An Interview with Professor Mark Bauerlein About How Generation Y Is Becoming the Dumbest Generation Ever
(If you’re under the age of 30 you probably won’t read this interview. It’s too long – and there’s no nudity or explosions. It also won’t enhance your Facebook page or get you more friends on MySpace. So we’ll wait for you to leave so the adults can move on to a fascinating interview with Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University and author of “The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future.” Despite the rather sensational title, the book makes some compelling arguments that the deconstructionist educational environment in high schools and universities are failing to properly educate the younger generation. The trend is exacerbated by technology – laptops, mobile phones, text messaging, etc. – that are unproven to have any benefit in education. Mark was kind enough to answer our questions about his book).
DaRK PaRTY: Don't all "oldsters" complain about how dumb "youngsters" are? In your opinion what are some examples of why Generation Y is the dumbest generation yet?
Mark: Yes, the elders have complained forever about the juniors--and that's a good thing. A vibrant society has the generations in some degree of tension, with elders reminding juniors of their inexperience and ignorance and hubris, and juniors resenting and replying with accusations of rigidity and authoritarianism. Each claim makes the other side a bit more careful and respectful of the many generations before them and the many yet to be.
So, why is Gen Y dumber?
Well, in spite of having more money than any other generation, more access to knowledge (more libraries, museums, historic sites, educational media, colleges, and, of course, the Internet), and more encouragement to know about other cultures, languages, and history (globalization and the Knowledge Economy tell them so), they have actually lost ground on historical knowledge and on reading and verbal test scores. Also, they have never held reading in lower esteem. They have just as much raw intelligence and motivation as previous cohorts, but with all the advantages they have, they should be doing much better.
DP: Other academics argue that video games and multi-tasking to different media are a new forms of learning. Why aren't you convinced?
Mark: I'm happy to accept video games and multi-tasking as different ways of learning. But are they productive ways, and do they build verbal skills and historical understanding and civic awareness? I don't see any evidence of that. They are probably responsible for gains in spatial intelligence, but they don't do anything for writing and vocabulary.
Let me put this another way. When college professors start saying, "Hmm, these recent entering classes seem better readers and writers than previous classes," then I'll back off. Or when employers start saying that the communication skills of recent hires keeps going up, I'll accept the argument.
DP: So they can't read or write or retain knowledge about history, geography, and the sciences. But they are natural entrepreneurs and extremely tech savvy. Isn't that where the global economy and society are headed anyway? What's so important about an old-fashioned classic education?
Mark: I wonder about the tech savviness of the kids. Some studies cited in the book show that for all their superficial ability to access information, they don't know what to do with it or how to judge it when it comes up. Yes, they put enormous energy into their personal profile page, but will that help them complete an application to law school? Or, as for the value of historical knowledge, say that they want to go into the non-profit sector and do environmental work in
My point is that historical knowledge and civic awareness are a lot more important in many workplaces than the tech folks realize.
Finally, one of the dangers of the Internet is that it makes kids believe that since knowledge is only a few clicks away, they don't need to internalize it. If they can pull up Abraham Lincoln when they need to, why memorize the Gettysburg Address, right?
Well, my answer is, "Is that all Abraham Lincoln is to you--a face, a date, some words? Nothing more than information?" That attitude impoverishes the character of these kids. They don't seem to realize that the great ideas, actions, art works, and personalities of the past are the better materials of their egos. If they don't attend to the best (and worst) of our inheritance, then they build their maturing selves out of the ready materials of youth culture--a meager resource. Who do they want as their heroes? Pop stars, or George Washington, Margaret Thatcher, Jesse Owens . . .?
DP: Can you give us few reasons of why reading literature is so important?
Mark: You know, the Founding Fathers could not really conceive of leaders who weren't steeped in classical literature. The Aeneid was deeply important to them (check out our $1 bill), and so were Plutarch's Lives,
It was also verbal discipline. The same is true today.
DP: So you've identified the problems with Gen Y. What are some solutions?
Mark: Solutions? Maybe none, at the macro-level. Digital culture is a tidal wave, and combined with the energies and willfulness of youth, it can't be stopped. The more it becomes a medium of peer pressure, the more it captivates the hours of the kids. Every tool I mention in the book could be a knowledge- and taste-inducing activity, but that's not what kids care about. They want to relate to other kids, not to grown-ups. They want to talk about what happened last week in the cafeteria, not what happened at