Jonathan Rose has an amazingly extensive and detailed article which shows beyond much doubt that British working class people were much better educated 100 years ago than they are now. He also shows what an enlightening and transformative experience it was for the working people of yesteryear to read some of the famous "dead white males" for the first time. Just a tiny excerpt:
"Oral-history interviews reveal that, among British working people born between 1870 and 1908, two-thirds had unambiguously positive memories of school. And that fact inevitably raises a disturbing question: whether children today in America's inner cities would give their schools such high marks-and if not, why not? Even more impressive is a 1940 survey of reading among pupils at nonacademic high schools, where education terminated at age 14. This sample represented something less than the working-class norm: the best students had already been skimmed off and sent to academic secondary schools on scholarship. Those who remained behind were asked which books they had read over the past month, excluding required texts. Even in this below-average group, 62 percent of boys and 84 percent of girls had read some poetry: their favorites included Kipling, Longfellow, Masefield, Blake, Browning, Tennyson, and Wordsworth".
And I KNOW from personal experience how exactly right is what Rose describes. I myself was born in a small Australian country town to working class parents who read only popular novels. But there was a "School of Arts" (non-government co-operative) library in town and a secondhand bookshop. And courtesy of those I read just about all the famous literature of ancient Greece before I was 18. And I experienced exactly the excitement from my discoveries there -- I still vividly remember the enormous impression that Homer and Plato's Socratic dialogues made on me -- that Rose repeatedly documents among his British working class readers of yesteryear. For me as for them it was an immense intellectual liberation. Most of that literature was once taught in the schools. Now virtually none of it is. My son has just finished High School and until I mentioned them he had never even heard of Wordsworth or Coleridge! What a crime against ordinary people the Leftist purveyors of educational mush who infest the schools today have committed! They have replaced the glorious "dead white males" with mediocrities who inspire no-one and induce boredom instead of excitement. They have stolen from our young people their incomparable heritage.
Needless to say, the Rose article is one of the few for which I say: "Read the whole thing". (Link to Rose via Blithering Bunny)