Culturally illiterate youth as “Cultural Barbarians” (Eugene Schwartz)

“Cultural barbarians” was a 1990s topic of the renowned Waldorf-methods educator, Eugene Schwartz.

Eugene Schwartz

It’s not in his main book, Millennial Child; nor, can I find it anywhere online. I was grateful to hear Eugene talk about this in person in talks to parents and teachers at schools. I think i also read a Waldorf school newsletter article by him on this topic. Between 2005–2015, it may have been impolite to parents to accuse their children of being “cultural barbarians.” Since 2016, the topic seem many times more topical and real.

Based on his experience at Spring Hill, NY Waldorf School, accepting new, non-Waldorf middle school students, into his classroom, Eugene wrote about the “new barbarians.” He predicted children raised on a cultural diet of:

- corporate commercial TV cartoons,

- corporate commercial video games,

- corporate commercial social media,

- corporate commercial screens in every room at home,

- corporate commercial phones and apps at all odd times during each day…

…they can not help but grow up, with little to no appreciation for the high points of prior cultures. Why? Their values hierarchy had already been formed by corporate media, advertisers and marketers. They have little use for humanity’s most workable thoughts and achievements; nor, the truly human values behind them.

If children are raised by corporate media, how can they — after puberty — access and learn from the best of art, sculpture, architecture and literature. Why should they take any interest in a multi-sided view of life as both internal and external, with at your center, truly human values you hold most dearly in your heart?

If a teenager has neither interest in, nor connection with, the truly human values of generations past and present, how will he or she connect with his own deepest, innermost human values?

In this, younger generations since about 1990 are akin to barbarians just prior to the Dark Ages, who delight in smashing-trashing any and all past achievements. Why? Because they do not and cannot understand them.

In this way younger generations, are kin to the waves of barbarians who invaded Rome and set up new towns and new culture based on what they were familiar with from their homelands. Classical Greek and Roman achievements interested them not at all. They were not even curious. Hence the Dark Ages.

If after puberty, animalistic childhood culture becomes the norm, another generation of “Barbarians” has been created. After puberty, New Barbarians often enjoy using their new power of intellect to bully and destroy opponents and detractors of Barbarian values and behavior (see: “cancel culture”).

Barbarian culture?

“Cultural barbarians” points to a youth sub-culture who all but dis-avow the past. “Cultural barbarians” are youth — and anyone else uneducated to the value of humanity’s most workable thoughts and achievements — to whom the deeds of the past have no value or meaning. This might sound normal and natural until you ask yourself, ‘What source of wisdom do “cultural barbarians” have to evolve?’ Social media? Amazon Prime? Tik-Tok? Instagram?

Since 2016 or earlier, youth are acquiring their conversational norms, how to speak, not from rewarding face-to-face encounters, but from from rap music and crass troll comments on social media. Advertisers-marketers love this. Why? It’s “engagement.” Engagement means eyeballs and eyeballs mean platforms can charge more for ads.

Corporate media has trained “cultural barbarians” how to live: to satisfy the desires of the present moment. For adults who don’t know their Viking history, this is very much the mindset of the young Vikings in early centuries when they plagued the older middle-European countries.

For this reason, Waldorf-methods K-12 education strives to present the best of human thought, feeling and achievement, in each main less block. Does it always work? No. Much depends on the teacher. It is at least a plan to antidote the willful ignorance — and underlying disappointment — of “cultural barbarians.” If prior to puberty, children are exposed to worthy examples of truly human culture, after puberty, teens have the best chance of not falling into the “cultural barbarian” perspective. Based on the values inculcated in K-12, young adults become either learners receptive to what is workable; and, what worked in the past — or they become “cultural barbarians,” intolerant of anything not directly related to the desires in the present moment (see also Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story).

More generally, we can say what makes us fully human is primarily invisible; what makes us human is honesty, integrity, compassion, humor, humility, and other things you cannot see directly.

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