Tuesday 14 November 2006

I may not know much about anything, but I know a little about an awful lot.

What has happened to general knowledge? There used to be so many things that *everyone* knew. The capitals of countries. How many yards in a mile (a bit out of date, perhaps, but I wonder just how many know how many metres in a kilometre, even if the clue is in the name). Who wrote Oliver Twist and Daffodils. The date of the French Revolution and when Caesar invaded Britannia. When I was at junior school, we used to have tests in General Knowledge. You were supposed to know who Venus was and what was her Greek equivalent. How many inches in a hand, and at what height a pony became a horse. You couldn't revise for these tests, you either knew it or you didn't. I was lucky, even at ten I was a voracious reader and used to browse Encycopaedia Britannica for pleasure, and I usually did quite well. I also liked knowing that sort of thing - I had little practical knowledge or ability at anything, but I knew all about it in theory.

Now, only a generation or two later, no one seems to know any of this. It's gone. With nursery rhymes and a sense of history. I understand nowadays that girls don't 'get' Jane Eyre - "Why doesn't she just go out and get a proper job?" - without any sense of what it was like to live in the 19th Century. Even people of my age, largely, seem to have forgotten.

After the Anglo Saxon lectures last week, we chatted to the lecturer. She mentioned the complete ignorance of the heritage of Christianity that she finds nowadays among her university students. She was not talking about religious faith, but about basic ignorance of the facts, legends, fallacies, call them whatever you like - this is not a religious post. She said that it is impossible to teach history of European art to someone who has literally no concept of either the stories of the bible or the importance of religious faith in times gone by.

When I was a child, I read, for pleasure, stories of the Greek and Roman gods. A little older, I read Homer and Virgil. If I had not, when I took Latin A Level, how would I have known my Aeneas from my Elbow*?

The lecturer, Anna, said that the first thing she has to do is give students a copy of the New Testament and tell them to read the Gospels. And they find it really hard to understand, or to remember the references. Especially the students from countries such as (I am sure she said) Canada, where religious teaching is not allowed in schools. But without it, there is little chance of them getting to grips with Renaissance or pre-Renaissance art.

People are interested, more than ever before, about researching the past. Their personal heritage. And it is vastly interesting. But so is history, and culture, and what has made us who we are, and this seems to have been almost lost. I'm not being nostalgic, I don't automatically think that 'the good old days' were better, but I do feel that there is some loss in our lives.

*no need to worry, Anon, about lowering the tone (comments, yesterday)


y.Wendy.y said...

I do so agree about Biblical and mythological history being crucial to understanding our past and fitting it all into our present.

It's a pity - a real pity - that all this 'non-religious' gumf (be it of any faith) is bandied about and enforced.

Yes we also did general knowledge quizzes at school. I was very good then but must confess, some of the questions you've just posed left me floundering for an answer.


*wanders off giggling*

stitchwort said...

But at least, when younger people don't know these things, it makes our generation look good at doing crosswords and pub quizzes - unless they're the ones where you need to know about celebs and current pop singers (i.e.ones since about 1980).

Identikit said...

Oh Wendy, it's just as well Trac doesn't visit here. You know how much she hates to be reminded of Dido although I suspect the thought of her killing herself might be rather appealing! I love the name Aeneas actually - I was pretty keen on calling Asher "Aeneas" but didn't for obvious reasons.

Anyway, I have digressed. I wanted to say that it was a very interesting post. And I agree about people knowing very little general knowledge - other than about TV programmes (or the Archers!!). There is so little time left in the curriculum these days - even at primary level - to teach any hard facts, it's all soft stuff. Tis a shame.

I'm sure I learnt most of what I know about the Bible at Sunday school though rather than in school. But hardly anybody goes to Sunday school anymore. None of my children ever have. What a bad mother eh?

y.Wendy.y said...

Tess - no not a bad mother at all. Well I have to say that because mine no longer go to Sunday School either..but they did in SA. Now I just read them the stuff myself and answer their questions as best I can.

Poor old Dido...did you know that the French call her 'Deedor'...ha ha.

Z said...

Wendy, you are excused knowing the dates of European history as you are not from these shores.

I don't know what I was taught at school and what I picked up from books or conversation. General knowledge was simply what everyone knew. And now they don't and they don't think it matters.

Useful for pub quizzes, I agree. Except for the sport questions.

I went to a convent school, where they were so tender-hearted they left out most of the Old Testament.

Anonymous said...

Very true regarding lack of general knowledge. The barista where I get my morning coffee always has good trivia questions. If you know the answer to the question you get $1.00 off your drink. All general knowledge questions and very interesting. Today's was where did the word "gun" originate and what did it originally mean.

Z said...

Gosh, that's a bit more than 'general' knowledge. I had to look it up. Does everyone get the 'question of the day' or is there a different one for everyone?

Ah. I should think the same question is asked until someone answers it correctly?

Pat said...

I think you have to have a certain amount of GK to attempt the DT crossword. I'm finding it harder these days. BTW I keep trying to get in your comment box without success - give up -and then find it is sitting in the bottom window - if you see what i mean. Is that the beta blogger I wonder? I have avoided it so far for fear of taxxing my addled brain too much.

Z said...

Solving the Sunday Telegraph GK crossword used to be a whole family affair when I was young, but we don't take it, so I haven't seen it for a while. I think quite a lot of crosswords rely on you getting certain verbal connections though.

I avoided Beta Blogger for some time because people were having problems, but I got so fed up with Blogger not working half the time that I took the plunge and it was fine. I think they've ironed out the early glitches and you won't have any difficulties if you make the change.

Anonymous said...

A new question every day and he tells the answer of the previous day's question. As I recall, gun is a Norse female name. Norse men gave inantimate objects female names. That still doesn't explain why a gun isn't called a Brunhilde or Signe instead. Will get details tomorrow. I do the NY Times puzzle once in a while and never have figured out how to do the British crossword style.

Z said...

I looked up 'gun' in my trusty Concise Oxford Dictionary, didn't quite believe it so Googled it as well.

I love cryptic crosswords, I was brought up on them. I can't do the straightforward definition ones as the questions are usually not specific enough and I start to get peevish. General knowledge are fine, except that if they are too obscure you haven't a chance.

Anonymous said...

The ignorance of basic facts by most people these days astounds me. I blame the internet and computer games myself.