Book: The Dumbest Generation

A book of interest: Mark Bauerlein’s The Dumbest Generation. What it says is that the under-30 generation is so removed from books and reading that it is shockingly ignorant, and we should all be worried. Bauerlein blames the internet. The Chicago Tribune published a decent review a few days ago. The students at the university where Bauerlein is a professor naturally didn’t like what he has to say about them.

My take on it is that what Bauerlein says is true, but that it is a mistake to treat it as a generational issue. Librarians know the sad truth… and I think this is a definitive truth… As a society we now make available to people an unprecedented amount of valuable information, in the form of millions of books, data sets, and scholarly literature, and people of all ages are ignoring it in favor of television and other forms of mindless media. The potential of all of this unused information and all of these unused minds is incredible, and I am constantly depressed by the choices our society makes. Blaming the younger generation for what the older generation has created is never fair, and distracts us from what is all of our problem. And it is a terrible problem and probably not solvable.

3 comments on “Book: The Dumbest Generation

  1. I just started reading his book this week. It is a depressing read. I want so badly to disagree with him, but find myself agreeing with many of his assertions–especially the one that students at elite colleges display the same patterns of behavior as those attending less-selective state colleges and universities. The tendency towards anti-intellectualism is nothing new. Reflecting on the social environment of my selective liberal arts college back in the early 90’s, there were plenty of Babbitt-type characters who were primarily concerned with cultivating a social life. The difference is that now Babbitt has social networking tools to cultivate his/her social life to the exclusion of other pursuits–intellectual and physical. The truth is even at quasi-elite schools Babbitt’s social life is now online.

  2. Someone I work with, a lady who is about to take retirement, has a different response. She completed a PhD not long ago, which she pursued out of a pure interest in studying history. She’s an intellectual woman and has been for most of her life, but she confesses that when she was in college she wasn’t much of a student, and was mostly interested in her social life. She learned some important skills as a student, but didn’t really develop any strong intellectual interests until close to graduating. She’s somebody who I see as an example of what more people should be like, yet when she was in college she was a lot like the students that Bauerlein is worried about.

  3. Generation is really incidental to this, isn’t it? It seems to me that what we’re seeing is the progress of technology as guided by the market. Philistinism and technical savvy—the creation and consumption of online gewgaws and trivia—are good for the economy, critical thought and wisdom are not, and the economic system produces the amount and type of intellectuals it needs (or does not produce them, if intellectual labor can be outsourced). If there was a way to put those idle minds to work on all that fallow information that could produce profits for somebody, it would happen.

Comments are closed.