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Publisher's Summary

Let's take stock of young America. Compared to previous generations, American youth have more schooling (college enrollments have never been higher); more money ($100 a week in disposable income); more leisure time (five hours a day); and more news and information (Internet, The Daily Show, RSS feeds). What do they do with all that time and money? They download, upload, IM, post, chat, and network. (Nine of their top ten sites are for social networking.) They watch television and play video games (2 to 4 hours per day). And here is what they don't do: They don't read, even online (two thirds aren't proficient in reading); they don't follow politics (most can't name their mayor, governor, or senator); they don't maintain a brisk work ethic (just ask employers); and they don't vote regularly (45 percent can't comprehend a ballot). They are the dumbest generation. They enjoy all the advantages of a prosperous, high-tech society. Digital technology has fabulously empowered them, loosened the hold of elders. Yet adolescents use these tools to wrap themselves in a generational cocoon filled with puerile banter and coarse images. The founts of knowledge are everywhere, but the rising generation camps in the desert, exchanging stories, pictures, tunes, and texts, savoring the thrill of peer attention. If they don't change, they will be remembered as fortunate ones who were unworthy of the privileges they inherited. They may even be the generation that lost that great American heritage, forever.

©2008 Mark Bauerlein (P)2011 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"It wouldn't be going too far to call this book the Why Johnny Can't Read for the digital age." ( Booklist)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

Thesis: Tech-hip new kids are actually dumb.

Prof. Bauerlein argues that technological changes have affected literacy and learning in such a way that students in US high schools and colleges are actually radically deficient in a number of skill and knowledge sets. This argues against the perception of over-worked "super students," common in the US media. Bauerlein is a professor, so he speaks from experience as well as statistics. My own experience as a teacher in college largely confirms what he says, though I do think Bauerlein is perhaps a little hard on what are overwhelmingly well-meaning students.

The larger problem is that the promised radicalization of learning introduced by technology has had, for Bauerlein, the opposite effect. Despite having access to databases of knowledge, students won't know things like the dates of the Second World War, or the current speaker of the house, to say nothing of diagramming a sentence. The problem is that students use technology for entertainment, rather than education. In the defense of these students, they're faced with marketplace pressures to sell technology one way or another, and most things that can be used for learning can be used for entertainment. Cf. the Microsoft deal where you get an XBOX 360 with a new computer over 699 dollars: "So you have everything you need for college," I think the catchphrase went. Yeah. Or Tablets and smart phones that are advertised through games and movies.

The main defect to this book, and hence my three stars for story, is that it can tend to get repetitive, with repeating sets of statistics. There also isn't much of a meaty self-examination on the part of a liberal education to provide a concrete, meaningful motivation to study things like Homer, politics, and civic life. There are larger issues of justification lurking here, and it would be interesting to hear Bauerlein discuss. Heck, I'd even rather play Dead Space 2 on XBOX 360 than read some of the texts I was assigned as an undergrad... Another issue is the increasing specialization of faculty, who often won't know much about different time periods in their own fields, let alone other disciplines. So, it's entirely possible to have a highly specialized education in a few texts with massive knowledge gaps across the board.

On the whole, worth a listen and consideration of the arguments. Decently read.

(On a side note, I had freshmen students read his first chapter, and they are, no surprise, not receptive to his argument.)

7 of 10 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

A Bit Too Whiny

I wanted to like this book... I really did! In many ways, I agree with the author's hypothesis, so I thought it would be supported with some good data. The problem was that the author used data (and a lot of it) to fit his hypothesis instead of allowing his hypotheses to come from the data. He seemed to be whining more than presenting actual, valuable facts. Many of his comments were sweeping generalizations, and there weren't enough data to back up those claims. Moreover, I am not a fan of presenting faults without recommendations for improvements. His recommendations were weak at best. Also, I'd like to mention that I'm (far) over 30 years old, so I don't feel personally attacked by this book. On the contrary, I agree with much of what the author posited, yet I dislike how it was done. It was flimsy, and informed readers will see right through his personal dislikes.

4 of 7 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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Limited argument

As a millennial on the younger end of the generational band, who feels very strongly about civic engagement, political awareness, education, and cognitive ability, I was very excited to read this book.

I was hoping for a thorough analysis of the impact that digital technology has had on my generations ability to think and engage with the world around them, for better or worse. What I was fearsome of was a one sided ignorant argument against a younger generation. The author repeatedly promises that this book is not a curmudgeonly argument against the millennials, but I was shocked at how simplistic and ignorant this book was.

I think there is an incredibly interesting discussion to be had about how the internet, a tool with incredible potential to widen our worldview and our intellectual capacity, seems to have been used to decrease the scope of our individual worlds and limit our ability to think critically. Is that a failing of our society, or does it say something bigger about our species cognitive capacity, maybe the internet is too powerful of a tool for us?

This book doesn’t discuss anything like that, instead this is another baby boomer complaining about how millennials don’t read classic literature, engage with the news enough, or pick up paper newspapers. As someone who does all three of those things, and many of the activities that the author bemoans about my generation not doing, I am far from convinced that these activities possess an inherent moral or intellectual superiority. Why are these activities inherently superior to the same activities being done on a laptop, or not at all? How do these activities equip millennials to handle the rigors of life?

I have my reasoning for believing that these activities are important, but to write a book with the central focus being critiquing a group of people for not doing certain activities, without ever articulating why those activities are important, comes off as incredibly ignorant.

This book is so condescending and judgmental it was astounding.

Millennials have grown up in an economy that is broken from the bottom up, a political system that is perverted beyond recognition, and a country that has been so consistently manipulated and mislead that they are divided beyond repair and dangerously apathetic about the erosion and decay of our institutions. Yet this author has the audacity to shamelessly write a book about how all of these disastrous outcomes are not a result of his generations mistakes or a flaw in their methods, having grown up in a post war boom, but rather a result of my inability to put my iPod down when I was 12 and pick up The Great Gatsby?

The fact that anyone can be so confident that their methods are right, when the state of the economy, country, and political system say otherwise, is astounding to me, and makes for a boring and frustrating read.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

this widens the view of our younger generation

this book is very interesting to listen to because it delivers another point of view of the world today and how it differs just a few years back. it is somewhat boring if you do not like to listen to the details of the issue but you get to learn about things that are going on.

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Yawn

Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

Lots of numbers and results from studies sprinkled throughout. Extremely boring.

Would you recommend The Dumbest Generation to your friends? Why or why not?

Not recommended unless is it necessary for political science research.

What did you like about the performance? What did you dislike?

I'm not sure if it was the content of the voice, but I fell asleep a couple of times.

Was The Dumbest Generation worth the listening time?

It would have been just as boring to read the book as listening to it (my best guess).

Any additional comments?

The author made a couple of good points, but the data presented seems bias.

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars

Ironically banal, dry, and unimpressive.

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

Boomer generation academics who pride themselves on their antiquated scholarly methods: reading texts in the library, spending an hour a day reading "objective" news in print media, and finding new ways to feign knowledge of social media like blogs, and MYSPACE by referencing those outlets as tech-savvy pursuits.

Has The Dumbest Generation turned you off from other books in this genre?

No, but this book's self-congratulatory undertone seemed to laud those of us who grew up into our own ivory towers yet, in doing so, displayed just how droll that particular lifestyle can be.

What didn’t you like about Danny Campbell’s performance?

It would sedate even the most caffeinated group of statisticians. Very dry, very slow. Print version might serve the argument better (which is probably the point).

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

The content touches a growing trend, but only tangentially. I agree with the educational and social trends, but the data used was unconvincing, and DATED (e.g., references to MySpace).

Any additional comments?

MySpace v. Facebook? Why is the FB not mentioned?

2 of 6 people found this review helpful