Book Review: The Dumbest Generation

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.

In the five or so minutes it will probably take you to read this, you will have logged roughly half the time the average 15- to 24-year-old now spends reading each day, assuming you even bother reading the entire post.

In a world where books and knowledge are at our fingertips, most people choose to avoid them at all costs, causing Mark Bauerlein, the author of The Dumbest Generation, fear for his country’s future.

The way Bauerlein says it, something disastrous has happened to America’s youth with the arrival of the instant gratification age we are currently in.

The result is a loss of knowledge, plain and simple.

Can we really blame people though? I mean what sounds like more fun, scrolling through Instagram or Facebook and checking out your friends’ newest post, or reading a book about Medieval warfare tactics?

Most people would choose Instagram or Facebook.

When Bauerlein told an audience of college students, “You are six times more likely to know who the latest American Idol is than you are to know who the speaker of the U.S. House is,” a voice in the crowd tells him: “ ‘American Idol’ IS more important.”

Young people are a melting pot of “unimportant” knowledge. The important stuff that affects our day to day life, is information we probably don’t know. A celebrities birthday and what their favourite gemstone is? Information we probably know.

And all this feeds on itself. Increasingly disconnected from the “adult” world of tradition, culture, history, context and the ability to sit down for more than five minutes with a book, today’s digital generation is becoming insulated in its own cocoon of bad spelling, civic illiteracy and endless postings. Two-thirds of U.S. undergraduates now score above average on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, up 30% since 1982, he reports.

Now don’t get me wrong. It’s pretty well known that with each new generation, there will be some sort of inevitable change, and with that change will come complaints from the older generation, with reminiscence from the past, and so on, repeating in a never ending cycle.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, for many reasons. When cultural norms change, art, literature, and other creative outlets become more fluid, and people respond to the spirit of the age with an intelligent and relevant civic discourse.

Within Bauerlein’s collected research, some interesting information has come to light.The fact-based, multiple-choice approach to education has hampered our ability to “think historically,” meaning young Americans have difficulties placing current events in relation to their historical contexts.

Equally, our ability to do basic math and our reading proficiency continues to drop. In a 2005 survey cited in the book, respondents aged 15-to-24 only read anything for eight minutes on a weekday and nine minutes on the weekend, while clocking hours and hours watching TV or surfing the Internet. These are just a few shockers that Bauerlein reveals, but not all of his statistical evidence points toward depressing trends.

At the same time, technology is making our IQ’s go up, and Bauerlein reveals how IQ tests have become more complex to meet our growing intelligence.

If you’re reading this blog post, you probably don’t apply to this book as much as others, but it is never the less something that worries me. How can I trust my future to a bunch of people who ate tide pods and can’t go without their phones for more than five minutes?

One Reply to “Book Review: The Dumbest Generation”

  1. I would question where this study was conducted, who conducted it and for what purpose.

    Personally- I *think* kids these days read a lot more than people my age ever did. I am also willing to admit that it might just be my perception becaUse of the online communities I associate with.

    YA has absolutely exploded as a genre (granted, adults read YA too). I was 13 and reading Stephen King because I don’t remember there being a lot of options unless you were a Sweet Valley High kind of girl. <— not me.

    But! I can agree that they are addicted to their phones and tech. And personally I like having the answer to most questions readily available at my fingertips. So I don’t know, there are pros and cons to every thing.

    But that’s just my two cents and I am far from an expert. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply to Sarah Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.