Think before you post


This image has popped up at least four or five times in my Facebook feed in the last couple of days, and instead of starting the exact same fight in several different places I’m just gonna go ahead and start it here.  I don’t know who the hell Joseph Sobran is, and I’m not about to Google him, but I’m pretty sure he’s either a moron or a racist.   Because let’s spend just a few seconds thinking about what might have changed in American history and American culture since nineteen fucking fourteen.  

Actually, no, let’s not even start with that; let’s start with the fact that it ain’t exactly hard to find high school Latin classes nowadays.  Greek might be a trifle more difficult but it’s not like it doesn’t exist.  And who was taking Greek and Latin a hundred years ago in what Sobran is stupidly referring to as “high school”?  Rich white boys.  Basically the only folks who had access to any postsecondary education of any kind at all  in 1914.

Just to make sure we’re clear:  “High school” as an institution in this country barely even existed in 1914.  You got through sixth grade or so and that was it.  Maybe the top five percent of everybody got further education beyond that, and if they did, they sure as shit didn’t call it “high school.” It was college prep, generally under individual tutors.  You didn’t start seeing any real broad-based concept that people should attend school for twelve years until the late 30s or early 40s, and even then if you weren’t white and male and relatively well-off you could fuck right the hell off.

Brown v. Board of Education was in 1954, for Christ’s sake, which means we weren’t even  trying to educate anybody in this country who wasn’t white until sixty years ago.  And even then… hell, if you can’t remember the struggles over public schools in the sixties you have no business commenting on education in this country under any circumstances.  If you are able to take a look at the incredibly vast way in which access to education has expanded in this country over the last hundred years and your take-away from that is “Durrr, people used to be smarter,” then you should not only throw yourself into a lake but you probably ought to never speak to me again.

Sub-rant:  I’m also sick to fucking death of hearing about colleges and people affiliated with them complaining about having to remediate incoming freshmen.  If only there were some mechanism by which colleges and universities could determine who was able to enroll in their classes!  OH, right, they’re completely one hundred percent in charge of that.  Raise your standards or quit fucking bitching.  Assholes.

EDIT:  Fuck it; I went ahead and Googled Joseph Sobran.  Oh gee look I was exactly right: he was an anti-Semite (speaking of people who generally weren’t allowed access to higher education in 1914) and a Holocaust denier.  So, great job, folks; this is an awesome guy to put dumb-ass quotes from on your Facebook page.

47 thoughts on “Think before you post

  1. Reblogged this on Part Time Monster and commented:
    Something I’ve wanted to say and haven’t had the vocabulary for. As an instructor of those “remedial” students, I get so offended by views like those expressed in the meme. They don’t take the historical narrative into account. They don’t take a growing society with changing rules of who is good enough to receive an education into account. They miss, in short, everything that has caused those changes in the last 100 years. And they neglect to place blame in its proper place: the lack of funding for education of an ever-growing population and the changes that become necessary when you’re trying to educate an entire populace.


  2. deepbluesandseafoamgreens

    Especially interesting for me to read, because I’m actually taking GCSE Latin and Greek (Ancient).
    And I love it!


  3. Thanks very much for this. I find it pretty offensive myself, and I think you’re absolutely right about the history.

    I’m thinking about the sub-rant on remediation for a bit before I comment on that. I do see your point, and I think there’s definitely a conversation to be had about admissions standards, and really about the way we handle higher education in the U.S. in general. My day job frequently involves helping undergraduates in ways that some people would consider “remedial,” and it is the most rewarding job I have ever had. So that part hits very close to home for me.


    1. While I’m clarifying things, Gene, I should point out that I think there are PLENTY of kids/nontraditional students who might be able to/are able to succeed in college with some “remedial” help, and I’m not at all against colleges providing that. What annoys me is when they *complain* about having to provide it, as if they’re not in charge of the kids they let into their schools. There is a solution to this problem. Colleges may not like what it does to their bottom line, but let’s not pretend that’s not what’s going on.


      1. The one thought I had, that I needed to think over a bit, was that most of the people I hear complaining have no control over admissions standers. It does annoy me, though, when I read complaints like this from high-level administrators in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

        I don’t like the fact that so many people are going to college on loans and are allowed admission even though they don’t have the skills to succeed, so they end up going for two years and then having this huge financial burden with nothing to show for it, when they would have been better off spending that money training for an occupation that they could be good at and happy in, if only these institutions worked differently and provided better advice/placement for people coming out of high school.


  4. I can’t help but feeling like you’re taking this viewpoint to the other extreme. True enough the people making this claim are ignoring the history behind this comment. Obviously education as it was revered was indeed the stuff of privilege.

    On the other hand, it seems to me that you may also be ignoring other perspectives on the current state of education. I can say that in this regard I’m not just talking out of my ass. I am actually a public school English teacher. Plenty of studies are showing that in the last ten or so years (incidentally when No Child Left Behind was really put into effect) English comprehension and ability is down significantly. This is for a variety of reasons. Just comparing my own abilities in seventh grade to the abilities of my students is a stark contrast.

    A lot of the students I teach come to me not using the most basic of things periods, capitalized letters at the beginning of sentences, capitalizing the letter I, and basic spelling skills to name a few. They mostly start out not caring that they do it wrong either. There is plenty of data to suggest that this is something happening across the board. Couple that with rising criterion for what counts as passing on standardized tests and increasing focus on what teaching looks like vs. how effective it actually is and well things aren’t really going to get better.

    I notice that you and the people commenting obviously have respect for the idea of education which is awesome. I hardly ever feel like I work in a respected profession. Education is pretty broken right now. There really isn’t any way around that fact either. While that original commenter got some things wrong, they also got some things right too.


    1. Wewrites, take note that I am in fact a teacher; feel free to look around a bit to get an idea on how I feel about the state of modern education. My point on this (specific) post is not that those children you and I see every day are doing just fine, but that a hundred years ago they’d long have been *railroaded out of school altogether,* if indeed they ever attended school in the first place. I would prefer my students be struggling with proper comma placement than be completely illiterate, for example– fully a THIRD of all blacks in the South were illiterate in 1910. I have four students just in my first and second hour alone who would never have been allowed in school in the first place due to their disabilities. That they are in school at all is a massive improvement over the state of education in 1914.


  5. “A lot of the students I teach come to me not using the most basic of things periods, capitalized letters at the beginning of sentences, capitalizing the letter I, and basic spelling skills to name a few.”

    Not to mention colons before lists and commas before nonessential phrases.


  6. currants

    True enough, Infintefreetime. I always loved my maternal granny because she gave me my first book and tried to teach us Latin and Greek. I loved my paternal grandfather because he wrote me letters–he’d written to no one since his brother was in Italy in WWII–and was proud that I went to college (even though I was 30 and a single parent of a 4 yr old by the time I figured out how to do it). My four grandparents finished 4th, 6th and 8th grades–only the granny mentioned above completed high school. Until I worked on a book about student rights, I didn’t know they were normal, my grandmother unusual–that they could have gone further only with great difficulty, given their (working) class backgrounds. I wish I had known those things sooner.


  7. That was a good rant! Thank you. I’m a little irritated with the whole, “people are dumber these days” thing myself. Life has changed dramatically in the last hundred years. It’s not just that education is more accessible, I mean our whole world has changed, the skills we need to survive are different. I have two grown kids who have never balanced a check book. They’ve never used liquid paper, a type writer, or dialed a rotary phone.


  8. Teaching is a lot like religion. Those who are in it, understand it on a deep level; an outsider can’t understand it no matter how hard they try.
    I taught H.S. in NYC for ten years…and I’ve heard it all. Go get ’em infinitefreetime:-)


  9. It seems to me that there are educational issues today that involve funding and how the media define what school is supposed to do. In my view, teachers and engineers should be paid the same. That is not going to happen. In public school, class sizes are exploding. Like CEO vs. Rank-and-File, Teachers vs. Administration is a comment on how society is being structured as we watch. Great post. It really is up to individuals to show and teach the values of critical thinking.


  10. Unburda

    I probably wouldn’t have thought twice about this if I’d seen it on facebook. It seems to me that writing skills aren’t what they used to be, but I always think of it as a symptom of internet/text speak (and apathy on the part of younger people). I don’t think I would have considered the educator perspective. Personally I’m more worried about the general reposting of things without research. A person I work with reposted some long thing on facebook about Obama’s Muslim faith being incorporated in the ACA (grahhhhhhh) and his comment was along the lines of “Oh my God, I can’t believe this!” and then multiple other people read it and commented with their outrage. One of the comments was “I hope this isn’t true” and the person who had posted it said “I hope not”. My real concern is that people are posting these inflammatory things without doing any research and then making other people angry and this cycle of false anger and bullshit is happening hundreds of thousands of times a day. I can see your anger at this particular item since it calls teachers into question; I just can’t directly relate.


  11. I encore too. The variation here in the UK is that every year, just as kids are picking up their public exam marks (GCSE’s age 16, A Levels age 18 roughly), pundits will start moaning all over the papers about how easy the exams are nowadays and how standards have dropped etc.


  12. Hi. Thank you for visiting my blog today.

    I have scanned one of your posts and couldn’t disagree with you more. The study of Latin and Greek wasn’t a rich man perogative. My grandfather was a pioneer homesteader’s son in the Canadian West who managed to finish high school in 1901 and did study Latin so he could become a college-educated pharmacist in 1906. I am not a rich man’s son either. As a junior high girl, I studied Latin for two years. In college, I took one year of Greek. While the Latin my grandfather studied helped him with his chosen occupation, the Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, Japanese, and Chinese I studied in my earlier years helped me with my chosen occupation–teacher of English as a Second Language to immigrants to the US. In my opinion, the study of Latin is especially helpful in understanding the vocabulary of science in general and biology in particular.
    As an educator, I have observed expectations of high school graduates go from an understanding of the English language sufficient to handle college material to the lower level of needing remedial classes in reading English.


  13. Most of your post doesn’t actually disagree with anything I said, choregfirin. Greek and Latin absolutely are still part of the curriculum, as you show, which was part of my point. Unfortunately, the fact that education was primarily a wealthy white man’s privilege until quite recently (the last fifty to sixty years, I’d say) is not actually up for debate. The fact that it was possible for someone outside that demographic to obtain an education– Abraham Lincoln comes to mind– doesn’t change the fact that by and large it didn’t happen.


  14. So, taking your logic to its conclusion, what you are really saying is that only rich white males are capable of learning, and that the reason for the fall off in the quality of education in the last 50 years is due to schools having to try and educate poor white trash, females and Afro-Americans.


  15. I would love, nay . . . appreciate, someone educating me on misplaced,

    I agree with the general sentiment of the rant. The Internet, and Twitter and FaceBook in particular, are awash with little snippets that purport to educate someone about something or other, but just end up simplifying complex issues to the point where ignorance is promoted, instead. (I hope I used the commas correctly – but if not, I’ll fall back on English not being my native language. Also Stuttering; my pauses are not the same as most people’s)

    I get you are commenting on the faulty comparison of vastly differing societal norms, but that said, when I moved here from Italy (at 13) I felt as if I had stepped back a couple of grades. That doesn’t mean anything as different cultures put different emphasis on schooling (we went to school 5 and a half days a week, and I don’t remember ‘breaks’ in the school year)

    I don’t have kids, so I have no idea how it is now. Recent homework and test samples I’ve seen belie the claim children are being taught less – – – whether they learn less, that is another matter. Certainly, I am not impressed with the adult population (only fair; they don’t seem impressed by me).

    I did not watch it much, but “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader” (or whatever that show was called) also pointed to kids knowing/learning a hell of a lot. Not all, and probably not without a hefty push at home, but enough.

    I look forward to reading more about your first-hand experiences.


  16. Loved this rant. Thanks for clearing up who this Joseph Sobran. I can’t stand those random quote/posts when they pop up and reject them almost immediately. You are a wise and vocal ranter. ps. Thanks for stopping by my blog.


  17. I don’t agree with culturally extreme opinions either.

    It’s a fact that time changes everything. And it’s easier to praise what we don’t have, then what is out there now. The cycle of, whatever becomes old “enough” is glorified.

    But there is always a beauty in what we have now, right at this moment.
    And as a bilingual Japanese/English speaker myself, I can’t thank English enough for opening up my eyes culturally and emotionally to how one can express or wire his or her thoughts in creative ways that I could have never imagined with just Japanese alone…!



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