NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 16, 2008

The present is a good time to be young only if you don't mind a tendency toward empty-headedness, says Mark Bauerlein, author of "The Dumbest Generation."  He argues that cultural and technological forces, far from opening up an exciting new world of learning and thinking, have conspired to create a level of public ignorance so high as to threaten our democracy.


  • The printed word has paid a price -- from 1981 to 2003, the leisure reading of 15- to 17-year-olds fell to seven minutes a day from 18.
  • In 2003, children were cramming an average of 8½ hours of media consumption a day into just 6½ hours -- watching TV while surfing the Web, reading while listening to music, composing text messages while watching a movie.

This daily media binge isn't making students smarter:

  • The National Assessment of Educational Progress has pegged 46 percent of 12th-graders below the basic level of proficiency in science, while only 2 percent are qualified as advanced.
  • Some 46 percent of high-school seniors say it's very important to be an active and informed citizen, but only 26 percent are rated as proficient in civics.
  • Only 24 percent of twelfth-graders are capable of composing organized, coherent prose in clear language with correct spelling and grammar according to the NEAP.

What frustrates Bauerlein is not these deficits themselves -- it's the way a blind celebration of youth, and an ill-informed optimism about technology, have led the public to ignore them:

  • Steven Johnson, in his best-selling "Everything Bad Is Good for You," describes videogames as a kind of cognitive workout.
  • Jonathan Fanton of the MacArthur Foundation writes that children have created communities the size of nations where they explore new techniques for personal expression.

Such assessments, Bauerlein argues, are far too charitable.

Source: David Robinson, "Can U Read Kant?" Wall Street Journal, May 13, 2008; and Mark Bauerlein, "The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30)," Tarcher, May 15, 2008.

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