Who’s the Dummy?

Jean Rath

2008-10-11

In the book with the lengthy title-that-says-it-all, The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30), author and university professor Mark Bauerlein makes the case for a potentially disastrous future run by ignorant people; and he blames the crisis on the over-use, among the young, of digital diversion devices. I'm not entirely sure how civilization is faring these days, but it's easy to see who the dummy is in my house: nothing causes more hair-tearing among my kids than me in control of the master remote.

"The young", or "those-under-thirty", or "the digital generation" are very skilled at instantly accessing anything they want to know (or to play, or to talk to, or to listen to, or to watch). Even I, a clumsy technology-user, have become accustomed to speedy information. Recently, I wanted to find out what the "King-Byng affair" was all about. I glanced over at our two-volume "Canada, a People's History" sitting on the bookshelf, walked the two strides to my computer, Googled the relevant phrase and was soon happily reading all about it on Wikipedia. The total elapsed time between rejecting my books and finding out everything I wanted to know was twenty seconds. If I were half my age, it would have taken me half that time; and I would have skipped the 5 seconds spent assessing whether to use my reference books.

Rather than "dumb", we should be calling this generation "impatient". And why shouldn't they be? The digital generation wants 24-hour access to information, and to instantly share that information with friends; and they can have it. However, no amount of information, large or small, distant or at-our-fingertips, is of any value if we can't do anything with it. In that light, the digital generation is no better or worse off than previous generations. Rather than question their level of knowledge, we should question their literacy.

Literacy is more than just the ability to read and write… or, in the case of the generation in question, to gather and share information. It includes having a good understanding of a subject, mastery of language, and an ability to communicate. If there is educational potential in every electronic device now or soon-to-be available, the home is a good place to discover it; and to show the impatient generation how to use their diversions to a literate end. In a homeschool, we can talk to and guide our students. If we can't come up with ways to analyze facts, they will. All it takes is one question and we have fodder for discussion, direction for their impatient thirst for instant information, and an avenue in which to teach them how to express their answers (and, possibly, post them on a blog). One such question recently asked in my home was, "Why did the native people attack the Vikings, but they didn't attack the French?" It also goes without saying that if my homeschooler is doomed to write a report on the "King-Byng affair", his bibliography will include more than just Wikipedia.

Humanity isn't any dumber than it ever was. The truly dumb generation will be the one that allows itself (or rather allows its children) to descend into illiteracy. This need not happen to the digital generation, even as it makes increasing use of sophisticated devices. They still have the potential to divert their impatience away from disaster, and we can further ensure success by intelligently teaching them at home.


©Copyright 2008, Christopher & Jean Rath
Telephone: 613-824-4584
Address: 1371 Major Rd., Ottawa, ON, Canada K1E 1H3
Last updated: 2009/07/22 @ 17:56:44 ( )