Mentalities (say it French style for ivory tower street cred: mon-tall-ee-TAYS) are the hardest thing for a history teacher to convey. The past really is a foreign country, as some dead white dude said; they do things differently there. Archimedes, to take a well known example, invented all kinds of cool stuff that could’ve changed the world, and the Greeks even had a steam turbine. Pop quiz, hotshots: Given all that, why was there no “steampunk” in the Classical World?
The answer is: Slavery. Steam engines, hydraulic gears, levers, and all that badass Archimedes stuff are all, at bottom, labor-saving devices. The ancient world was not about saving labor. The ancient world had the opposite problem. They had excess labor and no real way to dispose of it, save slavery — and even that was woefully inefficient, often counterproductive (see, for example, the Roman latifundia destroying their military manpower base). So steam power was to them what nunchucks are to us — cool, but useless.
Problem is, it takes real imagination to see that. I’m pretty sure they still teach that slavery was the basis of the ancient economy, but that’s just a fact, one of several dozen equally meaningless facts one is required to memorize for the test. What is it like to live in a world where slavery is the primary form of labor? Who cares? It’s just like the American Civil War — write “slavery” in the blank and move on. Since there’s no effort made to inhabit their mental world, it’s impossible to make connections between disjointed facts.
“Inhabiting their mental world” is, in fact, very strongly discouraged. Let’s say I’m teaching a course on the antebellum United States, and I assign you to read John C. Calhoun’s Exposition and Protest. Calhoun makes some pretty solid arguments, and walking a class through them would be, if done right, not just a primer on American Constitutional theory, but on social contract theory in general… not to mention hitting the high points of Federalism, Anti-Federalism, Jacksonian democracy, the First American Party System, the first Industrial Revolution, &c. The problem, of course, was that the Exposition and Protest wasn’t “really” about the Tariff of 1828. It was really about slavery, and if you give an inch to Calhoun’s arguments, you can’t help but conclude that he was probably right about the legal basis for slavery, too. Which is Badthink in the First Degree, punishable by an F in the class, a semester of mandatory Diversity Awareness, and the entire university kangaroo court apparatus hounding you every day for the rest of your brief college career. And that’s just what would happen to you, the student — I’d be sent to the salt mines.
Which brings us to Fantasy and Science Fiction, and why it’s nothing but SJW propaganda these days (betcha didn’t see that coming!).
I honestly have no idea what our K-12 ed professionals think they’re trying to achieve, but what they actually do achieve is the annihilation of imagination. History and Literature are still taught, of course, but only in the manner I’ve described — disjointed facts and canned answers to be memorized, regurgitated, and forgotten. How could it be otherwise? Western Civ is 99.97% the story of CisHetPat White males, who are, always have been, and always will be, pure evil. Why would anyone care what they thought about anything? Thus History, when it leaves off slamming the native stock’s many and obvious flaws, is nothing but the hagiography of Diverse nobodies sticking it to The Man. Ditto Literature, all of which can be CliffsNoted “Blackity Black Latinx homo vagina, kemosabe.”
How, then, is one to even begin imagining a different world, full of elves and dragons and androids and whatnot? The only creativity tolerated in our grade schools is the kind that brings a so-called “fact” into conformity with the Current Year’s Social Justice catechism. These kids exist in an endless, contextless present; if there is no past, how can there be a future? This has been the state of American education for the past 50 years, and when you consider that Upper West Side SWPLs — you know, the folks that run every traditional publishing house in Manhattan — got it first and hardest, well, it stands to reason, doesn’t it? To these drones, pronounless gunch really does seem like groundbreaking stuff, not a sophomoric marketing stunt.
I don’t really read F/SF, or much fiction at all anymore, but I teach kids who do. They really think this crap is creativity. The faster Vox Day and Castalia House buries them all, and salts the earth around them, the better.