15 August 2008

Are Today's Kids "The Dumbest Generation"?

Mark Beurlein's book "The Dumbest Generation" points to a generation so self-absorbed and lacking in intellectual curiosity that they cannot be trusted to do much beyond cell texting and Facebook scanning.
Like many others, I share their concerns: a vacuous popular culture, a lost interest in reading for pleasure and, of course, the Internet, which makes information and disinformation easy to access but harder than ever to distinguish.

Critics often point to the loss of required survey courses and a core curriculum as evidence of the "dumbing down" of our colleges and universities. But one place where the finger of blame should probably not be pointed is at America' s colleges and universities.

...The real problem is that these young men and women, through no fault of their own, are showing up on campuses undereducated and unprepared for college-level work. They should have received a good general education before they arrived on campus.

That was the view of pre-college education adopted in the great 1893 "Committee of Ten" report on pre-college education. The report said that all American children should have a sound general education that prepares them for college--whether they go or not. That policy is even more important today when the very general knowledge that prepares students for college-level work is also the knowledge that is needed for competence in the information-age workplace.

...They need remedial courses--including "core curriculum" courses in science, history, the arts and civics--at the time in their lives when they want to launch out on their own, exploring, discovering and pursuing interests at a high level. A required core curriculum in college is not something to be devoutly wished for, but rather a concession to the consequences of a third-rate preparation for first-rate colleges and universities.

...The cost of their poor preparation is staggering. Colleges and universities spend an estimated $1 to $2 billion annually on remedial classes for undergraduates. More than 60% of freshmen in California's public university system require at least one remedial course, typically in math or English. Even if you don't like to view education in purely economic terms, the billions spent on remediation is clearly money that shouldn't have to be spent--critical dollars at a time when states are hard-pressed to fund their public school systems. If education is the gift that keeps on giving, the lack of education is a curse that keeps on taking.

...To be full participants in our cultural life and democratic institutions, every citizen needs a sound and broad education. But we are pushing this problem in exactly the wrong direction. It is not the job of our colleges and universities to make up for the shoddy education offered by K-12 schools. It is the job of those schools to ensure they produce future undergraduates who are fully prepared to do college-level work.

There is a real danger that in making colleges the academic safety net of last resort, we'll absolve the public schools of their obligation to provide students with a sound, well-rounded education. It's damaging to our students, to our country and to our higher education system, which is the lone bright star in our educational firmament. Everyone loses. _Forbes_via_CoreKnowledge_via_JoanneJacobs
Al Fin readers may recognise the problem of "psychological neoteny" hiding within the problem described in the Forbes piece. Kids steeped in self-esteem, but lacking in competence or a sense of responsibility. Kids who have been sheltered from the real world for so long that they may never find a way to connect with the world they might have created for themselves--if adults had only helped them to genuine competence and self-reliance when the kids were open to those possibilities.

Not only is it too late by the time they get to college, but with the post-modern faux-multicultural, victimist indoctrination they will encounter at university, many of them will sink even deeper into an incompetent inability to meet their realities responsibly.

So who is to blame for the dumbing down of successive generations? Parents? K-12 schools? Universities? Popular culture and media? All of the above, of course. If ever a generation were in need of the next level, it is the one due to be raised by "the dumbest generation." Because that next generation will be the dumbest--and on and on and on--unless a better integration of rationality with emotionality and wisdom arrives soon.

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Blogger SwampWoman said...

I think that the biggest finger of blame should be pointed directly at the parents.

They are the ones crying loudly about how unfair it is that kids here in Florida have to pass the FCAT before they graduate from high school or they do not get a diploma; this is *only* reading and writing on a 10th grade level.

Friday, 15 August, 2008  
Blogger SwampWoman said...

Instead of dumbing down the curriculum, most schools should be making more stringent requirements for graduation.

Once the kids find out that they HAVE to produce, they will*.

*Those too lazy to actually produce will drop out a little earlier, but this will let people that actually WANT to be educated learn something.

Friday, 15 August, 2008  
Blogger SwampWoman said...

A lot of people seem to think that we've always had 100% literacy and high school graduation rates. Not so.

Looking back at the old high school yearbooks from a school that has a 100 year history, it is interesting to see pictures of all the little children in the elementary schools, but hardly any seniors graduating.

Friday, 15 August, 2008  
Blogger Snake Oil Baron said...

After 35 years of listening to the baby boomers who came before me pontificate about Marxism in University classes and about appeasement and the glory of anti-Americanism on the news, there is absolutely nothing that will convince me that the generation which came after me is the dumbest. Humanity seems to me to retain a consistent level of stupidity across generations and the effort to establish "today's kids" as worse than yesteryear's seems motivated by self aggrandizement. Selective memory and selective statistics assist in the effort.

I don't dispute that today's education system is declining but it never was all that good. The "poor students" of the older generation always seem to have failed out or quit (often to succeed in other, non academic fields). These days schools with high drop-out rates get pressured to prevent it. It does not always work but between social promotions and zero discipline schooling they can get a lot more poor students through.

I doubt that kids having access to more stimulus and interactive communications and instant information from search engines is making them stupid. They always were stupid. Their stupidity is just more visible now.

Friday, 15 August, 2008  
Blogger SwampWoman said...

Yep, I agree completely, Snake Oil Baron.

Unfortunately, there used to be a lot of jobs that didn't require thinking that the stupid could step into and earn a living.

Not so much now.

Saturday, 16 August, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

The two of you are probably correct in terms of the past few generations. When I talk about "psychological neoteny", the concept applies to growing proportions of the generations born after WWII. That is a very short time, historically speaking.

When looking for solutions, do not limit your search unduly. The problem has become critically self-reinforcing due to the accumulation of dysfunctional generations since the 1950s.

There have to be multiple paths to child-raising and education and employment. Like the internet, society has to be able to route around the dysfunctional nodes.

It is a minority effort at this time, to be sure.

Saturday, 16 August, 2008  

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