We are told to respect our elders, learn from their advice, and honor them. Many of us find this difficult. It’s hard to awe at the wisdom of an individual who is clueless of how our lives operate today and who needs help to walk more than a few yards.

 Millions of years ago a single homosapien was capable of learning the entirety of human knowledge within a lifetime; this is no longer the case. After a series of developments in trade and technological revolutions humans learned to specialize. This allowed individuals to become very good at a single task and never learn how to farm, hunt, build shelter, or make clothes. Other individuals would specialize in the areas one didn’t know and then could trade for or buy what one couldn’t make. This made us codependent, encouraging us to learn and build from one another’s experiences.

The best example of this is the model of an atom. The first model on an atom was basically a circle theorized ancient greek scientist Democritus in 400 B.C, J.J Thomas added positively and negatively charged matter in 1897, twelve years later Ernest Rutherford added a positively charged nucleus, four years later orbiting electrons were discovered by Niels Bohr, in 1926 Erwin Schrodinger concluded that Bohr was wrong and introduced the idea of an electronic cloud creating the quantum mechanic model of the atom, and in 1932 James Chadwick discovered the missing neutron and updated the model to the one we have today. This example ignores multiple individuals who contributed with small discoveries that assisted other in creating the present atomic model. Even after all this time and discovery we still teach a relatively simple model of the atom in school today that hopefully will allow future generations to continue to build on these men’s ideas. All of these very clever very smart scientist would have died if left to fend for themselves. The ability of farmers to produce enough surplus to then sell it to these men is a feat of civilization.  Beyond that a farmer would have to both grow enough food and sell it to enough people for them to make profit. Teachers, taylors, miners, carpenters would all have to be fed and educated to allow these men to spend there time on modeling the atom.

The success of the human story can be attributed to our collective knowledge and codependence which result in our ignorance.  We are all the result of years of development and evolution that would not be  possible without the selective ignorance of our ancestors. Rather than patronize our elders for their inability to grasp every aspect of modern life we should be aware that is is this ignorance that allowed for the world we have today.


CC BY-SA 4.0 Generations of Ignorance. by Melissa is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


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Youth Voices is organized by teachers at local sites of the National Writing Project and in partnership with Educator Innovator.

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