As parents send their kids off to college this fall, and those same kids try to figure out what they want to study, and as those of us who teach in liberal arts institutions begin talking to those students about the purpose and meaning of the educations they are about to embark upon, we should all keep in mind what our ultimate aims are.
People in the Middle Ages considered healthy, white teeth a sign of beauty and wrote of sweet smelling breath as a desirable attribute. So, not surprisingly, we have extensive evidence that people liked to keep their teeth clean and a large amount of evidence of tooth pastes, powders and treatments, as well as mouth washes and treatments for halitosis.
The idea that people routinely emptied chamberpots out windows into the street is one of the images of the past that has been taught to generations of school children. It's usually said to have been done in the Middle Ages and it's an image that has stuck with many people, particularly because we find it so disgusting. Unfortunately, like many popular ideas about the Middle Ages, it's largely nonsense.
Many who look to understand the incredible wealth gap are quickly lost in the exclusive language of finance. When it comes to the inner workings of financial institutions, the rise and fall of markets, the tangled web of international debt, or even just our own personal finances, most of us are lost. In short, we are financially illiterate.