English professor Mark Bauerlein takes on the younger generations in The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future. I will summarize three of the main arguments from this 2008 book and offer some of my own thoughts.
1. To his credit, Bauerlein draws upon a lot of data. This primarily comes from large surveys conducted in the last ten years. It appears that a lot of the data comes to similar conclusions, increasing its validity.
2. One main argument: the new learning style of the younger generation, built around the Internet and browsing text rather than reading books, hasn’t led to improved educational or societal outcomes. While many people have praised these new skills or suggested that they are leading to a new kind of world, Bauerlein says it hasn’t improved much of anything.
3. Another main argument: having all of these options for information, primarily through the Internet but including social media and television, has not opened worlds for younger generations. Instead, younger people tend to use this information for more prosaic ends, like following pop culture or the latest doings of their friends. Just because all of this information is out there, it doesn’t mean they know what to do with it or how to use it.
4. A third argument: the older generation has failed the younger generations by not extolling the virtues of tradition and knowledge. Instead, the older generations have given in and let the younger generations dictate what they should learn and how they should be taught. Older members of society have run with anecdotal positive stories about the Internet (often based on elite, Ivy League or similar students) without considering the broad trends. With little involvement by adults, the younger generations have little interest in civic engagement or the world of big ideas. This books appears to be aimed at the older generations – of course, as Bauerlein points out, the odds of many younger people reading any book, are limited.
5. In what I think is a smart move, Bauerlein suggests early on that this is not just another jeremiad from an older adult against the younger members of society. The data he marshals in his support helps his case though the third main argument (point 4 above) seems a little less certain and more of an opinion. Another point in his claims that this is not a jeremiad: he places a lot of blame for the situation on the older generations that have let the younger generations do what they want.
6. I would have liked to have read more about how Bauerlein thinks these new changes in society, such as the Internet and technology, could be harnessed for better ends. Or is there something inherently bad about these tools – is the medium the message?
7. I am still processing these arguments on a personal level. On one hand, I have some similar questions to Bauerlein’s regarding my generation and technology. At the same time, I am a frequent user of these technologies. I think I am going to need some more time to figure it out.
Overall, this is a thought-provoking read with implications for the future of America.