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The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and…

by Mark Bauerlein

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5561633,638 (3.21)7
Let's take stock of young America. Compared to previous generations, American youth have more schooling (college enrollments have never been higher); more money ($100 a week in disposable income); more leisure time (five hours a day); and more news and information (Internet, The Daily Show, RSS feeds).What do they do with all that time and money? They download, upload, IM, post, chat, and network. (Nine of their top ten sites are for social networking.) They watch television and play video games (2 to 4 hours per day).And here is what they don't do: They don't read, even online (two thirds aren't proficient in reading); they don't follow politics (most can't name their mayor, governor, or senator); they don't maintain a brisk work ethic (just ask employers); and they don't vote regularly (45 percent can't comprehend a ballot).They are the dumbest generation. They enjoy all the advantages of a prosperous, high-tech society. Digital technology has fabulously empowered them, loosened the hold of elders. Yet adolescents use these tools to wrap themselves in a generational cocoon filled with puerile banter and coarse images. The founts of knowledge are everywhere, but the rising generation camps in the desert, exchanging stories, pictures, tunes, and texts, savoring the thrill of peer attention. If they don't change, they will be remembered as fortunate ones who were unworthy of the privileges they inherited. They may even be the generation that lost that great American heritage, forever.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
Too much negative thinking and way too many assumptions to paint an entire generation as mindless selfish cretins hellbent on instant gratification without a respect for history or the consequences of an incomplete education.

( )
  nfulks32 | Jul 17, 2020 |
how youth are failing at connecting with real world ( )
  Mikenielson | Aug 21, 2017 |
Honestly, I don’t know why I’m even writing this. As someone born after 1980, I’m scarcely qualified to breathe on my own.

This, at least, is the case according to Mark Bauerlein, author of “The Dumbest Generation.” That’s not the full name of the book, but I got bored 15 percent of the way through (seriously, 20 words in the title). Apparently, we’re the dullest things since the bread-slicers they used to make sliced bread after the first hundred loaves or so.

(Don’t worry, I had someone much older write that joke for me.) Naturally, as a card-carrying member of the targeted generation I feel somewhat compelled to defend it. Unfortunately, there are two problems with me doing so. First, any argument I make will automatically be viewed as biased. Second, as a complete incompetent, who’s going to trust my interpretation of facts?

I will say that Bauerlein’s statistics seem somewhat … selective. As many people do when they try to assert positions that are difficult (if not impossible) to prove, he tries to drown the reader in numbers. Using the National Assessment of Educational Progress test, he cites from a variety of different versions and decades.
To wit: he mentions the 2005 science exam has scores three points lower than 1996, with an average score of 147. Then he mentions twelfth-graders haven’t improved upon their scores even though the number of them taking calculus tripled from 1978 to 1994.

Of course, these numbers mean almost nothing. The science exam scores dropped literally two percent in nine years, and the “shocking” truth is that math scores have stayed exactly the same.

Hardly a harbinger of hare-brains.

This is not a wholesale discounting of his claims. Lord knows there are plenty of stupid young people, many of whom attend WSU. I’ve edited enough columns, research papers and hate-filled e-mails (sent to me, not by me) to unequivocally state that. Indeed, he makes some good points regarding how utterly our educational system fails some students.

The problem stems from Bauerlein’s dichotomous approach – either this generation is smarter than the previous ones, or dumber. There isn’t any middle ground. If his argument was that our educational system needs to be reformed, I’m all for it. If he’s arguing that we need to have higher minimum standards, I’m in.

But that’s not what he’s saying. I suspect Bauerlein may be a bit of an old fogey. He doesn’t restrict himself solely to questioning the intelligence of the youth, but also harps on entertainment choices and cultural aesthetics. In the first chapter, he says the youth “refuse the cultural and civil inheritance” that created America. In his eyes, we’ve swapped intellectual possessions for material ones and trade in “pop styles and techno skills.” Bauerlein’s trouble with digesting a new society is his rigid approach to what “knowledge” is. Yes, there are a depressing number of teenagers out there who don’t know what the three branches of government are (chocolate, vanilla and strawberry) or who could recite the names of the Supreme Court Justices (John, Paul, Ringo and Diana Ross).

But in addition to an increasingly specialized approach to knowledge, the resources available to people are far greater than ever before. I can’t really picture the situation that would arise where an instant command of the Monroe Doctrine is required (save for policy analysts or history professors), but if you could call up a complete dissection of it within 10 seconds on Wikipedia, how is that any different than remembering it?

Detailed and nuanced analysis would be impossible to concoct in such a situation, but how often are you called upon to create one in 10 seconds? Lengthy explorations of topics often require lengthy amounts of research to prepare. Whether you’re recalling information on the computer or out of your brain, isn’t the important part that you know how to do so?

Frankly, I don’t really have a preference between the physician who knows how to research across the entire spectrum of medical knowledge or the old country doctor who relies on his accumulated wisdom. If anything, I’d lean toward the former’s breadth rather than the latter’s experience, but both are simply different kinds of knowledge.

In an age where adaptability and resourcefulness are valued far above rote memorization, it’s difficult to fathom preferring to stick with old models of knowledge that have no relevance.

But then, what do I know? ( )
  thoughtbox | May 28, 2016 |
Has some excellent background, grounded in research, in the front half of the book. Particularly interesting is the change in reading habits of teens through college students and the implications on education. ( )
  deldevries | Jan 31, 2016 |
Bauerlein pulls together some compelling statistics and makes some interesting observations. Anti-intellectualism in American society is a very real crisis, and he does a good but incomplete job in pointing to some of the reasons why. The issues he discusses regarding the impact of the Internet and other technologies are more thoughtfully addressed in Nicholas Carr's The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. For an astute critique of the American education system, see Diane Ravitch's The Death and Life of the Great American School System. ( )
  Sullywriter | Apr 3, 2013 |
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Let's take stock of young America. Compared to previous generations, American youth have more schooling (college enrollments have never been higher); more money ($100 a week in disposable income); more leisure time (five hours a day); and more news and information (Internet, The Daily Show, RSS feeds).What do they do with all that time and money? They download, upload, IM, post, chat, and network. (Nine of their top ten sites are for social networking.) They watch television and play video games (2 to 4 hours per day).And here is what they don't do: They don't read, even online (two thirds aren't proficient in reading); they don't follow politics (most can't name their mayor, governor, or senator); they don't maintain a brisk work ethic (just ask employers); and they don't vote regularly (45 percent can't comprehend a ballot).They are the dumbest generation. They enjoy all the advantages of a prosperous, high-tech society. Digital technology has fabulously empowered them, loosened the hold of elders. Yet adolescents use these tools to wrap themselves in a generational cocoon filled with puerile banter and coarse images. The founts of knowledge are everywhere, but the rising generation camps in the desert, exchanging stories, pictures, tunes, and texts, savoring the thrill of peer attention. If they don't change, they will be remembered as fortunate ones who were unworthy of the privileges they inherited. They may even be the generation that lost that great American heritage, forever.

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This shocking, lively exposure of the intellectual vacuity of today’s under thirty set reveals the disturbing and, ultimately, incontrovertible truth: cyberculture is turning us into a nation of know-nothings.

Can a nation continue to enjoy political and economic predominance if its citizens refuse to grow up?

For decades, concern has been brewing about the dumbed-down popular culture available to young people and the impact it has on their futures. At the dawn of the digital age, many believed they saw a hopeful answer: The Internet, e-mail, blogs, and interactive and hyper-realistic video games promised to yield a generation of sharper, more aware, and intellectually sophisticated children. The terms “information superhighway” and “knowledge economy” entered the lexicon, and we assumed that teens would use their knowledge and understanding of technology to set themselves apart as the vanguards of this new digital era.

That was the promise. But the enlightenment didn’t happen. The technology that was supposed to make young adults more astute, diversify their tastes, and improve their verbal skills has had the opposite effect. According to recent reports, most young people in the United States do not read literature, visit museums, or vote. They cannot explain basic scientific methods, recount basic American history, name their local political representatives, or locate Iraq or Israel on a map. The Dumbest Generation is a startling examination of the intellectual life of young adults and a timely warning of its consequences for American culture and democracy.

Drawing upon exhaustive research, personal anecdotes, and historical and social analysis, Mark Bauerline presents an uncompromisingly realistic portrait of the young American mind at this critical juncture, and lays out a compelling vision of how we might address its deficiencies.
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