The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future

November 22, 2008
By Baobao Zhang, Alexandria, VA

Dr. Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University, censures the supposed ignorance of high school and college students in his provocative book “The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future.” Although his concerns are warranted (as recent research have shown that literacy levels have declined in high schools), his argument against anti-intellectualism among America's youth sounds too caustic and didactic at times.

For instance, Bauerlein rants against mass media, the internet and videogames by oversimplifying the situation. He suggests that social networking Web sites, like Facebook and MySpace, are only good for the exchange of “puerile banter and coarse images.” Furthermore, he lashes out against videogames and reality television shows by calling them a waste of time.

Bauerlein places a huge emphasis on reading history books and literature of the Western Canon, which may seem antiquated to some young readers. Yet his assertions have a legitimate point. He warns us, “Historical memory is essential to a free people. If you don't know which rights are protected in the First Amendment, how can you think critically about rights in the U.S.?”

Nevertheless, “The Dumbest Generation” might anger some teen readers because it makes several unflattering generalizations about young people. When I wrote to Bauerlein this summer with my reaction to his book, his reply explained that he wanted to incite teens to become more proactive students. He wrote, “What I want more than anything about the book is that it is proven wrong in the next decade.”

While I admire Bauerlein's intentions, I feel he should reach across the aisle and examine America's educational problems from a teen's perspective.

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