Sunday, January 9, 2011

K.Willmus' Reflection

Reviewing "The Dumbest Generation:"

"Anyone who thinks this is mere intergenerational grousing, the time-worn tradition of an older generation wagging its finger at a younger one, should think again.

Drawing upon exhaustive research, detailed portraits, and historical and social analysis,The Dumbest Generation presents an uncompromisingly realistic study of the young American mind at this critical juncture. The book also lays out a compelling vision of how we might address its deficiencies."

I "googled" Mark Bauerlein and found the above statement front and center on Bauerlein's own webpage promoting his book. I thought, "Critical juncture? Young American Mind? Uncompromisingly realistic? Can this baloney get any deeper in two sentences or less?"

When I started reading this book I tried to give the author the benefit of the doubt by trying to focus on his statistics and "compelling vision." But by the time I got to the last chapter, with its ramblings of Rip Van Winkle and an educated populous necessary for a viable democracy, I was affirmed in my original guess that the author is a white, east-coast baby-boomer who has some sort of bone to pick with the way things are versus the way things were in the "enlightened" past.

Bauerlein's premise is apparently "The Dumbest Generation cares little for history books, civic principles, foreign affairs, comparative religions, and serious media and art, and it knows less..." and that this will spell doom for all of us in the future.

I totally beg to differ. Yes, teenagers may not be logging hours in the library with their noses stuck in John Dewey's "Democracy in Education." Thank god. The protesters who marched with Martin Luther King hadn't read it, either.

Teenagers these days know the fundamentals of the constitution as well as their baby-boomer elders who did an about face in the past ten years and instituted liberty-crunching homeland security measures. It's neo-cons and baby-boomers of Bauerlein's age who marched us into the Iragi war, and killed countless innocent people since 9-11 in the war for democracy.

As for foreign affairs, there is plenty of proof that there never has been an American generation more in tune with gobalization. As they should be, because they're going to need to be.

Comparative religions? The generation born since 9-11 has been soaked in Islamic-Jewish-Christian relations as much as the generations previous were brought up in Democratic-Communist issues.

And "serious" media and art? Give me a break. Does that mean that because they don't read the "Wall Street Journal" or hardcover books or attend opera or Broadway musicals (have you seen the price of those tickets?) or paste Andy Warhol Campbell soup cans on their walls, that they're not interested in art?

I'm not sure if Bauerlein's spent much time with today's teenagers. Perhaps he's been reading too many books instead of listening in on their facebook ramblings.

I agree teens these days spend an inordinate time playing video games, watching empty-calorie cable, and sending each other banal text messages. Earlier generations smoked pot, watched "The A-Team" and played hours of sand-lot baseball. So yes, I do think Bauerlein's guilty of intergenerational grousing.

The one positive thing I took away from the book is that I do agree today's technology can be mind-numbingly overwhelming. Our days at our computers weaken and bloat our bodies, fry our attention spans, and radically change our concepts of the real world by allowing a virtual world to take over. We, all of us, need to get out side, move our bodies, touch things, and experience non-virtual work, non-virtual nature, and non-virtual life. But to suggest that the cure to that is to spend time in a library becoming intellectuals is a hollow solution.

Today's generation may need to learn to turn away from their me-centered technology, but that's not to say that they need to turn away from technology. Never before in the history of our planet has so much valuable information been available for so many. If teens fritter away time by playing with technology for technology's sake, then that may be a negative side-effect we need to deal with. But Bauerlein's books seems to advocate the old saying of "throwing out the baby with the bathwater."

I think we're going to need to keep the baby.

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