The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future, Mark Bauerlein, Tarcher/Penguin (2008).

 

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A dumb title

 

Mr. Bauerlein cites numerous studies to demonstrate that the vast majority of the younger generation, aka “Millenials” (born between 1980 and 1999), are not developing solid reading, writing and math skills in their formative years.  They also acquire limited knowledge about or interest in public policy issues.  By way of explanation, it is established that young people spend far more time using digital devices (television, computers, cell phones, video games, etc.) than reading books (with the exception of the Harry Potter series).

 

Earlier generations spent more time reading, per the sources cited, but they did not achieve significantly higher educational standards.  It therefore seems unfair to label the Millenials as “the Dumbest Generation.”  In any case, the advance of technology is irreversible, and books, newspapers, etc. are probably headed for eventual extinction.  One would hardly be justified in concluding that our society is therefore doomed.

 

The author goes on to make a much sounder point.  Notwithstanding the glowing predictions of many educators and politicians and a ton of investment, computer technology has not had a major, positive impact on educational results.  This is not because the computer does not have stunning potential as a learning tool; it does, as Bauerlein acknowledges, but is being used mostly for social networking vs. mind stretching exploration or research.

 

Who is to blame?  The Millenials may be faulted for not capitalizing on their opportunities, but the real culprits are the educators and other custodians of received learning in our culture who have abdicated responsibility for setting standards in favor of “student-centered instruction.”  The premise is that students should be allowed to determine what they want to learn, rather than told what they are expected to learn, as a means to “inspire the lesser-caliber students to work harder and stay in school.”  Just the opposite result is obtained in practice.

 

Assessment: This is a far ranging book that makes some important points about our educational system, but the hype about the corrosive effects of computer technology is distracting.  Also, it would be nice to see some discussion of how a return to teacher-centered instruction could be achieved.