Reading the above, the first thing that struck me was that a university dean, especially one who is an English professor, should not view the 19th century as ‘a very long time ago’…most likely, though, she herself probably does not have such a foreshortened view of time, rather, she’s probably describing what she observes as the perspective of her students (though it’s hard to tell from the quote). It does seem very likely that the K-12 experiences of the students have been high on presentism, resulting in students arriving at college “with a sense that the unenlightened past had nothing left to teach,” as a junior professor who joined the faulty in 2021 put it. One would hope, though, that to the extent Harvard admits a large number of such students, it would focus very seriously on challenging that worldview. I do not get the impression that it actually does so.
In a discussion of the above passage at Twitter, Paul Graham @PaulG said:
One of the reasons they have such a strong “orientation toward the present” is that the past has been rewritten for a lot of them.
to which someone responded:
that’s always been true! it’s not like the us didn’t rewrite the history of the civil war to preserve southern feelings for 100 years. what’s different is that high schools are no longer providing the technical skills necessary for students to read literature!