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?