The Dumbest Generation

  • by Mark Bauerlein
  • Narrated by Danny Campbell
  • 9 hrs and 36 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Let's take stock of young America. Compared to previous generations, American youth have more schooling (college enrollments have never been higher); more money ($100 a week in disposable income); more leisure time (five hours a day); and more news and information (Internet, The Daily Show, RSS feeds). What do they do with all that time and money? They download, upload, IM, post, chat, and network. (Nine of their top ten sites are for social networking.) They watch television and play video games (2 to 4 hours per day). And here is what they don't do: They don't read, even online (two thirds aren't proficient in reading); they don't follow politics (most can't name their mayor, governor, or senator); they don't maintain a brisk work ethic (just ask employers); and they don't vote regularly (45 percent can't comprehend a ballot). They are the dumbest generation. They enjoy all the advantages of a prosperous, high-tech society. Digital technology has fabulously empowered them, loosened the hold of elders. Yet adolescents use these tools to wrap themselves in a generational cocoon filled with puerile banter and coarse images. The founts of knowledge are everywhere, but the rising generation camps in the desert, exchanging stories, pictures, tunes, and texts, savoring the thrill of peer attention. If they don't change, they will be remembered as fortunate ones who were unworthy of the privileges they inherited. They may even be the generation that lost that great American heritage, forever.

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What the Critics Say

"It wouldn't be going too far to call this book the Why Johnny Can't Read for the digital age." (Booklist)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A Bit Too Whiny

I wanted to like this book... I really did! In many ways, I agree with the author's hypothesis, so I thought it would be supported with some good data. The problem was that the author used data (and a lot of it) to fit his hypothesis instead of allowing his hypotheses to come from the data. He seemed to be whining more than presenting actual, valuable facts. Many of his comments were sweeping generalizations, and there weren't enough data to back up those claims. Moreover, I am not a fan of presenting faults without recommendations for improvements. His recommendations were weak at best. Also, I'd like to mention that I'm (far) over 30 years old, so I don't feel personally attacked by this book. On the contrary, I agree with much of what the author posited, yet I dislike how it was done. It was flimsy, and informed readers will see right through his personal dislikes.
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- Scott Fabel "I'm a corporate training consultant and adjunct professor who loves to read! I'm always looking for the next big thing."

Thesis: Tech-hip new kids are actually dumb.

Prof. Bauerlein argues that technological changes have affected literacy and learning in such a way that students in US high schools and colleges are actually radically deficient in a number of skill and knowledge sets. This argues against the perception of over-worked "super students," common in the US media. Bauerlein is a professor, so he speaks from experience as well as statistics. My own experience as a teacher in college largely confirms what he says, though I do think Bauerlein is perhaps a little hard on what are overwhelmingly well-meaning students.

The larger problem is that the promised radicalization of learning introduced by technology has had, for Bauerlein, the opposite effect. Despite having access to databases of knowledge, students won't know things like the dates of the Second World War, or the current speaker of the house, to say nothing of diagramming a sentence. The problem is that students use technology for entertainment, rather than education. In the defense of these students, they're faced with marketplace pressures to sell technology one way or another, and most things that can be used for learning can be used for entertainment. Cf. the Microsoft deal where you get an XBOX 360 with a new computer over 699 dollars: "So you have everything you need for college," I think the catchphrase went. Yeah. Or Tablets and smart phones that are advertised through games and movies.

The main defect to this book, and hence my three stars for story, is that it can tend to get repetitive, with repeating sets of statistics. There also isn't much of a meaty self-examination on the part of a liberal education to provide a concrete, meaningful motivation to study things like Homer, politics, and civic life. There are larger issues of justification lurking here, and it would be interesting to hear Bauerlein discuss. Heck, I'd even rather play Dead Space 2 on XBOX 360 than read some of the texts I was assigned as an undergrad... Another issue is the increasing specialization of faculty, who often won't know much about different time periods in their own fields, let alone other disciplines. So, it's entirely possible to have a highly specialized education in a few texts with massive knowledge gaps across the board.

On the whole, worth a listen and consideration of the arguments. Decently read.

(On a side note, I had freshmen students read his first chapter, and they are, no surprise, not receptive to his argument.)
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- Jack

Book Details

  • Release Date: 06-08-2011
  • Publisher: Tantor Audio