 10, I had read most of, if not all his books. As a kid, Jules Verne was the gate that opened the wonderful world of science fiction, and his name was part of every French kid’s culture.
A few days later, I remembered something similar happening when I was around his age.
I was spending a few days at my grand parent’s place. They had a similar shock when they heard I had neither read Le Tour de la France par deux enfants nor learnt the 101 French departments name by their number.
Le Tour de la France par deux enfants (1877) is a French novel/geography/travel/school book. [ … ] The book was widely used in the schools of the Third Republic, where it was influential for generations of children in creating a sense of a unified nation of France. Its success was such that it reached a circulation of 6 million copies in 1900, by 1914 it sold 7 million copies, it was still used in schools until the 1950s and still in print to this day. It was sometimes known as “the little red book of the Republic.”
The world my parents used to know as kids and the world I grew in are much more similar than the world I roamed as a teenager and the one my kids were born in. 25 years separate my parents childhood from mine, only 8 my teenageheood and my first kid’s birth in 2003, but the Fred from 1995 would hardly recognize the world he used to know.
I was born in 1978, my mom in 1953. Indeed the world has changed between these dates. The French colonies were no more, man had landed on the moon and there is a global economic crisis. But we both had cars, telephones, TVs and a planet divided into capitalism and communism.
When I was a teenager, Internet at home was only at its very beginning, personal computing was a pain in the ass and the World was still big. My kids have always known fast broadband, mobile phones, tablets and a world reduced to the speed of the slowest Internet connection.
As I’m trying to read the books I used to read through their eyes, I realize all the culture we used to know is mostly irrelevant because completely alien to them. Back in 1995, Zola’s Germinal was describing a world much more understandable to us than the early post World War II one was to them.
So before judging today’s youth lack of culture, let’s ask ourselves if what we call culture still fits the world we’ve built them.