The Dumbest Generation?

“Students, even of college age, have had very little conscious experience of life or books and it is no wonder their minds are bone dry.” Jacques Barzun, Teacher in America, 1945.

I’ve been meaning to write about The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future [Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30] for weeks, mainly because it has such a pithy title, but also because I mentioned it in a post a few weeks ago but hadn’t read it yet. Time passes, though. I got back from a week’s vacation to find a ton of work from both the jobs I work in the Fall plus a dead hard drive on my office computer, then classes are starting and along with them the many presentations and whatnot. Life seemed very busy all of a sudden. And then there’s the problem that I just couldn’t make it through the book, and not because I was too depressed by how the digital age has corrupted us all.

Now I’m even more belated, because yesterday’s A & L Daily linked to a twopart column by my favorite CHE columnist on stupidity in these kids today which mentions Bauerlein’s book among others. I haven’t had time to read those, either, and definitely feel that I’m falling down in my obligation to stay informed. Nevertheless, I want to forge ahead and just mention some things that struck me about The Dumbest Generation.

I wanted to like this book. I’ve written before that I’m a sucker for any hypothesis about the world going to hell in a handcart since whatever bad thing happened: Eve eating the apple, Caesar destroying the Republic, Luther destroying Christendom, European settlers killing indigenous Americans, Yankees defeating the Confederacy, Hitler killing everyone in sight, or the latest tragedy–the advent of the “digital age.” I always have a suspicion that the historical period I’m living in is the worst one except for all the historical periods that have preceded it.

And with the sole exception of movies, I’m definitely something of a cultural and intellectual snob, so I’m happy to look down at the hapless masses and say with the cultural critics, “oh yes, you can’t possibly have a worthwhile life if you haven’t read X author or aren’t familiar with Y artist or can’t hum the introductory movement of Z symphony.” Everyone seems to have different standards of snobbery, but for argument’s sake I’ll suggest the complete works of Shakespeare (check!), Albrecht Durer (check!), and Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony (check!). There, ain’t I cultured. But it could be Joyce’s Ulysses (check!), Picasso (check!), and Bruckner’s seventh symphony (check!). I have this pathological desire to know everything about history, literature, philosophy, politics, religion, music, and art, but I’m willing to admit that not everyone shares my passions and that doesn’t mean they’re dumb. They’re just hard to hold conversations with.

As I said, I wanted to like the book, and there are many good things about the book, but I couldn’t accept the argument.

First of all, as I wrote in the previous post, I’m skeptical of the whole enterprise of evaluating 18-year-olds by the standards of middle-aged college professors. Partly, that’s because I remember what I was like at 18, and partly because I haven’t noticed any drastic difference in students, though admittedly I see a limited number of them. However, I started teaching freshmen at the University of Illinois in 1992, and out of the few hundred students I taught there, I recall only a couple who had the sort of intellectual curiosity that one might find in graduate students or faculty. They were very ordinary 18-year-olds, and most of them were intellectually mediocre. And this was in the days before iPods and laptops, when professors were still suggesting their students “word process” their papers, when I assumed anyone with a cell phone was a doctor or a drug dealer.

Let’s also consider just ordinary people out in the world when we start thinking about the kind of intellectual curiosity and engagement with ideas and culture–or lack thereof–that some people complain about. Is it that college students are getting dumber? Or that most people are already dumb, and that more of them are going to college as standards lower? I don’t have an answer, but it’s a legitimate question. If we take a look at the most popular television shows, movies, games, magazines, websites, etc. for every age category, are we intellectual snobs going to find much to impress us? I live a pretty sheltered life these days. Just about every adult I know has at least a master’s degree, and often two or more or a PhD. I just don’t meet many uneducated people. What are they like? Most people don’t even go to college, so I have no idea what the ordinary person is like. Have we always been in decline because most people have never heard of Shostakovitch or can’t explain the Monroe Doctrine?

Some quibbles aren’t with the premise, but with some of the arguments in the book itself, though. For example: “Even if we grant the point that on some measures today’s teenagers and 20-year-olds perform no worse than yesterday’s, the implication critics make seems like a concession to inferiority. Just because sophomores 50 years ago couldn’t explain the Monroe Doctrine or identify a play by Sophocles any more than today’s sophomores doesn’t mean that today’s shouldn’t do better, far better” (30). So, in some ways the kids aren’t getting any dumber at all, but because we’re so much more advanced now and they spend so much time in school and have computers and such, the kids should somehow care about the Monroe Doctrine more than their predecessors. Why is that exactly? Because they more access to cultural information, they thus have a reason to take advantage of that access? I just don’t see the connection. Teenage culture is what it is. I think my previous question still stands. When you’re a teenager, if you can play the blues on a Strat, what difference does it make to you who’s on the Supreme Court?

Or consider the interpretation of the results of the National Survey of Student Engagement, which showed that from 2003 to 2005 (which seems like a small time frame to me) college freshmen and college seniors seemed to be reading slightly more books. This is a “disappointing improvement” because their college experience hasn’t turned them into scholarly people, like all those scholarly people running around everywhere in past generations (55-56). “Compare this attitude,” Bauerlein suggests, “with that of young Frederick Douglass.” “Or that of John Stuart Mill.” Comparing the intellectual engagement of the majority of college students or even American citizens with brilliant and eloquent men like Douglass or Mill hardly seems relevant. What do we learn by saying that most people don’t have the intellect of such men? We learn that the people who make those comparisons have spent a lot more time reading great books than they have paying attention to what most people are really like. I myself would feel most at home in a world of Douglasses or Mills, but that’s not how life is, and it’s even less like that when one leaves academia.

The book has a series of these irrelevant comparisons. “If cognitive talents rise correspondingly with the proliferation of screens and the sophistication of shows and games, why hasn’t a generation of historically informed, civically active, verbally able, and mathematically talented young adults come forth and proven the cultural pessimists and aged curmudgeons wrong?” (92). This is a typical move in the argument. Some foolish group claims that such and such technology is making everyone smarter. Obviously it isn’t. Thus the kids are somehow dumber. But this isn’t a problem with the kids or even the technology, but with the hype. The criticism shouldn’t be directed against kids and adults who do the same unintellectual things they always have–only now with shinier gadgets–but instead against anyone stupid enough to believe that a child is going to learn better or know more because their information comes from a computer rather than a book. Criticizing techno-hype isn’t as much fun, apparently, as claiming that we’ve just raised the “dumbest generation.” I don’t get the impression that Bauerlein believes the hype, though. It’s just a way to score points. However, just saying the kids aren’t as smart as some people claimed they would be doesn’t make them dumb, or even dumbest.

He asks his students to sit down with their friends at dinner and and as an experiment use some big words to see what happens. They balk at this, thinking their friends will avoid them, or more likely think them pretentious jerks. This “demonstrates that the social settings of adolescence actually conspire against verbal maturity” (155). That comes as a shocking revelation to anyone who has never been an adolescent, but should it for the rest of us? Isn’t there something to be said for discourse communities? Adolescent boys don’t talk like college professors. Neither do grown men sitting around drinking beer and cheering a football game. Neither does anyone else for that matter. Most people don’t have very large vocabularies. That’s just a fact. Most communication takes place with a minimum of words. Unless one wants to be able to articulate sophisticated thoughts or critical insights, or is in love with language, or perhaps just wants to impress other academics, an extensive vocabulary just isn’t required. Blaming teenagers because they don’t sound like educated college professors just seems like another irrelevant comparison. I can feel his pain (I once cringed when someone teaching at Princeton pronounced the “ch” in “inchoate” as the “ch” in “church”), but it doesn’t mean most people have or ever have had large vocabularies.

Finally, I couldn’t finish the book. It’s a quick read. Bauerlein is a fine writer with, I believe, good and serious intentions. There were more statistics and studies quoted, but I just couldn’t get past what seemed a flawed premise: that because teenagers today aren’t as intellectual as college professors, despite their increased access to culture through digital means, they’re somehow dumber than teenagers in the past or most adults today. The book is a great exercise in how to create an imagined crisis and boost sales, but I’m not sure it tells us about any significance between today’s college students and the allegedly smarter generations that have come before.

12 thoughts on “The Dumbest Generation?

  1. I think you misconstrued the data for NSSE reading from 2003 to 2005. You may be confusing data for improvement from freshman to senior year with data for freshman or seniors in 03 and 05.

  2. That could be. According to the chart on p.55, in 2003 26% of freshmen reported reading no books, while in 2005 24% of freshmen reported the same. That seems to me that 2% fewer freshmen weren’t reading, or that 2% more were. For seniors the numbers are 21% and 19%, which would seem to indicate the same.
    On the positive side, in 2003 55% of freshmen reported reading between 1-4 books, while in 2005 that number was 56%, so it seems slightly more freshmen were reading 1-4 books. For seniors the numbers were 53% and 54%, again showing slightly more seniors were reading 1-4 books.
    The numbers reporting 5-10 books changed very little: 12-13% for freshmen and no change for seniors.
    Looking at it another way, there is very little improvement, but still some. Freshmen and seniors are 3 years apart, not 2, but let’s assume the freshmen in 2003 were to be the seniors in 2005. Here we have 7% fewer students reporting reading NO books, 1% fewer reporting reading between 1-4 books, and 4% MORE reporting reading between 5-10 books. Any way you interpret that data, the students were reading slightly more books as they got developed, though still by some standards–including my own–not very many.
    My main criticism isn’t that students are especially intellectual or scholarly or critical, even after four years of college. I don’t think they are. I just don’t think they’re any dumber than previous generations, and I don’t see the evidence here to prove that. I think it much more likely that those students in any generation with a passion for ideas have always been and will always be a remnant, and that remnant heavily populates academia.

  3. In the book by Mark Bauerlein, The Dumbest Generation, he states that today’s generation reads significantly less than previous generations. He includes results from a number of studies in chapter two of the book, titled “The New Bibliophobes”. He inserts charts and numerous statistics all proving that our generation reads less, and I agree, reading rates have significantly reduced lately. However, I believe that there are a number of significant factors that are causing the decline of reading in our generation and the most significant of these is video games; specifically video game advertising. I intend to show this by revealing the significance of video games in our culture, the effect of in-game advertising, and the success of advertising in general.
    To begin to prove this, I could list off at least 100 best selling books from 2008 and the common person probably wouldn’t have heard of most of them but, if I start listing off popular video game titles from 2008 the bells start ringing. For example, how many of you have heard of The Appeal by John Grisham, which spent 5 weeks at number one on the New York Times Best Seller list? Did you know that J.K. Rowling, the author of Harry Potter, had a new book out titled The Tale of Beedle the Bard? Now you might say, “What about Twilight?” There is a perfect example! Stephanie Meyer, the author of Twilight, sold an astonishing 17 million copies. The reason for this is because she advertised, and people knew about her book. Additionally, if I mention popular video games such as Grand Theft Auto 4, Halo 3, Wii Fit, World of Warcraft, Rock Band, or Fable 2, stories and memories of playing materialize in most peoples’ heads. The reason for this is naturally because people own those games, and people own those games because of… advertising!
    The effect of this is clear as day. Sixty-eight percent of households in the United States play computer or video games. On its first day, Grand Theft Auto IV, recorded sales of $310 million! Game software sales were $2.6 billion in 1996, and by 2006 they had reached $7.4 billion. In 2007, the industry sold 267.8 million games. That’s 540 games sold every minute! (Seeking) Halo 3, by Microsoft, is estimated to have cost $30 million to develop however, the American software giant was able to recoup that, and the millions more spent on they spent on marketing, straight away. On its first day of sales, it brought in $170 million, setting the record for the most money earned in a day by an entertainment product. It completely beat the money made in a day by Spiderman 3, the biggest-grossing Hollywood film. (BBC) The U.S. also sold over 268 million consoles for the year 2008; nearly 36 million more units than 2007. (NPD) Obviously, advertising is doing some good for the entertainment industry.
    Advertising has become such a major part of our everyday lives it’s scary. I mean honestly what would any newspaper, TV show, magazine, Greyhound bus, cereal box, or internet site be without advertising? It would be naked! It just wouldn’t look the same. Think about it, if companies didn’t advertise in the places listed above they would have to come up with something else to fill the space where advertisements are currently. They would have to hire new employees to fill that space, which is expensive and they would also lose a bunch of money because people weren’t aware of their products. However, we do advertise and the advertising business has got it exactly right: they aim for the eyes. They have also figured out that in recent years the number and frequency of people on the internet has risen dramatically, therefore the number of ads on the net is also way up.
    Moreover, advertisers and people in the video game industry have recently discovered the substantial potential for “in-game” advertising, where the ads in the game are coded to be dynamic, in other words they change. One day it is an advertisement for a new game coming out and when you play again a month from now the game will be advertising another newer game on its way (Yang). The industry still has a number of kinks that they are trying to work out, but it would be seriously worth the effort for them, because kids already sucked in by the video game industry will be more than eager to go and spend more.
    If this trend continues, the levels of reading in our country are not likely to change. If Mr. Bauerlein believes that our generation needs to spend more time reading, his generation needs to redirect their marketing strategies to more effectively promote book sales. If the advertisements that we see all around us are advertising books instead of video games I believe that our generations reading levels will slowly begin to increase. If we are exposed to book ads we have a higher chance of possibly getting the crazy idea to actually read a book once in a while.
    Yang, Moonhee, David R. Roskos-Ewoldsen, Lucian Dinu, and Laura M. Arpan. “The effectiveness of ‘in-game’ advertising: comparing college students’ explicit and implicit memory for brand names.” Journal of Advertising 35.4 (Winter 2006): 143(10). General OneFile. Gale. Hellgate High School. 13 Feb. 2009
    NPD Group. “2008 Video Game Software Sales Across Top globa; Markets Experience Double-Digit Growth”. 13 Feb 2009.
    Seeking Alpha. “The Video Game Industry: An $18 Billion Entertainment Juggernaut”. 13 Feb 2009.
    BBC 13 Feb 2009

  4. Response to the Dumbest Generation
    I like to read. I grew up reading almost every day. My mom and I used to sit together and read books. My favorites were always Shel Silverstein’s poetry and the Harry Potter series. Most of my friends and even people I knew but weren’t really my friends read every day, and it wasn’t school assigned reading, it was because we all wanted to. Almost every grade in my middle school had some kind of SSR, or Silent Sustained Reading, at least twice a week, where we would find a spot on the floor, in our seats or, in the upper grades, on the counters that were in the classrooms, and read for sometimes an hour or so at a time. We had a program called AR, “Accelerated Reading,” which every book had a points value and you would take a test on that book and earn points. One year every kid in my class earned over 200 points each, and most books were worth about 7-10 points, depending on how difficult they were. That set a kind of a base for me, and to this day I still read for an hour or so at least twice a week. In Mark Bauerlein’s book The Dumbest Generation, he claims most kids refuse to read. I absolutely disagree with this, and I most certainly don’t agree that the reason is because they don’t like it or it’s not fun or interesting. In my experience, reading has always been fun, and since I always chose books that I wanted to read, it has always been interesting. If you ask me, the blame of my generation being “the dumbest” should be set a lot more on Generation X than Generation Y. I think it is quite obvious what Mr. Bauerlein thinks about Generation Y given that he entitled his book on the subject “The Dumbest Generation”, and it may be true that kids in my generation don’t read in skyscraping numbers, but if he wants to base his definition of intelligence on reading then why not check the stats for his own generation?
    According to the National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS) in 1992, in which none of my generation were adults yet, if they were even born, 3% of adults were at a Level 5 reading level, 17% were Level 4, 32% were Level 3, 27% were Level 2, and 23% were Level 1. Also, US adults ranked 10th out of 17 high-income nations as an average literacy composite score (Literacy in the United States). Those are sad statistics for any generation, especially considering how Mr. Bauerlein stated in his introduction that so many teens are loading their schedules with AP and Honors classes in order to get into a good college; I think it’s safe to assume that those AP classes are going to demand a very high reading level, which adults in his generation seemed to lack. An X-er might not agree, but isn’t it kind of funny that one of the main skills that Mr. Bauerlein uses to say that my generation is the dumbest is one that his generation fails in.
    Mr. Bauerlein also judges the intellect of those younger than he by stating that we don’t spend enough time on our homework, most of us less than an hour a day. Personally, my homework just doesn’t take me that long. In an hour I can have finished two or three subjects’ worth of homework, and usually that’s all of it for the day. Sometimes I’ve already finished it in class, and I don’t have any homework at all. Obviously, basing my opinion only on myself is inaccurate. However most of the people I know, myself included, don’t need two or three hours a day, as Mr. Bauerlein thinks we do or should, to finish our homework. Another thing he thinks we don’t do enough of is studying. In my experience, most of Generation X and the Baby Boomers think that high school kids should have no time for anything because they should always be studying. Isn’t the point of going to school to learn? Why should we have to study outside of class if we already learned the material in class? According to Jeffrey Davidson, author of the Complete Guide to Public Speaking, the human attention span is approximately 7 minutes long. That’s not very long, especially if your mind is wandering a lot when you’re not totally focused. This shows that studying for hours and hours is doing more harm than good, only making your brain more tired and less likely to remember what you need. When I study, I do a quick 10 or 15 minute review over what I need to know and then I’m done, and I maintain a 3.5 or higher GPA. That’s not exactly genius, but I get on the honor roll and pass all my classes with at least a high B, an 87% or so, and that’s pretty good.
    The last thing I will focus on is that Mr. Bauerlein is also much older, a “generation’s length” older than most people that are part of Generation Y, and I challenge you to find anyone who does not admit to there being a “generation gap” between every generation. Most younger people would describe it as they just don’t understand what it’s like to be a teen these days. In truth, they do understand what it’s like to be a teen, only their experience was up to 20 years ago, and that is almost irrelevant with modern schools, workplaces and social environments. Back when Mr. Bauerlein’s generation were younger and focused on the kinds of things teenagers are associated with, i.e. social lives, having fun and slacking off, someone’s social life probably didn’t revolve around how often they were on myspace or how many songs their iPod could hold, and how good or popular those songs were. Having fun for any high school student generally includes a party, yet often parents won’t let their kids go to parties based on their own experiences. A video game party 20 years ago didn’t include Rock Band or Guitar Hero, more like Ms. Pac Man and Space Invaders, but they were still video games. In truth, things haven’t changed all that much, but there is still that difference, and it does make “all the difference.” However, using it to call my generation the dumbest is rude and untrue.
    In conclusion, every generation has its high and low points, its genii and its not-so-smart people, its computer nerds and valley girls, and singling out any specific generation as being the dumbest is to label all of them the dumbest. No single generation is any less smart than others, but no two generations can be defined as intelligent by the same standards. Times always have and always will change in such a way that no generation can be judged by the feats of its predecessors, nor can its predecessors be judged by the standards of the generations to follow. So, Mr. Bauerlein, judging any one generation by the standards of another is not only unnecessary, it is inaccurate and wrong.
    “Literacy Timeline.” 09 08 2007. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. 20 Feb 2009 .
    “Literacy in the United States.” Aug 2003. National Institute for Literacy. 20 Feb 2009 .
    Davidson, Jeffrey. The Complete Guide to Public Speaking. illustrated. John Wiley and Sons, 2002.

  5. Technology has been a big part of my life. I don’t leave my house without my cell phone or iPod. I am constantly on the computer checking my email, myspace and facebook. Technology does take over my reading time, but I make time for reading everyday. In the book The Dumbest Generation, Mark Bauerlein says that teens don’t read as much anymore and because they don’t read, they are getting dumber. He also says that because teens are getting dumber, our future is in jeopardy. Under these circumstances, I completely disagree with his opinion and I believe the opposite. I believe that technology has made teens smarter, technology will keep getting better and more advanced and our future is not in jeopardy.
    In the debate between Mark Bauerlein and Neil Howe, Bauerlein says that technology stupefies our generation. Neil Howe, on the other hand, says that technology has made our generation smarter. I believe that Howe is correct. I believe that technology gives this generation –us– access to more varieties of information. We have to be able to figure out if a website is legit or not. Anyone can hack into the website and change anything to make the information unreliable. We need the knowledge to show if it’s legit which requires a certain set of skills which most people don’t have. I bet that a good amount of our parents’ generation and most of our grandparents’ generation would need help figuring out how to even use some of the technology we have today. I do, however, understand where Bauerlein is coming from. There are the teens who sit in front of a computer screen wasting time and putting off homework. There are the teens who make stupid choices and choose not to learn, but that doesn’t mean that previous generations can put all teens in that category. Some teens in our generation work their butts off to get good grades and to please their parents. Then other teens make stupid choices or get a F’s in a few of their classes and reflect poorly for the whole group. In result, previous generations lump all teens in the same category and believe that all teens are stupid. I totally respect previous generation, I would never disrespect my elders but when whole books are published on how stupid our generation is, I have to voice my opinion. We’re not all dumb so please don’t group us all in the same category.
    Compared to the technology of 10 years ago, today’s technology is advanced. People have made great discoveries in technology and things keep changing. There is always a new phone coming out and everyone wants it. There are about three different kinds of iPod shuffles. There are faster ways to open the internet and there is all sorts of video games. TV’s keep getting flatter with better screens. Technology is changing and will keep changing as life goes on. As long as there are people who like technology there will always be new advances on it. We can check our email from our phones and our iPods. I think that in the future we will be able to do just about everything using technology. We might not even need to leave our houses in the future. The more advanced technology gets the more knowledge we will need which mean that we –this generation–are not stupid.
    In Mark Bauerlein’s book The Dumbest Generation, Bauerlein says that our future is in jeopardy. He is saying that there is no hope for this generation. I think that idea is stupid and believe that my generation will do just fine in the future. Another difference I have with Mark Bauerlein is the generation issue. We are probably going to make some mistakes but its not like previous generations haven’t made mistakes. We are only human and we can’t be perfect. Look at the economy right now, for example. This generation didn’t do that. My generation definitely didn’t start the war in Iraq; that was previous generations. It almost seems like when our generation takes over, we will be cleaning up the last generation’s messes. Some teens in my generation already have ideas on how our economy could be fixed. We have ideas on different materials that could be used for alternative fuels. Our generation is very smart; we just have different ways of showing it. We express our knowledge in ways of thinking. We think ahead instead of just thinking about what we are doing right that second. The way I see it, our future is NOT in jeopardy. I think we are in pretty good shape and everything is going to be just fine.
    As you can see, I know what my opinion is. As I have stated, it’s my opinion that Mark Bauerlein is wrong. I think that our generation is definitely smart and we will be able to handle anything obstacle that gets in our way in the future. Bauerlein says that technology is keeping us from reading and is making us dumb. Reading is a valuable thing. It helps strengthen the imagination and helps people think. I believe that technology is a good thing and the more advanced it is the better it will be. I think that when the next generation is where we are now, we will think that they are dumb and they will think that we are dumb. I think that the fighting between the generations is going to be going on forever. I just think that people shouldn’t write books on how stupid we are because that’s just rude and while they have an opinion, it may not necessarily account for EVERYONE in that group.
    Bauerlein, Mark (2008). The Dumbest Generation. New York, New York: Penguin Group.

  6. Video games are hurting people’s knowledge. This is one of the key points of Mark Bauerlein’s book written to convince people that kids are getting dumber. Mark Bauerlein does make a few good points in his book, like that kids don’t want to learn, and what they do learn they don’t remember long enough to actually use. But he says that video games are the reason why kids are getting dumber, which I believe is totally untrue, and irrelevant.
    One good point he makes in his first chapter is that kids these days don’t retain the knowledge they learned in school. Jay Leno’s “jaywalking” section in the Tonight Show illustrates this perfectly. This is where he goes out on the street, and asks random people random questions to see how smart, or dumb, they are. The things he asks that anyone should know is obviously forgotten or not known by the people that are being quizzed (The Dumbest Generation). Another reason kids aren’t retaining knowledge is because the internet is so much easier to go to grab information from, and then forget all about what you just did (
    Another good point that Bauerlien raises is that kids don’t want to learn things anymore. The amount of reading that people do in their free time now has decreased dramatically, and is still going lower, which shows kids’ drive towards learning ( Another good indicator of kids’ attitudes toward learning is that the SAT/ACT test scores haven’t improved in a long time, whereas a lot of other countries are seeing improvement in their scores (The Dumbest Generation).
    The biggest disagreement I have with him in his first chapter is that video games are the reason that kids are getting dumber. There are many games out that teach good lessons about life that people actually play. Games like SimCity are a perfect example, because they teach you how to manage a city, and plan things out. It takes some skill to play SimCity. You need to plan things out before you go forth with them, you need to know how to keep people happy, and how to keep track of a lot of thing at once. Even games like Grand Theft Auto can teach lessons like how to stay alive in the bad neighborhoods of today. And another reason they are obviously helpful, is the fact that all sorts of people use them to train people in the situations they will be in in their job. The military and airlines are just two of the many people who use them (Piedmont campus Newspaper).
    So, it is obvious that Mark Bauerlein does make some good points about the knowledge and learning habits of kids today, but his video game “theory” isn’t even supported enough to make sense.
    Bauerlien, Mark. The Dumbest Generation. New York: Penguin Group, 2008.
    Piedmont Campus Newspaper

  7. Is our generation really the dumbest? It is a question that is argued by some. People such as the author of the book The Dumbest Generation, Mark Bauerlein, think we are dumb because we spend too much time socializing instead of reading. Others believe that we are actually really smart with all the computer skills and the socializing. There are many reasons that support both opinions on our generation. Consequently, I find myself in the middle. Although we do tend to emphasize socializing more than learning, I do not believe we are the dumbest generation. We may socialize too much, but these may not necessarily be bad.
    Bauerlein has limited knowledge on our generation, but despite this lack of knowledge he does manage to bring up some valid points. Bauerlein states that instead of reading books, we are more interested in the media. “We know more about who the next American Idol is than we do about who the Senate of the US House is.” The New York Times said, “fewer than half the teenagers knew when the Civil War was fought, and one in four didn’t know when Columbus sailed to the New World.” I didn’t know these facts, and I am sure many of my fellow classmates didn’t know either. In Darien Times, “11% of teens never read outside of school, 26% say reading is boring, and 80% didn’t read or buy a book last year.” Reading is clearly not everyone’s favorite interest, but there are a lot of kids who love to read. In the top 100 books, the Harry Potter Series and the Twilight Series were on the list. Bauerlein mentions the Harry Potter Series, but states that most only read it because their friends were reading it. That can be true for some, but for the most part everyone I know loves the series and read it on their own. There are other books that are popular, but many teens love these two series. He also believes that we should be checking out the Classics. Honestly, it doesn’t matter what book you check out. Every book will give you comprehension skills, and make you use your imagination and creativity.
    Bauerlein also makes a point that when we go to the library, most of us go on the computer instead of checking out books. Bauerlein believes that we spend too much of our time socializing instead of checking out classic books. The Teen Tech survey said, “3.14% of teens go to the library, 82.95% teens are at home online and most the survey-takers have used Myspace and Facebook.” The Internet has become more and more popular, but it’s not a bad thing. Although we do spend much of our time talking with friends on Myspace and Facebook, it’s how many people make new friends. We may not use the technology the way Bauerlein wants us to, but we use it to our advantage making new friends. It starts bonds with people you would never imagine having a friendship with, and it’s a great way to communicate with colleagues and family for that matter. Socializing is key to everyday life. Some are worried when their kids have a tough time making friends because friendship helps you get through life. The Internet is a great way to make those bonds with people. There are times when we socialize I little too much, but I would take socializing too much over not socializing enough.
    In addition to all the Internet use, cell phones are highly used by teenagers, and we tend to spend most our free time socializing with our friends. WordPress states, “Teens 13-17 years of age text 7.5 times more often than they call.” Texting has become a huge part of our lives. The Niles Public Library Teen Scene Blog says,” Two doctors used text messaging to perform a life-saving surgery on a 16-year-old in Congo.” The doctor that performed the surgery never did such a task till that day. The boy had his arm shot and it got infected, so they needed to amputate it. With the help of the England doctor, the doctor in Africa successfully pulled it off. Lives are saved everyday because of texting. That boy in the story would have died if it weren’t for the doctors communicating through texting. Clearly, it’s not a bad thing.
    We may socialize more than we learn, but I don’t think that should make us the dumbest generation. We may not read enough, and we may socialize more than necessary, but these are not bad things. We may not read as much as Bauerlein wants us to, or we may not read the books he prefers, but when we read we are learning the same skills. We may also go to the library just to use the Internet to chat with friends, but that’s how we have made many new friends and formed stronger bonds with people. We keep in contact more with distant relatives, and we gain more in relationships. Lastly, texting saves peoples lives, even though we use it more for communicating with friends and family. People’s lives are saved like the boy in the story. Saving lives is worth all the negatives to texting. We are not the dumbest, but I believe we don’t use technology to the best of our abilities. We may socialize too much at times, and we may not read as much as we should, but we are human and we have made a positive impact on society. Bauerlein is underestimating our knowledge in the book “The Dumbest Generation”.

  8. Mark Bauerlein the author of the book The Dumbest Generation has opened our eyes in seeing what our generation has become. I don’t think that we are the dumbest generation but he does have a good point. We do have low test scores and do spend a lot of time doing things like Myspace. I don’t think it is fair for him call us the Dumbest Generation when lots of older people do not know how to even work a computer and many of the programs that we do. Also his generation has gotten us in an economic meltdown.
    TV has become a huge thing for everyone is having to get the new bigger plasma screen for their house and have all the channels. At http://www.csun.edo according to the A.C. Nielsen co. on average an American watches more that 4 hours of TV a day. That is 28 hours a week or 2 months of a year and in an average life of 65 years an average American will spend 9 years watching TV when they could have spent their time doing something that could have changed the entire world.
    Myspace and facebook had become one of the most visited sites on the web. Every one from young to old has their own little web page. Some people spend many hours at a time seeing if someone just sent them a new message or commented on their new picture. I think it’s a waste of time. I still have one, just never get on. Many people talk about very personal things and many people don’t know that some people can read them. Some people even advertise their drugs that they are selling.
    Many kids do drugs as mentioned in chapter two. I think that is true. I hear of many kids talking about how they are going to smoke this and drink that and I think that does make them dumb, but if they want to do it I will not stop them. All I know is I don’t want to have any part of it, for I don’t need to get in to that type of behavior. At a drug report said that 9.9 percent of kits smoke pot before the age of 13 but smoking cigarettes went down to 18.3 percent. I still think that it’s not a good number for cigarettes are gross but I am happy to know that it’s going down. I also learned that 82 to 90 percent of kids said that it was easy to get pot and I think that we need to do something about that.
    Overall I don’t think that we are the dumbest generation but he does have a good point that we should be doing something differently and spend our time more wisely. I do think it was good for him to write this book for I think it opened our eyes to see what we are doing and what we could change to help out our life.

  9. Who says we are the Dumbest Generation?
    According to Mark Baurerlein (the author of The Dumbest Generation) this generation is the dumbest. Where did he get this idea? Did he just notice one day that everyone under 30 seemed to be under standards? And what standards were these? And who were these kids? Does anyone know them?
    Baurerlein determined that traditional education is necessary, and education is being taught improperly. He also has determined that youths don’t care about anything but media, their peers, and their selves. According to Baurerlein youths have no idea of “the bigger picture.” The fact that he seems to ignore is that every school, every teacher, and every student is different. As well as the talents this generation does have, even if it is not in the way of standardized tests.
    Baurerlein declares that sparking intellectual curiosity and independent thinking is “blather”. People have different opinions: some think this is the smartest generation. According to Kevin Bondelli, a Youth Development Association (YDA) council member, “The traditional education system focuses entirely on intellectual and ignores experimental learning. Traditional education teaches students how to succeed on standardized tests and not much else. It leads students to only extrinsically value education, not value learning.” Also a teacher who has been teaching math for 15 years reports that “Students are lazy and media obsessed.” With education today some kids are still uninterested. If education is made strict and all traditional, those kids would most likely be even more uninterested and unmotivated.
    As well as having different opinions, people have different lives, They have different views, different opinions, different interests, and values. Not every one is the same! Mark Baurerlein should maybe think about this word: STEREIOTYPE. Does he know these kids that he is inspecting like some sort of science project? Or is he only hypothesizing? Statistics and test results are not required to know that everyone is not the same; all you have to do is take a look around a high school or collage. You don’t see ample amounts of identical kids walking around texting, wearing the same clothes, or going to the same classes that they don’t care about. If you had the ability to read their minds you would find that they are all not thinking and feeling the same things.
    It is true that a lot of kids do spend a lot of time using technology (video games, cell phones, internet….) and some spend more time than they should. But not everyone, and that’s not forever. But there are kids who don’t have a cell phone, or a computer, there are kids who don’t listen to pop music, and some are not media obsessed. People are diverse and they can change. For example at an international conference on Computers in education there was a study conducted on student satisfaction with enhanced traditional courses. Students were enrolled in two courses, one where the instructor used black boards to supplement the course content and one which was a technology enhanced course. Students who preferred the technology course liked the flexibility and convenience of the medium of communication. The students who preferred the face-to-face black board course felt that the online course lacked personal touch. This is an indication of how students have different views.
    So who is the dumbest? And whom are we being comparing to? Not everyone is the same. People have different views, likes and dislikes, and opinions on education as well as so many other things. And you don’t need survey results to prove that. All you have to do is look around a bit, and you will find that there are some people that send 750 texts a day, and play video games, and there are people that don’t have electricity. There are people that write, people that read, people that cook, people that work, there are people that go running, people that are inspired, people do so many things, you can’t just look at them and some of their test results and label them dumb.
    Kevin Bondelli-YDA youth council member
    Computers in Education International conference- Student opinion results

  10. It’s not all about dumbest generation, what we consider that this generation is more likely attracted to mechanics, technology, communication, relaxation, entertainment, clubs etc etc. I wanted to quote very interesting blog that describes only a decade of difference among teens of 90s and teens of 00s. Quoting this entire blog written on Teens of the 90s vs Teens of 00s from, “Only a decade apart, striking differences are glaring between these two batches of youth. We can say that the past two decades brought dynamic changes in cultural touchstones, social reactions, career and familial outlooks, as well as world views. In short the teens of the last two decades are pretty much different from what they used to be more than twenty years ago, yet striking differences separate the two “batches.”
    The 90’s teens still carry with them some semblance of trust and high regard for adults and people of authority. This is in contrast to the 00s teens who are suspicious of everyone in a position to help. You have to show them that you care over an extended period otherwise they‘ll never believe that you do care. This is due to the fact that the present day youth experience greater autonomy in today’s fast paced world.
    Teenagers from the 90s experienced the start of the technological boom, the Internet was starting to get more traffic, cellular phones began to be part of daily commune although they were still mediocre in size and the most of the displays were in black and white. Desktops started to become ubiquitous and hybrid cars were starting to be conceptualized. These are all welcomed changes, as the teen became more hip an sleek. Present day teens are quite the same but they see no negatives in technology and technology symbolizes change. They grew up with one hour photo processing, high speed Internet, PDAs and any new device that hits the market is cool until the next great invention pops up. This is potentially dangerous because they might not realize that these emerging technologies may isolate rather than connect people and diminish their privacy rights as citizens; and reinforce the sense of autonomy to the extent that it destroys family and cultural ties. What I’m trying to say is that teens of the 90s are less exposed to the perils of such rapid boom in technology compared to today’s youth.
    Teens of the 90s have a strong sense of personal identity, they knew who they are and stand up for what they believe in. They don’t easily get rattled and jump into the band wagon of what is considered “in and chic” at any given moment. The teens of today revel in all available choices and dabbles in innumerable varieties. Thus, we have amusing hybrid teens whose music reflects one value, their academic dreams another, their friends something else, and their religious belief system yet a different twist. There is so much going on around them that they lose touch about their identity and become confused about their wavering interests.
    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that teens of the 90s are better in all aspects than the teens at the turn of the millennium. I’m just trying to drive the point that the environment to which the two groups were exposed to are strikingly different. Each day the world becomes increasingly complex and young people today are as complex as the environment that they live in.”
    I hope this makes a sense where the generation is going.

  11. Mr. Baurerlein’s book is in the first half slightly tedious in the compilation of statistics, but there was really not much way around that, and I found it well-written throughout: It is the last third that is really gripping, with many multi-sided arguments and examples that are mutually supportive and quite compelling: The above review indicates the reviewer had trouble going through it, likely because he could not get pas the basic premise from the start: The later parts are not dull at all, and complement all the statistics in an exceptionally compelling way…
    I think the current decline is much older than the book asserts though: The first “tremors” of it are (in my own research on the issue) the mention in French shool year end speeches, around 1896, of the concept “We are not here to fill your heads (with knowledge) but to form them”
    This Taylorist educational impetus, not based on imparting knowledge but on imparting “processes”, where long-term memory knowledge is but generic material to be sifted through by a process (which is the “real” educational goal), is not something that was put into actual practice until it was done in North America in the late 1960s, and later still applied in Europe, with a 10-20 years delay.
    Technology and social changes brought by the World Wars merely augmented the effects of what was a deep-seated shift away from tradition and memory, severing the profound links that previously existed between generations: A most telling example of decline is how children are so remote from their parents today that they can stockpile weapons and utter worldwide death threaths, then carry them out, with the parents still knowing little about it in advance…
    One essential element of maintaining tradition, in technologically advanced societies, is the importance of books, and the linear span of attention they require. Reading varied and serious books has instead become an effort and even a liability among youths for a long time now: In North america at least since World War II, when not long after it ended the terms “nerd”, “egghead” etc. had become some of many strong pejoratives, mostly absent from pre-war discourse, where such disdain would be considered too stupid to even be worded out loud (had the words even been widely used in the first place)…
    The problem is that real intelligence (and thus creativity) does not exist in the abstract vacuum of IQ tests: It requires a huge store of long-term memories to draw on, this crutch being in fact the main way it operates at all… The emphasis today on fast processes over slow memory-building means we have “experts” with not even a basic understanding of what they are doing… The current worldwide finacial crisis is a clear sign of educational failure that pre-dates the “Dumbest Generation”, which will indeed be dumber still, but they are just the first to be really obvious to Baurerlein… They are not the first such generation: After all, what obvious masterpiece of litterature has been written in the last thirty years that comes instantly to mind? Not much… As for the Internet itself being a breathlessly youthful invention of unruly youth, it was actually the result of decades of government waste on Nuclear War survival preparations… So much for youthful creativity…

Comments are closed.