Now Playing at Reason.tv: Welcome to the Dumbest Generation

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In his provocative new book The Dumbest Generation, Mark Bauerlein argues that "the digital age stupefies young Americans and jeopardizes our future" by turning out hyper-networked kids who can track each other's every move with ease but are largely ignorant of history, economics, culture, and other subjects he believes are prerequisites for meaningful civic participation.

Bauerlein talked with reason.tv's Nick Gillespie in June. To watch the approximately eight-minute interview, and to see Bauerlein's answers to questions from the home version of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?, click here.

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  1. My high school time ended when 56k modems were hot.

    I can’t imagine that the average teenager is any dumber now because of facebook. There’s just no further down to go.

    Most people want to be ignorant. It ain’t a technological thing. They just don’t care to know. I don’t really believe that there was an era when America’s youth were eager beavers learning all the prerequisites of civic participation; I think more people just dropped out of high school so the test averages went up.

  2. Of course he is blaming the internet, he’s a professor, and he doesn’t want to give credit where credit is really due, at least a large part of the credit.

  3. largely ignorant of history, economics, culture, and other subjects

    Doesn’t this describe, I dunno, most of the human race? Or is it that the kids today don’t know what he thinks important? I bet the kids have a fairly complete grasp of a culture he’s overwhelmingly clueless about.

  4. I think he’s right.

    However, before the internet, we had unnetworked kids who were equally ignorant of history, economics, culture, and other subjects that are important to civic participation.

  5. “However, before the internet, we had unnetworked kids who were equally ignorant of history, economics, culture, and other subjects that are important to civic participation.”

    We’ve had that since the beginning of the human race.

  6. The younger generation is going to hell in a handbasket. This has been true since at least Aristotle’s time.

  7. I think it’s the exact opposite. Nowadays kids have access to tons of information rather than in years past where their only source was one or two TV stations and an old, dusty encyclopedia.

    I, for one, can honestly say that if it weren’t for the internet, I probably never would have heard of Ron Paul and would be supporting McBama.

  8. “I think he’s right.

    However, before the internet, we had unnetworked kids who were equally ignorant of history, economics, culture, and other subjects that are important to civic participation.”

    I think that is true but I don’t know that it is true. I would like to know the baseline. Just how much did the average person know in 1950? I find a lot of young people today appallingly ignorant about basic facts of history and civics. I find a lot of adults appallingly ignorant of those things. But since I wasn’t alive in 1950 or 1960, I can’t say that I wouldn’t have thought the same thing then to.

  9. OMG!! LOL!!! That is sooooo not true!!!!

  10. Forget an eight-minute interview. Here’s Mark Bauerlein in eight seconds: “I haven’t nailed a co-ed in five years, and I am so pissed!”

  11. You’d think older people would look back to when they were young and remember that all the older people then were saying the same stupid shit that they are now, and that maybe it’s just what older people do?

    But then they might stop and it wouldn’t be what older people do, so then they couldn’t remember back and see that, so they’d start again. Or something like that.

  12. “But then they might stop and it wouldn’t be what older people do, so then they couldn’t remember back and see that, so they’d start again. Or something like that.”

    First signs of senility…

  13. I believe this H&R posting completes the trifecta from that (probably apocryphal) ancient stone tablet: “Taxes are too high. Children no longer listen to their parents. Surely the end of the world is near.”

  14. “I tell students in class all the time, ‘You guys are lazy and ignorant,'” says Bauerlein. “Don’t tell me how busy you are. You watch two hours and 41 minutes of TV a day.”

    You know, I’m certainly willing to see most of my fellow Americans as woefully ignorant of history and civics. I’m especially unsurprised that one out of 50 college students knew what the first amendment is. Take the ACLU, for instance…

    Anyhoo, I guess I’d be a little insulted if some half-wit college professor looked at me and told me how much tv I watch. That’s a gross generalization. He knows nothing about me as an individual. For instance, I watch three hours and 26 minutes of TV a day… so really, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

    And besides, 100% of ACLU members don’t know what the second amendment is, or know one whit about property rights.

  15. There are many other plausible reasons why there has been a decline in high school results (I don’t know, failing public school systems maybe?) and civic participation. He provides no evidence other than potentially-spurious correlations (at least anywhere I could find on Google) on why the digital lifestyle stupefies youth.

    I, for one, am skeptical that YouTube and Facebook is leading young Americans into ignorance. Meanwhile, note the sneaky cultural elitism at play here: good YouTube videos today is being treated by the likes of Bauerlein much like the aristocrats treated Shakespearean plays.

  16. So I guess this generation can be named:

    Generation WHY are we so dumb?

    or

    Generation ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

  17. Shakespearean plays.

    Low burlesque on the banks of the Thames.

  18. Ugh, can he show a shred of evidence that past generations were any more intelligent? I seriously doubt it.

  19. However, before the internet, we had unnetworked kids who were equally ignorant of history, economics, culture, and other subjects that are important to civic participation.

    Needless to say, the advantage now is that if something comes up that you need to know for some reason, and it isn’t already in your head, you can look it up online in a matter of seconds.

    Even if the average contents of any particular head has gone down (of which I am skeptical), the total quantity of information available to that head at a moment’s notice is, I suspect, many orders of magnitude larger.

  20. I just totally had an OMG moment and twittered that I was blogging about this dude.

  21. I’m sure it’s a very interesting talk, but I decided to watch this instead.

    Fun fact: over 1% of the world’s population has watched that. Now you have too.

  22. Look out, LoneWhackJob is trying to rickroll you.

  23. Is the “our children are getting stupider” story on the “______ is the new crack” cycle or the “homeless epidemic” cycle?

  24. The guy teaches at Emory, so maybe I’m wrong, but . . .

    In general, professors teach at Universities below the standings of their alma mater. So it’s common for a guy to go to a school with very smart students, then go to teach at a school with less intelligent students. Based on his own experience, it’s probably not uncommon for the professor to think, “Man, kids were a lot smarter when I was going to school,” when he should be thinking, “Man, kids were a lot smarter where I was going to school.”

  25. history, economics, culture, and other subjects he believes are prerequisites for meaningful civic participation.

    Am I the only one who thinks that the people who have no understanding of these things are FAR more likely to have civic engagement than those who don’t?

    “Someone somewhere is starving?!? Raise taxes! Only good can come of that.”

    “Someone somewhere doesn’t love America?!? Increase observation of everyone! There has never been an instance where that’s gone poorly.”

  26. “I tell students in class all the time, ‘You guys are lazy and ignorant,'”

    Wow. I bet they pay real close attention after he says that.

  27. lonewacko,

    I just saw one of these guys’ trucks on the SuperHighway today. And their website’s in French, to top it off! I think you need to do a post on this travesty.

  28. John,

    I think that is true but I don’t know that it is true. I would like to know the baseline. Just how

    I think it’s a rolling baseline, e.g. kids in 1950 knew far more about some things and less about others. I very much doubt any assumptions that include the belief that kids in the past were “smarter” or some such.

    The only time I feel a little alarm is when I hear that children aren’t being taught fundamental skills which, for example, enable them to write a coherent 500 words on some subject they have been studying, or thoroughly understand all pre-calc mathematics fundamentals.

  29. Am I the only one who thinks that the people who have no understanding of these things are FAR more likely to have civic engagement than those who don’t?

    Legate, you’re a genius. Given our current crop of state and local pols, that’s the only conclusion one can come to.

  30. I haven’t seen the video, but I’m hesitant to take this easy way out and blame the internet.

    It occurred to me that the fault, in this case, may not lie with my generation, but with our teachers. I had one year of parochial education at a Jesuit college, and the next three years spent at NYU. I would have to say that the finest education I received was in the former and in one year of elementary (only due to a particularly fine teacher). What united these two years together was that my teachers had a reverence for classical pedagogy. What is commonly referred to as the Western Cannon, unfortunately receives little respect, and in most cases derision at many institutions of higher learning. As I found to be the case at NYU, it was near impossible to find a course that navigated one unimpeded through the classics. At the risk of sounding reactionary, I fear there is some truth to the concept of a liberal ethos that threatens an educated public. This is not to say that morals are being compromised or some other such piety, but that the baby-boomers (this same generation that accuses us of our ignorance) who have finally usurped the thrones of academia are inundating us with courses and curricula that posit an ideology rather than imbue us with cultural wisdom. I am thankful that my mother is a well (and classically) educated English teacher, whose personal views on the virtues of proper education transcended any classes on “sociology” I was forced to take in college (courses which customarily should have been electives). I’ve even worked with Yale graduates whose broadest literature exposure ranged from Kurt Vonnegut to Dom DeLillo, and whose history was simply a regurgitation of Howard Zinn platitudes. Regardless, I fear that the problems of the latest generation stem from an education based on a manifesto of “revolution”, the bastard child of a thousand different late sixties causes made flesh. Without a respect for the past, indeed with a contempt for it, how can any of us be expected to sit down for more than five minutes to read Hawthorne or, God forbid, REread him. I’m often very dismayed at the sight of many a twenty-something peer’s bookcase. Most of the books are political screeds and polemics dating back no further than World War II. Michael Moore, Naomi Klein/Wolf, and J.T. LeRoy dominate the shelves these days. The Millennials or Digitals, whatever they’re called this week have no time for the classics, they have a world to save.

  31. kids in 1950 knew far more about some things and less about others.

    Yeah, like how much did those bitchez from the 50’s know about text messaging and combing teh youtube? None, I’d venture.

  32. The guy teaches at Emory, so maybe I’m wrong, but . . .

    No, I think you are on to something there Smappy.
    If your parents can afford Emory then tuition is no obstacle, and they are going to Emory……

  33. That’s right … and a kid in the 1950’s also thought that a “Hot Lunch” was nothing more than a piping hot plate of creamed chipped beef.

  34. Paul-4:07

    You obviously did not read the ACLU’s amicus brief in Heller, did you?

  35. Am I the only one who thinks that the people who have no understanding of these things are FAR more likely to have civic engagement than those who don’t?

    I beleive that is a consequence of one of R C’s Iron Laws:

    The less you know about something, the easier it looks.

  36. On the one hand, there is more seemigly “pertinent” information to know now than there was 50 years ago. In addition to all the basics of science, literature, history, civics, etc, one has to understand computers and related technology, and one is expected to process more pop culture information than was the case a couple of generations back.

    I think the issue here is not that young people are dumb, but rather that schools no longer educate to a list of bits if information that this professor thinks most important. Everything started to free-form back in the 70s and lots of subjects went from de rigeur to selective.

    In many cases classics were down played because they were too “dead white men” and in any event had to make room for more diversity. The diversity stuff might be great, but if you know lots of that, you probably don’t know lots if Aristotle.

    And finally, plenty of texts have been eliminated because they are now questionably offensive. Poor old Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Everyone used to read about their adventures but someone had to point out … well, you get the point.

    So it is likely that today’s youth are as smart as yesteryear’s, but they don’t share the same set of information — making any old coot think they were dumb.

    I would accept the premise that these young people have shorter attention spans and are less interested in ancient knowledge and more interested in pop culture than previous generations simply because 1) with as much access to vast swathes of information and entertainment one gets distracted from sitting down and reading the Iliad by firelight; and 2) it just seems that way to me.

  37. I think Mr. Bauerlein is upset that more people are voicing opinions to him nowadays than in the past, thus making him feel that more people are “stupid” from his perspective. Stupid people often think that.

  38. Haven’t watched the video, but isn’t the more important question whether or not the most intelligent students today are more intelligent than their equivalents of 50 years ago?

  39. Ugh, can he show a shred of evidence that past generations were any more intelligent? I seriously doubt it.

    Flynn Effect, anyone?

  40. You obviously did not read the ACLU’s amicus brief in Heller, did you?

    libertymike

    Uhh no. Did they have one? Link please. I did read their response to Heller– which indicated disappointment and the insistence that the 2nd amendment was not and individual right.

    I did, however, find an Amicus Brief from the ACRU, an entirely different organization.

    As one friend of mine said of the ACLU: “We present to you the 10 *crash* the 9 amendments to the Constitution”

  41. It’s really easy to see why kids and grownups are so fucking stupid. They’ve been raised by that tube. That television. The internet is our only hope. My general apathy towards pop culture causes me to only get the basic programming on my cable package, the same kind most poor and working class families would have. I look at the channel guide in disgust routinely when I am looking for something to watch. If you want to learn anything there are many nights where the programming makes it impossible. Most don’t read books. I’ll tell you one movie I like and that is Network. Howard Beaule was right. And all these people bashing the internet are fools. Just like TV beat radio, though radio has rebounded as a power, the Internet will overtake TV and by default it will make people smarter since there is always a chance of finding something educational as opposed to television which is programmed.

  42. Maurkov: I was going to mention the Flynn effect if no one else did. Flynn pretty much comes to the exact opposite conclusion as Bauerlein, and comes to that conclusion not through anecdotal self-observations, but through analyzing about 55 years worth of data on IQ tests. Personally, I trust the neuroscientist’s conclusion.

    (Disclosure: I took an American Lit course my sophomore year from Bauerlein. His teaching style is pretty much like tap water, and he had his TAs do most of the work.)

  43. Why does Nick Gillespie give this guy most of the eight minutes to spew the kind of stuff I usually depend on Reason to debunk as what sociologists call moral panic? Tisk tisk!

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