News Release: Arts and Humanities, Research

May 19,  2008

English Professor Challenges 'The Dumbest Generation'

Emory University English professor Mark Bauerlein's newest book on what he terms "the Dumbest Generation" finds significant potholes along the information superhighway.

While young Americans' technological savvy is growing, their knowledge retention is shrinking, says Bauerlein. The Internet and the advent of the digital age may have made knowledge more accessible than ever before, but recent studies and high school test scores tell a different -- and disturbing -- story in "The Dumbest Generation: How The Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans And Jeopardizes Our Future -- Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30."

Bauerlein's provocative, deeply researched work finds ignorance in abundance and the Internet an all too-enticing web of social networking that further insulates youth from their intellectual development.

"Time and again, the statistics reveal that we are facing a very real intellectual crisis: not only is the current generation drastically uninformed about basic scientific, political and historical facts, they are ill-equipped for successful careers and unprepared to contribute to society as a whole," Bauerlein says.

(Read an extended interview with Bauerlein)

Although "The Dumbest Generation" may seem to be a harsh label for today’s youth, Bauerlein sees a group with unprecedented privilege – and little to show for it in their development as citizens.

"Young people today are no less intelligent. They're no less motivated. More of them go to college than ever before. They have better attitudes toward parents," Bauerlein says. "But why are they the 'Dumbest Generation'? Because there are more colleges, museums, libraries, performance spaces and educational programming than ever before. They have the Internet and more spending power than any generation in human history. So with all those opportunities, we should expect some knowledge growth, and skill development. It's either flat -- or down."

Bauerlein also challenges the weakness of adult mentors who are not doing enough to keep the social enticements of the Internet at bay. "We have to add to this mix of the Internet seduction the abdication of the mentors who don't want to hold the line, who don't want to scold the teens. This is something we should do a lot more of. It's a healthy condition for the generations to be in some tension with one another," he says.

For more information on the book, published May 15 by Tarcher/Penguin, visit www.dumbestgeneration.com.

Bauerlein has worked as a director of research and analysis at the National Endowment for the Arts, where he oversaw studies about culture and American life, including the much-discussed “Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America.” He has appeared on national broadcast media, including CNN and the CBS Evening News. His writing has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Weekly Standard, Reason Magazine and The Chronicle of Higher Education, as well as in scholarly periodicals such as Partisan Review, Yale Review, Wilson Quarterly and PMLA.

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