Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Dumb and Dumberer: U.S. Teens Failing History

Young people are not only failing history, but are just plain all-around dumb-as-dirt claims a new report by Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute. USA Today reports that American teens don't understand many common historical and cultural references or terms:
Greg Toppo writes,
"Big Brother. McCarthyism. The patience of Job. Don't count on your typical teenager to nod knowingly the next time you drop a reference to any of these. A study out today finds that about half of 17-year-olds can't identify the books or historical events associated with them."

The article is linked to a related one, Dummy Drumbeat Goes On for U.S. Students which in turn refers to the new Susan Jacoby book on the same subject, The Age of American Unreason (in the new non-fiction section at BHPL, call #973.91 Jac). Jacoby laments the prevailing ignorance of our younger generation. So we can add increasing stupidity to our collective list of failings: failing economy, weakening job market, nasty election process, you name it, we can't seem to do anything right. But wait, there's more. An upcoming book by Mark Bauerlein is titled, the Dumbest Generation. Educators especially are on the defensive every time one of these reports or books comes out. Reporter Toppo calls it "dummy fatigue," and quotes the man responsible for this poor, pitiful us survey,
"There is this kind of Aren't We Stupid? industry," researcher Rick Hess says. "It's a drumbeat: 'Don't we keep getting dumber?' "
The rest of the article debates whether we are or we aren't getting dumber. There is even a quiz you can take, Are You Smarter Than a 17 Year Old?
Here is the link to the report that fueled all these articles, Still at Risk, What Students Don't Know Even Now by Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, which, btw, is generally considered to be politically conservative.
The solution? Libraries! Start at the beginning of Dewey and read on through. Disprove these pundits and at the same time, support your local library! OK, let me go back to YouTube, reality tv, text-messaging ...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think that as a nation we have lost what can be described as our collective frame of reference. Until very recently, news, history and "thought" were packaged for us by a relatively small group of media outlets and academic centers. No, I'm not about to launch into a conspiracy theory or anti-elitist rant! In fact, one benefit of this "system" was that it fostered a consensus about who we are and what we need to know in order to be culturally literate. For better and for worse, that consensus no longer exists.

It also doesn't help matters that our natural-albeit-ignoble taste for sensationalism is indulged at every turn. Every issue of Newsweek that I get seems to be more "lite" than the last.

There's one bit of good news, though. We can't literally be dumber than we were thirty years ago; genetic mutations don't happen that quickly.