Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Mark Bauerlein, the Dumbest Generation, versus Neil Howe and Millenials Rising

Two thirds of high school students cannot explain a photo of a theater whose portal reads "COLORED ENTRANCE" One fourth of college seniors cannot identify James Madison. Only twenty two percent of college seniors recognized a line from the Gettysburg address. Ten percent of fifteen to twenty-six year olds cannot identify the speaker of the House of Representatives and only fourty percent knew which party controlled Congress.

Only fifty per cent of students have read a single book outside of school (or work) requirements. And Dr. Bauerlein cites numerous statistics showing how dumb America is in, that our children and teenagers are dumber than we (middle aged boomers), and that the internet is dumbing us down. Each day, kids spend 37 minutes reading a book or magazine and hours watching TV, playing video games, and library book circulation goes down.. And fifteen-to-seventeen year olds spend less tghan an hour per day on homework and eleven percent spend more than two hours in the previous day on homework. (Mark Bauerlein, The Dumbest Generation, Penguin,2008) And most people scan briefly the Internet sites on which they look, and young people have a 45 percent failure rate in "ordinary web tasks."

This Professor/Bloggist must be crazy! Asking for groups of these people to judge important decisions such as how much taxes business should pay or to vote in a system to determine the penal code and penalties for such crimes as murder or exactly who can own what type of gun and possess it, where.

Yet the "Millenials" are doing better. A survey of teachers in 1999 had elementary and middle school students with "better" "oral english skills." American Demographics said that teenagers would overwhelmingy like to possess intelligence. And Neil Howe said that much of the decline of SAT scores was Generation X problem and is now reversing. Neil Howe said in terms of voting that the MIllenial Generation And as a comment on the YouTube copy of the debate would do Lauerlein quotes an absolutely puerile and incoherent political blog from teenagers in his book, including bad grammar, syntax and English. And Dr. Howe cites the civic achievements in his book. And he cites that children ages six to eight spend three times more time on homework in 1997 than in 1981. (But that is only three hours per week!) And more children are meeting "National Education Goals in Mathematics" but that is only twenty-five percent, at best. He cites that the average SAT score for the best schools is increasing and IQ's for the top are increasing- in spite of statements that the Flynn effect does not apply to the brightest individuals. And Lauerlein is concerned that the biggest increases in IQ tests are in content-free tests such as spatial reasoning, performance ability or memorizing numbers. And he cites increases in AP test taking, but unfortunately fourty percent are failing, up from 36.5%. And related to this debate, scores are going up on Physics and going down for English.

But what reading would be useful for a person to serve on these sortition juries. Would it be Macbeth--and in the debate between Neil Howe and Dr. Bauerline, it was clear that this was the debate. Dr. Bauerlein talked about children not reading Macbeth in high school or as students in College and refers to passing through a three-hundred page novel. And Dr. Howe, said that for people organizing about some injustice, is Macbeth useful or contains the answers they need. (Also, Dr. Bauerlein said in the debate and his book that if one doesn't take the time to learn the great books in high school and College, they will never do it. I ran for office as Representative to the Curriculum and Standards Committee at Polytechnic University on a platform of getting rid of the humanities/social science requirement and I was very much anti humanities. As I approached and just turned fifty, I picked up and read completely: Hamlet, the Mishima novel SAilor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea (because they touched me after the death of my mother, but that is another story for another blog), and Solzhenitsyn's Cancer Ward by Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, To Kill a Mockingboard and All Quiet on the Western Front. At the end of his book, Dr. Bauerlein talks about the role of our classic works in art, film and literature--as one expects from a Professor of American Literature and employee of the National Endowment for the Arts. Is it to provide a common reference point for shared civic discourse, Cultural Literacy , is it so when does not look like a rube to potential employers (Lauerlein cited a young art student who had a disdain for Rembrandt and Picasso, particularly copying him), or does it truly help in individuals deliberating together about issues as Dr. Paul Woodruff mentioned about piadaia in Ancient Athenian democracy when he was interviewed on his book First Democracy.

And later chapters of Dr. Bauerlein's book show that he favors classical lierature, the traditional humanities.

Bauerlein is concerned about individuals not reading things seriously Take computer manuals. If I am going to make serious use of software, I like to read the manual first. Now, I am taking a computer graphics class I am taking and am reading manuals or have read manuals for two Computer Graphics packages and Open GL, a library for programming graphics. When I was sixteen years old, I purchased IBM manuals from the IBM office on Assembler language, Job Control Language and other things that seemed intereting and useful.

But as Jacob Nielsen pointed out, "the fundamental truth about documentation is that mot users imply do not read manuals and jumpt right in to the software citing references from 1987 and 1991 before the time of the Internet. And they documented that online manuals are faster to printed version. And as a professor of computer science, I certainly don't like this inconvenient truth!

And studies have shown that people learn better from summaries, from digested text and multimedia that just makes the points that one wants, than the full text. Both on paper and in multimedia, students learned better from a concise summary. The effect of having a summary is from two thirds to a full standard deviation--a large effect. Teacher's castigate Cliff Notes, but the evidence is that they are more effective than the real thing. Lauerlein complained about a person answering a school homework assignment by finding a few things via Google, finding the "nut" of the idea, throwing in a few personal remarks and handing it in. So the problem with people not reading and not reading books in advance certainly predates the internet.

So what is better for a jury, whether conventional or the sortition jury I proposed countless times in this blog, little bits of information reading a whole book or one hundred conventional pages on paper, perhaps as a briefing book like they prepare for the U. S. President. We know that for a jury, scanning the internet to look up a term is illegal. But what about pieces of information that we remember--if I serve on a jury in a criminal case and remember something about the cautions and vague preconditions in Elizabeth Loftus's book on the problem in witness identifications. Can I use that information? Can I use that in the deliberations and my own thought process? What if I happened read the book several years ago--I have not gotten around to reading it? What if I read it when I knew I was summonned for jury duty but before I was impanelled? I guess I would be disqualified if I read it after I was assigned a case. And what of the anecdotes that are floating around in every citizen's brain. Would the criminal trial system be best served if the citizens were required to read a relevant book in its entirety just before the case? Surowiecki proposed in Wisdom of Crowds that although people have lots of bad information, it all cancels out and the result is something that is more likely to be close to the truth than expert opinions. If a sortition jury was called in to decide on which proposal NASA should fund or how to reward and allocate money for different health care providers, how should they prepare? How should our educational system best prepare them?


  1. Jacob Nielsen, Usability Engineering, Sun Soft 2550 Garcia Aenue, Morgan Kaufman, 1993
  2. Mayer, Richard E., Multimedia Learning, Cambridge University Pres, 2001, 2009

Follow up on

  1. Rettg M. (1991) " Nobody reads documentation" Communication of the ACM, 34, 7 (JUly) 19 to 24
  2. CCarroll, J. M. and Rosson M.B. (1987) Paroado of the Actie User In Carrol, J. M. (Ed.) Interfacing Thought: Cognitie Aspects of human Computer Interaction MIT Press, Cambride MA 80 to 111
  3. Egan, D. E. (1989) Formative design-ealuation of SuperBook ACM Transactions on Information Systems 7, 1 (January) 30 to 57
  4. Borenstein N. S. (1985) The Design and Evaluation of On-Line Help Systems Technical Report CMU-CS-5-151, Deartent of Coputer science Carnegie Mellon Uniersity, Pitsburgh PA
  5. Mirel B. (1991) Critical REview of Eperimental Research on the Usability of Hard Copy Document IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication 34, 2(June) 109 to 122.
  6. Reder, L. M. and Anderson, J. R. (1980) "A Comparisons of Texts and their Summaries: Memorial Consequences" Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior Volume 19, 121 to 134.
  7. Steven Johnson, Everything Bad is Good for you: How Today's Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter. I heard his interview on CSPAN-- definitely for another Thoughtful Thurrsday.

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