Continued from the first part of this article.
“The Dumbest Generation”, is a look at the “knowledge deficit” author Mark Bauerlein claims the latest generations of Americans have developed. The evidence presented in the book suggest kids are falling behind in all subjects, don’t know anything about history and don’t care about current events unrelated to popular culture. Use of the internet has replaced traditional learning, which has promoted the growth of short attention spans and a superficial knowledge base, coupled with a society promoting and permitting a perpetual adolescent culture, is to blame.
Is there hope for the future? Not according to Bauerlein. The maturing generations will be too ignorant to run a democracy or succeed professionally, falling prey to their own stupidity and corrupt politicians. Even if some kids do buck the trend, do study, do know history and do break free of the adolescent world, they’ll still be woefully handicapped. For Bauerlein, the environment just isn’t the same anymore, and it can’t possibly breed intelligent life.
This is where he loses me.
It is hard to determine who the author is comparing the new generations to, but it starts to sound like Bauerlein has succumb to the ol’ “it was just better back then” syndrome. He writes as if every man, woman and child was a budding intellectual prior to the 60’s, and so much smarter than we are now. Or, perhaps, through his examples of what kids aren’t reading, doing or paying attention to, we can paint a different picture. Only immersion in art, museums, classic novels, books only political science majors read and constant attention to national and world events will do. It starts to sound very, academic; very highbrow.
I have other problems with the book, too. I find the author’s assumptions historically inaccurate. Bauerlein never seems to make class distinctions when he is speaking of past “intelligence levels” and the activities of the “common man” compared to current ones. No, everybody was not smarter, did not read more and did not participate in government in the past; only those with middle to upper class incomes. Without such distinctions, his arguments just seem awkward.
Now, it isn’t that I don’t think a good education, reading the classics or paying attention to current affairs aren’t important in creating a well-rounded citizen capable of self government. I just don’t know that it is that much worse than it ever has been. Yeah, a lot of kids are falling behind in school and are pretty distracted these days. A lot of them aren’t, too. I also think a lot of intelligent, productive members of society probably never read Moby Dick, anything by Machiavelli or ever set foot inside of a museum.
The book’s original premise is solid. I believe there is a knowledge deficit. I believe reliance on computers and the internet have made our brains soft. I think total, permanent immersion in adolescent culture is a problem. The author gives compelling evidence to support his ideas and I agree with what he believes has lead to the “dumbing down” of America. I just don’t go for the rest of the book, which, as Bauerlein said would happen, can be dismissed as another “those dumb kids” generational doom scenario. It is just too heavy-handed and academic to take seriously after a while.
My advice, don’t read The Dumbest Generation unless you already prescribe to the idea that this generation will be the one that kills America. There are plenty of books out there about technology’s effects on children, falling test scores and the reasons behind them, without an academic’s overblown opinions on how smart everybody used to be.