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More New Year's Mockery (Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? New York Times Edition)

Tradition! Tradition! (Yes, It's a David Gelertner Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? Moment)

What holds us together? Tradition! It is important to maintain our traditions. And, as Unfogged rightly says, one of our traditions is to mock Michael Kinsley "discovery" David Gelertner. So let's turn the microphone over to Matthew Yglesias:

Matthew Yglesias: Dreyfus: David Gelertner, in the course of being silly about all kinds of other stuff, remarks:

History has (predictably) been much harder hit. In the early 1970s, many good students took a year--long college--level ("Advanced Placement") survey course in modern European history, and another in American history. Since then, modern educational techniques have worked an outright miracle. Today most incoming college students don't seem to know any history at all. (Except what they've learned by themselves, or their parents have taught them.) The high school history textbooks favored by public schools here in southern Connecticut are pathetic. Their left--wing bias is blatant; the authors don't even try to hide it. Maybe they don't even see it. Recently, a graduate student at a major research university told me that she knew doctoral candidates in humanities departments who had never heard of (for example) Devil's Island and the Dreyfus Affair. They will soon be turned loose on the world as aspiring young scholars.

Matthew Yglesias observes:

This [unfamiliarity with the Dreyfus Affair] strikes me as evidence of a serious absence of left-wing bias in our curricula. Or maybe Gelertner thinks Dreyfus was guilty?... [M]y historical learning leans very heavily toward France, Russia, and the 1789-1918 "long nineteenth century" in which context [Dreyfus] appears as a fairly significant event. But it makes perfect sense for lots of people's historical knowledge to not be oriented to these things. There's only so much you can expect a given person to be well-informed about....

Meanwhile, let's observe that 418,000 AP exams got grades of "3" or higher in 1996, 633,000 in 2000, and 935,000 in 2004. And the number of people taking the AP European History exam grew from 60,000 in 1980 to 79,000 in 2004.

I think that we need to introduce the concept of "negative knowledge" as applied to Gelernter. Just as Dirac modeled the positron as being a negative number of electrons (relative to the baseline of empty space), so we need to understand the writings of David Gelertner as possessing less knowledge than a completely ignorant empty talking head...

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