Why I Think Mark Bauerlein is STILL Wrong

Mark Bauerlein is the author of The Dumbest Generation.

Will Richardson makes his argument here. There are a lot of comments on Will’s post, both for and against Bauerlein’s assumptions, for lack of a better term.

Mark Bauerlein is also interviewed here.

What Bauerlein still fails to understand:

  • Yes, most adults say that young people are “tech-savvy.” Bauerlein argues they are not. I agree, only in the fact that young people know how to use the technical aspects of new technologies. They do not always understand the WHY’s, the SHOULD’s, and the SHOULD NOT’s. (See one of my previous posts regarding the three classes of the Digital Divide, especially Class II.) Does this make them dumber? NO. That would be like saying to a person, “Here’s a car, but I’m not going to teach you how to drive it” — and then telling them they were stupid for driving the only way they knew how.
  • The reason that many young adults know how to design a mind-blowing MySpace layout, but not really anything that will help them in the workforce (his assumptions, not mine) is that many of the adults in these young people’s lives won’t take the time to learn what their kids/students are doing. Without guidance and positive role models, many young people are turning to the things that merely interest them… usually social things like friends’ comment walls or who’s “pwning” whom in World of Warcraft.
  • Bauerlein asks: Who do they want as their heroes? Pop stars, or George Washington, Margaret Thatcher, Jesse Owens . . .?” Is the technology to blame if they choose pop stars, or is it society? Are our young people less intelligent if they would rather watch Hannah Montana… or revel in the schadenfreude brought about by the fall of Britney Spears? Honestly, is this because they are a “dumber generation,” or is this typical of young people in general… as well as our society (who makes the news more often? Britney or Warren Buffett?) I’m fairly certain that a teenager in 1957 was more interested in Elvis Presley than what the Russians were doing with Sputnik. As a fact, a preference does not make one more or less intelligent.
  • I have no argument with Bauerlein as he notes that reading and literacy are incredibly vital to one’s education, experience, writing skills, etc. I love books and wouldn’t trade reading a book for reading a blog, commenting on a social profile, or playing around in Second Life. But I can do ALL OF THE ABOVE. I have the maturity to know I need to have all those experiences. My 15-year-old doesn’t have that maturity. Her experience is dependent upon what I help her learn… but also what her school helps her learn. If her school and/ or parents never introduce her to Web 2.0 technologies, she is left to her own devices to know how to use those tools. I have encouraged her to blog to improve her writing skills, including self-assessment and revision. In blogging, she can choose to write about whatever she wants, and will probably be more engaged. On top of that, she can have instant feedback from more than one person — most students’ writing never sees an audience beyond their classroom teachers. If she uses this tool, she has opportunities to learn above what she can do with pencil and paper, but someone has to help her learn about online responsibility and accountability.
  • I don’t think that Generation Y is dumber… and that they don’t care (see Bauerlein interview linked above) . I think many of them are more socially aware of their world than anyone in my generation ever was… because they are more connected to that world. My teenagers know about what has happened recently in Myanmar and China. There are groups in Facebook, groupw\s started by TEENAGERS, who are sending donations of food, clothes, and money through accredited, reliable sources to help the people of those regions. My generation’s social awareness (at the same age) would have been entirely bankrupt without Bob Geldof, Quincy Jones, and Michael Jackson writing songs that happened to be on MTV and happened to be about helping others. We thought it was cool because it was a bunch of musical superstars getting together to sing “catchy” tunes. Did I really know anything about the plight of the children in Africa? No, but I could tell you who was singing which line in “Do They Know It’s Christmas.”
  • What Bauerlein also doesn’t understand is that generalities tend to influence people in power– the very same people making decisions about testing school children, writing policies that dictate what can be taught or used to teach. When older generations read his book, his “citations” of statistics, they automatically label an entire generation. Are there some kids who care about nothing other than Halo? Yes. Are there others out there scoring higher on ACTs and SATs than ever before? Absolutely! Perhaps our education standards and measurements are more to blame for the statistics Bauerlein cites so proudly. When we measure kids in our public schools with tools that were used to measure kids 10 years ago, 20 years ago… in some cases even 50 years ago… then WE as adults and educators are failing that generation. When we have kids failing because they can’t read, is it because they’re too “dumb” — they don’t care, they’d rather play video games? Or is it more because the older generations haven’t figured out how to be relevant and meaningful to a generation who needs career preparation for jobs that don’t even exist yet?

To be completely honest, I do cringe when I go to the mall or to the movies and encounter young people who use offensive language as if it were everyday, acceptable language. When I see young men with their waistlines sagging below their knees, I just want to throw a ball of twine at them and shout, “PULL UP YOUR PANTS!” When I hear my daughter and her friends say the word, “like,” 62 times (yes, I actually counted this once) within the course of a 10 minute conversation, I want to take an ice pick to my eardrums. However, do I think they’re dumber because of who they are and when they’re growing up? No. If I see a child with bad manners, my first thought is, “Why isn’t there an adult in this person’s life teaching this kid some manners???”

I’m also pretty certain that adults in 1957 thought that kids who listened to that crazy rock and roll and followed that devil, Elvis Presley were the dumbest generation. If you do a search for successful adults who were teenagers in 1957, whom do you find?

If you really want to call a generation the “dumbest,” Mr. Bauerlein, why don’t you point the finger at the generations before Generation Y… and call them out for not owning up to their responsibilities in properly educating, preparing, and engaging these young people? We must prepare them for THEIR world… not ours. Our world is gone. Their world is now.