Sunday, January 23, 2011

Young People These Days....

Title: The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes our Future (find in a library)
Author: Mark Bauerlein

I should start this off by mentioning that I fall at the edge, but within, the generation that Bauerlein is railing against. I am still, just barely, under 30, and certainly was when the book was published in 2008.

Bauerlein outlines all sorts of depressing statistics about the generation under the age of 30, often called the Millennials. Their knowledge of civics is abysmal, their interest in science and engineering all but nonexistent, and their preference is for celebrity gossip over an appreciation of the arts. One of the many disturbing statistics he cited was:
According to the 2005 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance (Centers for Disease Control), 37 percent of high school students watch three or more hours of television per day. For college students the numbers may be higher. In 2005, Nielsen Media Research reported that the average college student watches 3 hours, 41 minutes of television each day (p. 24).
And it's a safe bet that none of that TV time is devoted to anything remotely educational.

Bauerlein also discusses how dismissive this generation is of books. They see them as antiquated and have little to no interest in reading any. Even if they did attempt to read them, they'd have a hard time. Studies of user behavior on the internet demonstrate that users skim webpages in an F-shape pattern. They thoroughly read the first few sentences at most, skim, catch another half-line or so, skim and leave the page. With as much time as they spend on the internet, this method of reading extends to print as well.

However, the author doesn't rail against the Millennials alone. He also chastises the older generations for enabling this behavior. Working in higher education, I regularly see the dumbing down of education, the desire to cater to students, the repetition of "but they'll hate that class if we do that," and more. Sometimes what a student hates is what is best for him/her. An institution of higher education's job is to produce a more informed, well-rounded individual - not to cater to his/her every whim.

He ends with what basically boils down to a plea - "A healthy democracy needs a vigilant citizenry and a healthy citizenry needs a reservoir of knowledge" (p. 215). Bauerlein's worry is that if something isn't done, if this generation's lack of interest in anything beyond themselves and their peers doesn't change, "They may even be recalled as the generation that lost the great American heritage, forever" (p. 236).

Overall, an interesting and motivating read. I do feel his critique of this current generation is rather harsh at times, but not completely unfounded.

And now I'm off to read some heavy historical tome so that I can become a more informed, responsible citizen.

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posted by Kate at 6:09 PM


Blogger Elizabeth said...

Ah, I started reading this one sometime back and didn't make it very far, despite finding it interesting. It wasn't that I disliked it, but I think I just got distracted by something else and never got back to it.

Everyday, I'm thankful that I completed all my education -- particularly middle school -- before the advent of Facebook. I can't imagine anything that would make middle school more socially miserable than FB.

The author may be correct in his assessment of today's youth, but I try to take comfort in the fact that almost every elderly generation has thought this of the younger, and that perhaps our expectations are too high and society really isn't degenerating. Then again, with all the digital media/propaganda/toxic junk swirling about us everyday, perhaps it has never been more important for an individual to learn the ability to think rationally and distinguish fact from opinion...

If you enjoyed this, you might like something else I read awhile back: It wasn't ground breaking, but it was interesting and helped inspire me to try my best to limit the one-eyed monster (TV).

Did you hear about that recent study that said many students don't learn anything during their first two years of college?

2/02/2011 9:36 AM  
Blogger reyn said...

Wow. That's the first time I've ever heard "one-eyed monster" in a context that didn't refer to anatomy. Are you sure you know what it means?

I'm not sure I learned anything in my first six years of college. Good use of my money.

2/02/2011 10:09 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Yes, I know of the other meaning, which is why I clarified in parentheses I meant TV. In this case, I was deliberately plagiarizing a wonderful essay by Barabara Kingsolver, enntitled "The One-Eyed Monster, and Why I Don't Let Him In." You can read most of it here (,+and+why+I+don't+let+him+in&source=bl&ots=fQV5eomgrf&sig=KGRgL3TyJvaRScCxfh-tawZ3Fpk&hl=en&ei=pONJTf6eOo6SgQfD4JU_&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CB0Q6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=the%20one-eyed%20monster%2C%20and%20why%20I%20don't%20let%20him%20in&f=false), although some pages have been removed for copyright reasons, I guess.

2/02/2011 6:11 PM  

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