GLENN: All right. Let me give you an entrance examination for the University of Illinois 1922. Just, I'm going to give you five questions. See if anyone can answer any of these five questions.
“Describe the conditions causing Achilles to stop fighting.”
PAT: Shot in the heel.
STU: Stabbed the wrong way.
GLENN: His heel, right?
PAT: Tendon cut.
STU: He'll need reconstructive surgery, out for the rest of the season.
PAT: Easily out for the season.
GLENN: “What was Franklin’s plan for the union of the colonies? Discuss his arguments in favor of it.” It's 1922. Discuss Benjamin Franklin's plan for the union of the colonies. Discuss his arguments in favor of it. I have no idea.
STU: He flew a kite?
PAT: A republic, right?
STU: Lightning struck a key?
GLENN: Maybe. How about this one? Maybe his plan came from that Indian chief that said, you know, bind them together, and they're strong? Maybe?
GLEN: That's as close as I can get.
STU: Would it be the snake?
PAT: Yeah, the union...that was the Duran, Duran song...union of the snake...
STU: It's on the rise.
GLENN: Yeah, so that could be it too. That could be it too. I don't think any of these are right. But join or die. Yeah. Okay.
STU: “What characters in A Midsummer Night’s Dream are more than mere types? Defend your answer.”
PAT: I don't do Shakespeare. I would have to tell him that.
STU: I think probably the clarifying thing is Shakespeare's dumb. So don't ask me about it again.
GLENN: Uh huh, uh huh.
PAT: When that's the's relevant to my life, I'll let you know.
GLENN: Oh, it is. “Summarize the chief ideas you gained from reading one of Thackeray’s essays in the English Humorist.”
PAT: Yeah, I forgot to read the Thackeray.
GLENN: “Point out four distinctly Poesque characteristics marking The Raven.”
STU: You should be able to nail that one.
GLENN: I think I could do that. Maybe, maybe I could do that.
STU: You said the word quoth is one.
GLENN: So those are just five of them. What does that tell you?
STU: Different priorities?
PAT: Uh-huh. They studied different things, that's for sure.
GLENN: Actually, here's what's interesting. Annie Holmquist wrote an article about these five questions. And she said one might argue that just because today's entrance exam don't ask such thorough or probing questions doesn't mean high school students are not familiar with a wide range of classic and historical works. Unfortunately, the experience of university professors, such as Allan Bloom, suggest otherwise. In 1987, Bloom wrote that the decline of student reading habits first became evident in the 1960s. He notes that while there may be a few who “grazed” on classics in high school, “The notion of books as companions is foreign to them.” Lacking in this knowledge, students also have a much narrower lens through which to view and interpret the world.
PAT: That makes sense because there are so many other things to entertain people by then, right?
PAT: I mean, in 1920, your entertainment was a book.
PAT: Not anymore.
GLENN: Students today have nothing like the characters that Dickens gave which sharpened our vision, allowing us some subtly in our distinction of human types.
PAT: They forget about Valerian and the city of thousand planets there. She's not taking that into account.
JEFFY: Not at all.
GLENN: It is a complex set of experiences that enables one to say so simply, ‘He is a Scrooge.’ Without literature, no such observations are possible and the fine art of comparison is lost. The psychological obtuseness of our students is appalling, because they have only pop psychology -- listen to this -- because they have only pop psychology to tell them what people are like, and the range of their motives. As the awareness that we owed almost exclusively to literary genius falters, people become more alike, for want of knowing they can be otherwise. What poor substitutes for real diversity are the wild rainbows of dyed hair and other external differences that tell the observer nothing about what is inside that matters.
PAT: Pretty insightful.
GLENN: That's really good. That's really good. Try to get your kids to read a classic. Try. Almost impossible. Almost impossible. Trying to get them to read something that was written 100 years ago is -- it's so slow for them. They want action. They want okay. Get to a story. They don't -- they don't sit well through the descriptions of what the room look like, what the people look like, what -- you know, they just want give me the meat, give me the meat, give me the meat. Tell me the story. Try to get Rafe to read Dr. Jekyll. Couldn't get him to read it. Went and picked up a comic novel. Got one on Dracula and Frankenstein as well. Have you guys ever read Frankenstein? It is nothing like the movie. Nothing like the movie.
PAT: It's not even a monster, is he? He's not even a monster.
STU: He's an accountant.
JEFFY: I thought was a florist.
GLENN: He's a doctor, an accountant, and a vet. And he finds a mouse, and he -- the mouse has a broken leg, and he sets it, and he says let my creature live for no reason, really, at all. It's a really weird -- yeah, anyway. So tried to get him to read it. Would not. Get those comic books for him. He reads them, and he came back to me a couple months ago and said "Dad, Frankenstein is nothing -- I wanted to go, oh, really? But I was, like, huh. He's, like, we've got to read Frankenstein.
"Yes, we should. Good idea, son."
We have to find ways to get our kids to look deeper and to go back into -- I mean, who was it? The Penn Jillette's good friend Christopher Hitchens who just died. The atheist.
STU: Several years ago now.
GLENN: Several years ago. But what he said in defense of the Bible. He said if you want to understand the west. If you want to understand Shakespeare, you must understand the Bible. The Bible should be read just as literature. Because it is the basis of everything in the west.
PAT: Certainly the U.S. Constitution.
GLENN: Right. Everything comes from them.
PAT: Yeah. Whether you like it or not.
GLENN: He suggested that it is -- it should be the number one thing taught for literature. Here's a guy who disagrees with every word in the Bible. But he's, like, that is the basis. That's the stock of the west. And unless you understand that stock, how do you read classics? How do you read Shakespeare?
PAT: That's amazing coming from an atheist.
GLENN: And if you don't understand Shakespeare, how do you really understand the west and England and war and what -- you know, what the lessons are behind Macbeth and, you know, a lot of his work.
STU: And that battle, you're losing, right? It's not just with your son.
GLENN: It's gone.
STU: You see Jeffrey Katzenberg is raising $2 billion to put Hollywood style budgets, sets, actors, scripts, everything into new ten-minute episodes of television. So you think of all of the money that they're putting into TV already. They want to focus that to ten minutes because they think people aren't watching half an hour and hour episodes. Or they won't be as much in the future. This will be a better way to deliver shows. Ten minutes.
JEFFY: Well, I mean, that's what the -- that's what all the YouTubers are doing; right? They create 10, 15 minute YouTube clips, most of them. That's what everybody's watching.
STU: That's true.
GLENN: In some ways, you know, we'll be talking about this in September. And in some regards, we're moving the same way here.
GLENN: We're moving the same way here.
STU: That Ben Sasse book, we talked to him a few weeks ago. A lot of that is about actually reading.
STU: Here's a giant list of books for you to read. Here's, like, we need to go back to these times because you're right. It's a deeper education. And it's weird because being intelligent is something that used to be reflected in questions like that. Explain -- you know.
GLENN: Explain this.
STU: Explain this. Here's a fact. You know, what -- it's a test. And really, we've -- in a way -- our minds because of Google have evolved to -- that's not really what it is anymore.
GLENN: Has anybody -- have you guys heard anybody say that the third planet of the apes is the story of Moses?
PAT: Have you? You say it.
GLENN: Have you heard it from somebody else?
GLENN: I have not heard that before. And I whispered that to my son. And my son said of course it is, dad. Hello. And we've had several conversations on that. You don't even have to believe the Bible.
PAT: I hope you grounded him for that disrespectful attitude.
GLENN: Don't worry. He's in his god.
PAT: Treating you as if you're stupid. I mean, where does he get off?
GLENN: Right. Exactly right. God cage for him. Anyway, it's in his closet. You know, he would not have been able to have a different understanding of what was happening. He would have had no comparisons to planet of the apes. It would have been just an ape movie. Instead, it became, oh, my gosh look at the pattern here. Look at the pattern of Moses, look at the pattern of the people. Look at what happened. Is this deliverance? Those kinds of things are important, and we're losing all of that.