Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Dumbest Generation?

Every generation thinks its teenagers are the worst.
The old have been wringing their hands about the young's cultural wastelands and ignorance of history at least since admirers of Sophocles and Aeschylus bemoaned the popularity of Aristophanes ("The Frogs," for Zeussakes?!) as leading to the end of (Greek) civilization as they knew it. The Civil War generation was aghast at the lurid dime novels of the late 1800s. Victorian scholars considered Dickens, that plot-loving, sentimental ("A Christmas Carol") favorite, a lightweight compared with other authors of the time. Civilization, and culture high and low, survived it all.
Is today's generation really the dumbest?


avoiceinthewilderness said...

Under Assault blogged about the current generation and provided a link to a 60 minutes special about the current generation who is entering the workforce. They refer to them as 'the Millennials.'
Pretty interesting commentary on a generation who is described as fairly self absorbed and ill prepared to deal with challenges.

Michael (home) said...

You might contemplate the ruins of vanished civilizations before you glibly conclude that the collapse never comes.

It's not stupidity, though, that leads to the fall, but immorality.

When people can no longer respond intelligently to crises, usually because they're caught up in games to keep their toys and indulgences and privileges, they're probably near the edge.

GFS3 said...

There's a powerful case to be made that this generation is in trouble -- mainly because they are ignorant and embrace it.

I did an interview with the author of "The Dumbest Generation" here and it is pretty powerful:

Sherman Dorn said...


As an historian, I'd caution you not to assume that because today's teenagers appear anti-intellectual means that my generation, your generation, or other previous generations had a higher proportion of adolescents who read Proust, Joyce, Dostoevsky, or anyone else. If today's teenagers or schools are flawed, my first guess absent evidence (and comparative evidence is usually absent) is that teenagers or schools four decades ago were flawed in very similar ways.

So when I read Bauerlein, I'll be looking for historical evidence of change, not just evidence of how teens behave or think today.

Anonymous said...

I love it when historians caution others about "assuming" in order to clear a space for them to strut their own "guessing."

Sherman Dorn said...

Anonymous 7:41,

Touché -- I suppose I could have explained the substantial literature behind that guess (for a smattering, see Tyack and Cuban's Tinkering toward Utopia, Carl Kaestle's book on literacy, the various historical demographers who have debunked all sorts of myths about family history, etc.), but I'll certainly stand guilty of commenting on the fly.

Does that acknowledged sloppiness mean my point is invalid?

Joey7777 said...

I guess this goes primarily toward minority youth in the U.S., but certainly their murder rate against each other must be higher than it's ever been. If that's a guage.

Sherman Dorn said...

Dear joey7777,

The Uniform Crime Reports figures on homicide victimization rates by age are public, and I think you'll be surprised by the data, if you haven't come across them yet.