Kids These Days: Can We Really Say They are “Dumb”?

In our local paper yesterday there was an article about Mark Bauerlein’s book “The Dumbest Generation”. Now, I’d like to start off by saying I have not read Mr. Bauerlein’s book. Based on the article, I probably still won’t read it. Mostly because I think it’s a load of crap.

The article points to a few quotes from the book.

“Something insidious is going on inside their heads.”

“Young Americans today are no more learned or skilful than their predecessors, no more knowledgeable, fluent, up-to-date, or inquisitive, except in the materials of youth culture.”

“They care so much about the trappings of cool, are are so conversant with pop culture. But they blink uncomprehendingly at the mention of the Reformation, the Second Amendment, Fellow Travelers, or Fellini.”

Ummm…Mr. Bauerlein, with all due respect…have you MET the average teenager?

Back in the 1980′s, when I was a teenager, cable TV was the big new technological marvel. We now had 24 hour a day movies, 24 hour a day news, 24 hour a day music videos. Music videos were a HUGE distraction for me. All I wanted to do was watch music videos. I didn’t want to do my homework. I didn’t want to read King Lear. Michael Jackson’s new video was coming on. I HAD to see it. I HAD to call my friends and talk to them about it. It didn’t mean I was flunking out of school. I still graduated with honours. But, my priorities were a bit off. Just like every other teenager out there. And guess what. I didn’t end up some dumb, unworldly oaf. I came around.

Mr. Bauerlein wants to blame the Digital Age for the dumbing down of children. But his argument can’t hold up.

People now have more opportunities to learn than ever before. It’s not that they aren’t consuming the information. They are. They are just doing it differently. Yes, no longer does one have to go to the library, check out 10 books on Fellini, pore through them, and hand-write a 2000 word essay. Nope, they can go to Wikipedia, look up Fellini, and find the basics. Then they can Google Fellini, find a bunch more info. If they really want to get serious, they can use social networking to contact someone who is an expert on Fellini and talk to them. Then they can type up their report in Google Docs, and use the word count tool to know when they have enough. Does that make them dumb? Because they didn’t read a bunch of books? No. In fact, they may actually know MORE about Fellini once they are through with their essay.

The fact is, the ability to search for and scan information online makes research more effective. I can Google, scan, pinpoint exactly the most important information, and throw away the irrelevant stuff. Try doing that with a stack of library books (I have – it’s a pain in the butt). This makes me think that kids these days have something on us. They can find anything they need to know at the click of a button. Therefore, is it really necessary to retain it all in your head for all time? Not really. And for the digitally-focused, right-brained generation, it’s not the secret to their success, either.

Sure, there will always be a place for the academics of the world. Those people who get their PhD’s, specializing in one subject or another. We need those kinds of thinkers. But we also need the kind of thinkers who can absorb information, and invent new and creative ways to work with that information. And this is what our young people ARE going to be able to do.

Just because someone sees the world in a different way doesn’t make them dumb. And this seems to be what Mr. Bauerlein wants us to believe. He significantly underestimates our youth. In my estimation, students who ARE able to disseminate vast amounts of data, be it on their cell phones, Instant messengers, Google searches, iPods, video games, etc, will be in a better place to succeed in what IS going to be important in the future: what author Daniel Pink calls the right brain qualities of inventiveness, empathy, and meaning.

What do you think? Is the Digital Age making people “dumb”? Or making them learn smarter?

7 Responses

  1. Amen, sister. That article annoyed me as well.

  2. I have three children, one is a teenager…my daughter had a few friends over and the subject of spell check came up and one asked me how did you write letters with out spell check? I was allowed to converse with them for a few moments yes they were talking to me, can you believe it? :) I guess my take would be…many conveniences with technology might allow one to focus on other areas. No the Digital Age is not making people dumb!

  3. Many people fear what they do not understand and it seems that if academics do not jump on the technological bandwagon, they will be left behind! The academic world MUST make room for the digital age as this method of learning, research and study is the way of the present and the future. Mr. Bauerlein can learn a few things from the kids of today!

  4. I remember seeing the interview of a woman who had been teaching for 65 years. When asked, “What advice would you give adults dealing with teens?”

    She stated, “They are not bad kids, give them a break”

    That has always stuck with me. People forget that we were all teens at one time. Yes, some of them leave a lot to be desired, however that is the same for all generations.

    These kids can get their hands on any information they need, which is a lot better than past generations who had to depend on parents or friends, who were misleading without a “second opinion”.

    I think this article needs to be read for the authors opinion, however it should also be a good representation of her character!

    Suzanne B. (Mother of three teens)

  5. Kids today aren’t dumb. Just because they are ignorant about things that were important to us in our day, and our parents in their days, and so on, doesn’t make them dumb. I hate when people use words like that out of context.

    When we get customers in who call themselves computer idiots, I’m always quick to nip that self-loathing term in the bud by saying they are confusing ignorance with stupidity. There is a huge difference, and they should cut themselves some slack. Ignorance can be corrected. Stupidity is a lifetime issue.

    Fact is, kids today have more information at their fingertips than any other generation in the history of the world. What they chose to focus on and deem important to them based on what’s going on around them is what makes them different from my generation. Just like how tv made me different from my mother’s generation, and how newspapers and frivolous social parties were the way my parents learned stuff (off the streets if you will). Their parents learned from the older generations living in the home based on experience and common sense.

    But, I still contend there is no such thing as common sense because not all of us go through life the same way, or think the same way, or even approach life the same way, therefore there are only unique methods and tried and true methods of doing stuff. That, to me, means there is still room leftover to try new methods. If I were to do everything the same way as five generations before me, nothing new would ever be discovered, invented, or designed. What a boring world that would be to live in.

  6. The research method you mentioned in your post is very similar to how we (university students, at least in the UK) do our work. And yes, the web is great because it gives us more points of view on a subject in a shorter and quicker way than actually going through 10 books.

    Thanks for sticking up for us. :)

  7. I do, however, feel the kids miss out on learning some valuable skills such as how to talk to people face to face, how to conduct in personal interviews, how to paly nice with others in the workplace while they do learn the bulk of their cultural and historical referrences online. That is a valid concern of mine based on the kids I see coming into the store who can’t string a coherent sentence together half the time. Truth is, there are certain soft people skills you can only learn in person, and perhaps that’s a reason we should encourage kids to get outside and play more.

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