The Dumbest Generation (Review)

The Dumbest Generation (Review)

here is a bit of irony here. I’d picked up Mark Bauerlein’s bestseller at a neighborhood used bookshop. It had gone into the to-read pile. Then something triggered it to be read, namely a train-club get-together at a local restaurant. There , one of the young members (seventeen years old or so) told me in blunt who-cares fashion, “I don’t read. Haven’t read a single book other than one’s I’ve been made to read. And those I skimmed.”

Which depressed me – we talked a little about it, with him questioning the total value of it. And even though he reads manga (comics), he lacks the ability to see his own pictures in his head. Depressing.

Came home, saw Bauerlein’s book and moved it to the front of the queue. Had to admit I was now curious about something I didn’t know much about – teenagers.

So The Dumbest Generation lays out its case, heavily backed by research, on how the youth culture, soaked in media and hyper-communications that goes on for them, 24/7, has lost the ability to read (and all the critical thinking and civic-mindedness it brings). It’s got the usual side-stories, anecdotes about young adults who don’t know where nations are on a map, how little they know about their own world and government, all that. It also looks at causes, from the mentioned media-wave they swim in, but also including the mentors (professors, teachers, parents) who have thrown up their hands and accepted it. It even goes back to the 50s and 60s, to the youth movements and the rebellion, as if somehow getting us out of Vietnam led directly to the GameBoy (not sure I agree with that linkage). Yes, it is a very depressing read.

And given that it came out somewhere around 2009, we’re seeing the ripples it denotes magnified over time to the world we are in now, to science-rejection, fake-news-acceptance, insurrection at the command of a media mogul, and blind faith in snake-oil in the midst of a raging pandemic. We reap what we sow.

I always wanted to get out of high school and enter the world of adults. What a complete letdown to find out that the adults around me were stuck at high school levels. As the saying goes, adults are nothing more than children with money.

One thing about the book – it was a bit hard to get through. I’m a long-time reader and The Dumbest Generation felt like it was stretching its point to fill a book. There were pages after pages of studies, and points were made, remade, and made yet again. I actually broke away from it at one point to read something else. Only when I came down with Covid did I find an excuse to settle in and finish it (and what is Covid, really, than a pandemic made worse by MAGA idiots kicking and screaming about “individual rights” while prolonging our mystery in this disaster?). After all, a lack of civic-support, booster-prevention and basic cautions is what killed millions (including two close but misguided friends).

Masking, isolation and prolonged suffering does make a reviewer cranky, I suppose.

Anyway, an interesting book but a dry one.