According to her Web site:
America's endemic anti-intellectual tendencies have been exacerbated by a new species of semiconscious anti-rationalism, feeding on and fed by a popular culture of video images and unremitting noise that leaves no room for contemplation or logic.
Back in the day, we would've said all that in two words: "you're stupid."
Jacoby insists that our culture carries with it a disdain for logic and she cites as evidence the focus on infotainment from TV and the Web.
OK, that's easy. On the other hand, I see access to information being at an all-time high; I see YouTube offering college lectures for free, and I see people being required to know more information now than at any time in history. Oh, and public radio's popularity is at an all-time high.
Jacoby says, "..a lazy and credulous public increasingly unwilling or unable to distinguish between fact and opinion." I'm wondering which she thinks that is.
The trick in all this is to avoid the anecdotal. We can always find reasons to conclude that the culture has been dumbed down, or even -- as I've indicated -- that's it's not. Clearly the future of the country requires an informed -- and intelligent -- citizenry.
10:07 - We're off and running with Kerri playing a sound byte of Robert Kennedy quoting a poem by
Escalus (damn you, Shakespeare!) Aeschylus.
"In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."
Kennedy was speaking following the death of Martin Luther King Jr.
Kerri quotes Jacoby as indicating the use of Aeschylus as him assuming the audience would have known who Aeschylus was. She also says nobody today would quote an Aeschylus. Jacoby says even our public leaders today would be afraid of being branded elitist. So much for the hope this isn't a political discussion; she criticizes Bush for saying Obama "talks too good."
Ronald Reagan quoted John Gillespie Magee when he delivered his famous eulogy at the space shuttle Challenger memorial service. Does that count?
10:11 -" We have just gotten lazier," Jacoby says. "Only about half of America read a book last year." Confession time: I didn't read a book last year, at least the kind Jacoby is talking about. I did read a manual on electrical wiring and its principles. Does that make me dumber than someone who bought and read a book on Amazon?
10:13 - "Folks." It's a bad word, according to Jacoby. "It was not a word that was considered suitable for presidential speeches."
10:22 - Following up on above. This is an interesting question, whether the evolution of the English language is an example of dumbing down.
Thus much, gentlemen, I have thought it incumbent on me to observe to you, to show upon what principles I opposed the irregular and hasty meeting which was proposed to have been held on Tuesday last - and not because I wanted a disposition to give you every opportunity consistent with your own honor, and the dignity of the army, to make known your grievances. If my conduct heretofore has not evinced to you that I have been a faithful friend to the army, my declaration of it at this time would be equally unavailing and improper
Is that really more intelligent merely because it uses an older form of the English language? It came from George Washington.
Several generations later, a -- arguably -- dumbed down form of English resulted in this:
Throughout America's adventure in free government, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among people and among nations. To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people. Any failure traceable to arrogance, or our lack of comprehension or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us grievous hurt both at home and abroad.
Progress toward these noble goals is persistently threatened by the conflict now engulfing the world. It commands our whole attention, absorbs our very beings. We face a hostile ideology -- global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method. Unhappily the danger is poses promises to be of indefinite duration. To meet it successfully, there is called for, not so much the emotional and transitory sacrifices of crisis, but rather those which enable us to carry forward steadily, surely, and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle -- with liberty the stake. Only thus shall we remain, despite every provocation, on our charted course toward permanent peace and human betterment.
That would be Dwight Eisenhower's warning about the military-industrial complex.
10:26 - We're into the full Bush bashing over Iraq and I won't get into that debate. "The question is why is are we so willing to be lied to." Well, no, we're not willing to be lied to, nor is being lied to by a government a product of our current media age. Gulf of Tonkin anyone?
And does the lie of the treaties with Native Americans indicate a previous level of intelligence?
Secondly, I would submit the analysis of the run-up to the Iraq war may be the most researched, documented, and widely available investigation of an event ever made available.
10:30 - We're now into criticizing Wikipedia "and its online errors." This is an old argument (she's actually arguing encyclopedias in general are not a proper reference for term papers but that's beside the point). In 2005, a study was conducted of Encyclopedia Britannica (once considered the bible of encyclopedias), and it found Wikipedia was just as accurate.
10:33 - Jacoby touches on an interesting point -- one that I often gassed on about when I wrote Polinaut: the tendency to seek out the news (and assume as "truth") that which mirrors what a person already believes. I believe, obviously, she's write about this and this is clearly a side effect of the increase in choice that Americans (and others) have in information. But I also wonder whether people are equally quick to label as "dumb" or "uninformed," that with which they disagree. And does that poison the climate for intellectual discussion in this country that the two guests in today's first hour of Midmorning touched on?
10:37 - Question: How many of you have been in a school recently?
10:40 - I'm ignoring the political talk. Here's an interesting story from late last week in the U.K. about a report that is about to come out on the Internet generation.
Far from being dumbed down by the information age, we are smartening up. Jim Flynn, a New Zealand professor, has charted year-on-year rises in IQ scores across the world, and tests show that Britons' average IQ has risen 27 points since 1942. True, school leavers might know nothing of Clement Attlee or the nine-times table, but that's the fault of our education system. The cognitive labour demanded by games and assimilating detail is linked to better mental dexterity. Our brains have been reprogrammed.
10:41 - "It takes away the space that was reserved for more reflection and introspection," Jacoby said on the information that is now available today. An online commenter said "no wonder we're dumb" because we're bombarded with information. Here's my present problem: we're assuming we are dumb. Prove it.
10:44 - Kerri invokes the wisdom of Stevie Van Zandt. Excellent. He apparently laments that musicians today don't understand the history of their craft. Van Zandt, of course, played a part on the Sopranos, one of the cultural phenomenons of our time.
10:47 -- No one wants to work for their knowledge. Say again: prove it. "Boys and girls should have desk and they shouldn't be allowed to talk to each other," Jacoby said. The caller to whom she was responding said "kids today" (or "folks" if you prefer) are "passive" in their learning. Isn't that "I'll talk, you listen" method of education the definition of passive?
10:53 Says a commenter here:
Instead of picking at culture let's look at all that is happening. I get tired of the criticizing of the culture. Let's look at the powerful stuff that is happening. Kids are so technologically advanced that they leave adults in the dust. Kids are discovering reading through graphic novels and genres we older 'folk' don't get. And on and on and on.....
Smackdown, Jacoby replies to the idea that kids are smarter:
"No they're not. Any kid who can use a computer better than most people. It doesn't tell us anything. The computer is a tool. One of the things that's very wrong. What techies talk about is if the computer and digital universe and the Web is some kind of godlike new way of thinking. The idea that because kids can use a computer means they're smarter than us is ridiculous."
She then says that when we say kids are smarter, we're saying kids can use a computer better. Well, there's a lesson in intellectual dishonesty: change the assertion to a different one and then rebut that one.
In fact, kids are smarter (more knowledgeable) than previous generations. The difference is they're not knowledgeable about the same things. And the computer, by the way, while it is a tool, has also created the environment for creativity that has come from it. The computer is not an entertainment tool. It is a tool that can be used for multiple purposes.
One can use a pen and paper to write a poem or paragraph from Aeschylus, or one can write Mein Kampf.
10:58 -- All in all, the debate pretty much mirrored that of generations past. I'll match this anecdotal evidence with that anecdotal evidence. In a way, it's a shame we think so little of our kids and have so little hope in what they can -- and have -- accomplished.
"Are we dumb?"
If you have to ask...
Can we think we're collectively dumb and/or underinformed, while retaining a sense of being in that well-informed, not-dumb minority? That would describe the stereotypical Public Radio audience of elitist intellectuals...
Ok, stereotype-based jokes aside, here's a thought:
Bob writes "public radio's popularity is at an all-time high."
My perception is that mass-market news (newpapers & TV news) is light on serious content & heavy on celebrity 'news'.
Could the rise in public radio's popularity be indicative of the population seeking out more/better information than is available from other sources?
A snarky "elitist intellectual" dismissal by bsimon doesn't do the topic justice. Does being intellectual make one elitist? If so, it IS the very definition of a dumbed down populace. Personally, I don't think there is anything inherently elitist about living a life predicated on rationality, thought, and evidence. I would agree with Susan Jacoby that intellectual life is becoming rarer if that is her claim. I am appalled at how acceptable anti-rational statements and thought are in this country. Examples of this range from the best-selling book "The Secret" to President Bush saying the U.S. doesn't torture when it patently and obviously does.
Bri. Sure, it's possible, which would itself be a sign, I think, of a collective intelligence and might even mean the media doesn't exert the influence it traditionally has.
As for celebrity news. Two words: Lindbergh baby.
Kerri blew the guest's socks off with that Aeschylus quote!
How much is the Religious Right to blame for labeling intellectuals as anti-Christian?
I think if a little research was done, we would see that every generation has said the the the younger generation is slacking, or that they are somehow not in the same league intellectually as their own. Words or points that may have been "folksy" or "slang" in one generation may be a part of the next generation's lexicon.
I think the dumbing of America is related to the psychological depressing of America. People are depressed and don't care or have curiosity.
PS, I have never been so concerned about misspellings.
Dumb and uninterested? Try being a tax return preparer. The ignorance of how our tax system works is monumenta.
I don't know that I say dumb but I think that we are a bit lazy - intellectually and otherwise. A case in point:
In the time I have lived in south mpls (15 years) I have watched the Philosophy section of the local book store go from massive to sparse, being replaced by self help and "why you are right" religious books. The philosophy texts that were there were your hardcore essays by many of the great thinkers, what remained were books like "The Philosophy of the Matrix" and so on (not that these are bad but its an intro at best).
That bookstore now is closed so I guess my suffering is somewhat ended but I think the books that are being sold or produced can be a good gage of where we are intellectually.
I defintely think Americans ARE dumber than they were 40 years ago. I often have hard time concealing my dismay when I happen to talk to people here in the US and quickly realize how little they know about what's happening in the world and how almost everything they think, say or do is based on what is portrayed on TV & by the Media. I don't think most Americans know much about how nations and policies shape the world as a whole; how our actions impact on OUR environment; how the great intellects of the earlier centuries from Socrates to modern philosophers analysed their world just as we should - to improve their lives.
I wonder if the author expanded her thesis to book length by adding many simple examples. It seems like quality and quantity never mix. Where to draw the line is the question.
I'm glad she's bringing up education.
I'm wondering if the concept of trying to "level" education is, in fact, pushing all students to the middle instead of focusing on encouraging and awarding the brightest.
It's important to assist low achievers and students who struggle, but are we encouraging low achievement by sinking all of our time and funding into it?
Instead of picking at culture let's look at all that is happening. I get tired of the criticizing of the culutre. Let's look at the powerful stuff that is happening.
Kids are so technologically advanced that they leave adults in the dust.
Kids are discovering reading through graphic novels and genres we older 'folk' don't get.
And on and on and on.....
I would love to have Susan talk about the power there is in the way we are.
I would also like to hear her ideas on how we get the culture where she wants it.
Isn't this phenomenon a sign that we have been seduced by an excessive and mindless democratization and popularization of culture, one that venerates youth and individuality to the detriment of authority and standards?
I believe that text messaging will be the ruin of the English language as it is today. To think that these 'new' words will be slipping into everyday spelling, worries me. I loathe the day that my spell-check suggests that my spelling of 'you' is incorrect and instead suggests that I use the word 'u'.
id join in wif yu guys but i cant find my pipe and my fireplace mantel to lean on.
Not being capable of finding Iraq on a map is no where near as bad as not being capable of finding the United States on a map. This is the case with many U.S. college students.
Follow up "real quick"? Isn't our lazy use/misuse of the English langauge one of the most predominent indicators of our lazy brains? The increasing use of adjectives for adverbs by MPR hosts is to me one of the more important signs of our decline in intellectualism. It is as offensive as a President who is "one of the folks".
It is almost if the education is focused on being gregarious instead of intellectual. But I wonder which is more valuable to society.
I dont think we're dumber. I think the dumber people are just being shown more. We are smarter than ever, its just the dumber people, who've always been there, are dominating popular culture.
McLuhan had a point years ago about the medium being the message or rather the massage. The abundance of media offering 'analysis', 'discussion,' and 'live input' is not always designed to enhance our thinking. It's designed to influence - or worse - do our thinking for us. Combine the analysis with visuals - or an opportunity for a wireless provider to collect a text message fee...and the idea of really thinking about anything complicated just seems like soooooo much work! We have been trained to demand instant gratification.
This author does not seem aware of the research that shows that girls in school seem to do much better in math and science classes when boys are not in those classes. I don't know about many of the subjects she is talking about, but I think she is confusing 'thinking for oneself' or 'thinking critically' for thinking the way she does. Several of her comments so far have stuck *me* as not very well thought out. ::sigh::
Lynn, I think you make a good point.
DR Rudolph Flesch, in the books he wrote in the 50's and early 60's, titled "Why Johnny Can't Read" and "Why Johnny Still Can't Read", identified the problem back then and, clearly laid it on the greed of text book publishers, who got teachers away from teaching reading with emphasis in Phonics, so that rather than being able to learn to read well at an early age, kids only learned about 300 words a year - thus were limited to a small vocabulary, so that they could only read books published by the text book publishers. He says that with such poor vocabularies, our kids were bored with books that they could read.
So, with the range of thought being said, and the author's premise, what do we think the systemic remedy might be? Where do we go from here?
How do we define an intellectual? Is it an oenophile who listens to classical music, reads literature and non-commercial non-fiction, and can distinguish between a Manet and a Monet? Is it a jet-engine mechanic who listens to the blues and jazz, reads sci-fi and fantasy, and knows the make and model of every car that drives by? Or is it a stay-at-home mom who volunteers in the schools and community, plants a huge vegetable garden, freezes and cans, and makes salsa and pickles, and quilts in her precious spare time?
To what extent does Jacoby place blame on public schooling, and what does she suggest as a beginning to a solution?
A retired public school teacher
Its difficult to raise this kinda of question these days. People get insulted when you question their "intelligence". However, when you examine that "intelligence", you find that it is all smoke and mirrors, more dedicated to "Reality TV" or whats on myspace. At times, those individuals will argue with you, claiming why should I know all that "stuff", its sooo boring. Personally I dont care. Its your fault if your knowledge of reality TV outweighs mine; because my real education will propel me further in life than you ever will; so have fun in your trailer running your ATV off of potato fumes...
Bob Collins notes "the tendency to seek out the news (and assume as "truth") that which mirrors what a person already believes....But I also wonder whether people are equally quick to label as "dumb" or "uninformed," that with which they disagree."
I think it's worse than that. The number of agreeable sources is huge, and my experience is few people even dip a toe into the waters of opposition thought. I don't think those we disagree with are seen as 'dumb' or 'uninformed', but rather are not seen at all.
Our country has over doubled in population since 1945, has triple the GDP of 1985, a level of foreign-born immigrants unseen since the early 1900s, and literacy rates are over 98%. Record primary turnouts nationwide, record number of students in school and in college seeking degrees.
In the age of mass communication, mass media, and mass consumerism, there may be plenty to criticize, and we often see the substitution of lofty or well-worn phrases for real thought and superficial coverage of important issues.
I am bothered by Jacoby's vociferous disagreement with a lot that she sees politically (i.e. Jacoby's errant swipe Bush with the verifiably wrong accusation he blamed Saddam Hussein for 9/11).
We are not a simple minded people, there are just some fundamental principles that elitists oppose, such as standing up to terrorism in whatever form it takes. (I have a graduate degree from one of Europe's top universities, by the way).
Here's a quote for the record book:
"Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty." JFK Inaugural Address, 1961
Along with a curiousity there needs to be a sense of intellectual humility. If we think we are right and fully informed, why continue to explore and learn?
10:37 - Question: How many of you have been in a school recently?
Attended as a student, no. It's been 8 years. Attended as a parent - about 3 weeks ago and last week.
I think that there is a widening gap between intellectuals and anti-intellectuals, much like the gap between the super rich and poor, even middle class. There are a lot of super smart people out there, but many of them are hiding for fear of being derided by the anti-intellectual masses.
That's the finest point Jacoby just made...we go to blogs that reaffirm our points of view if we read at all. Main-stream media is a joke. Copy-cat headlines capture the headlines as professional, trained reporters; trained in J-Schools that often are limited by being secondary and under the influence to Communications departments which transalates as priority focusing: money and public relations. Capital Times closed its press down to follow the Web way; sign of the times. We need to search out those old presses sitting dormant;covered with cobwebs on the plains in Somewhere Village and start again...no luddite operation but a new free press with creative independant journalism rising out of the dust of a their corporate-owned victims, we the readers also.
I am always skeptical when claims are made about "how things used to be" and the story of FDR and his fireside chat with America is an example. Who was FDR really talking to? Japanese Americans were being detained in camps, women had a far more traditional role in the family (this is obviously pre Rosie the Riveter), Harvard was male-only and the US military wasn’t desegregated until the Korean War. I would argue that FDR was just talking to white males, who, at that time, were much better educated and powerful than the general population.
I am an ardent fan of adult learning through the courses offered by The Teaching Company and The Complete Scholar. These are college level courses by top professors recorded on cd's. I don't know how popular and widespread these courses are, but I sense that they are growing. I don't offer these courses as necessarily opposing the comments of Susan Jacoby so much as a note of optomism.
Charlie brings up a good point that is backed by Richard Florida in the Rise of the Creative Class and adds on to Thomas Friedman's idea the world is flat. He says the world is "spiky," in the sense that there are scattered clusters in the world that are filled with creative intellectuals (Austin, Seattle, Dublin, etc.)
Another sign of our lack of curiosity is our attitude toward other countries and foreigners in general. The anti-immigration movement has made Americans fearful of anything unusual outside of their own culture. As far as being multilingual, you can't even order a cheesesteak in Philadelphia today if you don't speak English... and only English.
A teacher who put DR. Flesch's theory to work, is Marva Collins who has been featured at least 4 times on CBS 's 60 Minutes, with first and second graders saying their favorite authors are Chaucer, Dickens and Thoreau. Look for her book, Marva's Way.
This process right now is indicative of both the excellent resources we have for greater knowledge and information about the world and also the challenges we face. At the same time we all are listening to a great radio interview we are trying to incorporate quick and meaningful blogs, and most of us have not read the book.
We have such terrific resources on line now and need to learn how to use them and be able to sort through all the information and put it in context.
The key question is raised by Kevin - where do we go from here? I think that if interested / educated persons continue to discuss ideas and information others will continue to join. We do need to filter out the intensive noise of hundreds of immediate news TV spots and splashy magazines. It would be nice to have some top leadership that shows this same interest.
In 1994, involved in web development at SCSU, I wrote:
"It is more important that students learn to manage information that is within their grasp than to reach world wide for information for which they have not the intellectual tools to manage". (JMNelson, 1994)
I am saddened at how prophetic my concerns proved to be.
I think she said that african americans were counted as two fifths of a white person.
Um, actually, it was they were counted as three fifths of a white person.
this author is absolutely intellectually lazy, and her comments are sloppy. She preaches intelligence, but she isn't demonstrating it. She has a set point of view and is forming her arguments to support her view, instead of looking at the arguments for or against different ideas and taking the idea that is best supported by the arguments. This is painful to listen to.
I would suggest that we are generally training our children to think less critically because if they thought critically they would realize all the damage adults are doing to the planet and their futures.
For many of us, the definitions of "knowledge" and "intellectual" are being restructured in a world of accelerating information and technology, and through the virtually unlimited ability (for those who have access and skill) to converse and innovate in collaboration with others from around the globe. The conversation also seems to be focusing on this generation's ability to recite events and honor literature of the past (however much in context), rather than their ability to creatively address pressing concerns of the present and future. (Paradigm shifts, while overused as a phrase, do actually happen. This conversation suggests "folks" might be missing the 21st century boat that I want my kids traveling in.)
If one studies Quantum Physics, advanced math, and advanced Computer science, then one can't really have much time to study history, literature, etc...
jsh1mpls 10:40 AM
Do you assume that I'm a stay-at-home mom? I'm an artist and composer, I have a B.A. in English, and my professors rated me among the top five or ten students they'd ever had in their 20-25 years of teaching. I've never watched reality television. And I have known some highly intelligent, educated stay-at-home moms whose contributions to school and community are priceless.
I find television very educational. Every time someone switches it on I go into another room and read a good book.
Carol makes some good points, in both posts. to add another data point, I know some people who, based on stereotypes, would be considered 'not smart'. But they're quite well informed about current events and foreign policy, among other things - not the kind of discussions people expect from non-college educated laborers.
"In a way, it's a shame we think so little of our kids and have so little hope in what they can -- and have -- accomplished."
I actually don't give the kids much thought in this debate. I have three, and they love their games, are ignorant of much history, etc. And they are normal kids. I was probably just like them at their ages. But, at some point kids grow up. If they are happily ignorant adults, then I have a problem with it. I fault every adult who is proud of his/her ignorance, lack of curiosity, and unconcern about things outside of a narrow, personal experience.
I think a lot of the above is true; but also, I have noticed the people have become sceptical enough to think there is no point in responding to the lack of substance in the political scene. When a person must be a millionaire to run for office, it is all money and power that emerge. Today a Jimmy Carter or an Abraham Lincoln would never be on the ballot. So it's not always lack of intellect, it's a lack of faith in the system that influences our participation.
I do think children today ARE smarter. I have noticed that my son is studying parts of math and science and social studies that I studied when I was two years older. This is comparing private education seventh grade back in the late '70's to private education to fifth grade now.
I watched a documentary a few years back and they studied how spiders built their webs and then the webs of their offspring and the webs of their offspring. it showed the web getting more and more intricate with each generation.
The deal with the texting is OUR doing. Children have been brought up in a society of instant gratification. quicker better faster. i am guilty of the grammar lazy too. although i do not text i might skip the punctuation if it can still get my point across.
Oh, bsimon, I agree with you about stereotypes; one doesn't need a college education to be educated. My parents and numerous aunts and uncles, who belong to the WW II generation, have no post-secondary education, but they are informed and intelligent. They read books on history, archaeology, various scientific topics, world religions, and much more. They're old Red River valley farmers whose grammar isn't admirable, but their curiosity and passion for knowledge inspired their children to go to college. And that's a valuable legacy.
//When a person must be a millionaire to run for office, it is all money and power that emerge.
And that, of course, is a reflection of the marketing that is required to become president. Still, there's a legitimate chance that Tim Pawlenty becomes a vice presidential candidate and then the heir to the throne.
There's still a chance that a Navy flyboy who once was rotting in a prison in Hanoi will be president.
It is, it seems, impossible to be elected president without being a millionaire. The question is it possible to become a millionarie without being born one?
Jamie's comments (10:41 am) underscores my belief that there is a huge gulf between accumulation of facts and intelligence, likewise between intelligence and wisdom, and that ideology trumps all of the aforementioned every time.
Bob, Thank you for your final comment. I think the perpetual debate is a reflection of the current societal views. The economy today is tanking, war is breaking out around the world, and "kids today" don't care enough to learn, etc etc... Last time i checked, the "parents of today" are the first generation to leave a worse world for their children. How about that for dumb and lazy.
"Last time i checked, the "parents of today" are the first generation to leave a worse world for their children. How about that for dumb and lazy."
Collin has a good point and I will take part of that responsibility of the dumb and lazy. So what do we do with our intellectual selves to make the world a better place? Or do our children really know something that we don't and perhaps since we have really wrecked things thoroughly, they plan on a "do over"
I have a ton (non intelluctual word-sorry) of faith in these kids. I am thinking that with the way many think and act they are going to make a better place to live TOGETHER.
If you're referring to the environment, Colin, are parents of today solely responsible for the state of the world, or have the results been accumulating since the Industrial Revolution began?
Bill, wayyyy upstream, picked up on my question about being in a school. Sorry I missed it but -- if you're still here -- what did you find when you went to the school? What were your impressions?
//I find television very educational. Every time someone switches it on I go into another room and read a good book.
Well, yeah, I guess. I enjoyed watching 60 Minutes last night and hearing about the German who was thrown into Guantanamo. I enjoyed the piece about Bill James (I consider myself a SABRmetrician), who has done more to teach an understanding about the value of mathematics than a lot of teachers I ...umm... knew.
A book isn't intelligent just because it's a book. And TV isn't stupid just because it's TV.
Long before I got into Public Radio, I had friends who would always do two things (this was required in the Berkshires) (a) tell me they didn't have a TV and (b) work "National Public Radio" into a sentence.
They wanted to show to me, I guess, how "smart" they were. They failed miserably. I used to tell them (this was the '80s) they weren't much different than the people who felt an alligator on the chest made them something different than what they really were.
// Last time i checked, the "parents of today" are the first generation to leave a worse world for their children. How about that for dumb and lazy.
Well maybe, although I know some parents who "left a world" where a black person couldn't sit at a lunch counter, who pitched litter out the window of the car without thinking about it, that thought nothing of dumping the toxic waste from the paper factory into the river, changing its color every day to a different color, and developed missiles and pointed them at the other big country on the planet, creating a climate in which children were taught that it could all end -- and probably would -- at any second.
I loved my parents anyway and they had faith in their children. I prefer to think we didn't disappoint, but we didn't turn out to be perfect either.
HAHAHHA -Bob that's funny. I didn't catch the allligator meaning at first and was visioning a live alligator on someone's chest..hehehe
//And TV isn't stupid just because it's TV.
Hear, hear! Back in the 90s, Tool Time saved my best friend's marriage. Her husband learned about forgiveness, a concept he didn't grow up with. He learned how to talk to his wife, and he credits the TV show.
I'm coming to this a little late, but I did hear the show. I had a few observations.
I'm just wondering how many people posting here have actually read Jacoby's book?
Lynn (10:33) mentions McLuhan but mistakes what he was meaning by "the medium is the message", he means the characteristics of the medium determine the characteristics of the message. Postman described this by stating something to the effect that it would be hard to write "War and Peace" by using smoke-signals.
In the interview, Jacoby mentioned writing about the misuse of the word "folks" and the word "troop[s]". A friend actually wrote the NY Times about using the word troop/troops wrongly. They wrote back stating that they use it because all the press releases from the Pentagon and White House began using the word rather than the word "soldier". In a quote this is fine, but to use the word in the rest of the article perpetuates the mistake. Anyone else have some words like this? One would be using "gender" rather than "sex", Murakami in "Kafka on the Shore" mentions this...
Oops, there was a misuse of the ellipse punctuation!
Language has been evolving forever, of course. But the question is its intended purpose: communication over impression.
Personally, I blanch at the misuse of female/male.
But so what? In my earlier days, I'd be alarmed of the ending of a sending with a preposition.
Is this REALLY, however, an indication of a less intelligent society if those involved in the conversation speak the same language?
Take people who "text message." They're using a different language in order to communicate efficiently.
Does that mean people who "text message" or "twitter" are less intelligent by definition. I don't think so.
And I believe Jacobs' declaration that kids today are "not smarter" while not citing any specific research constitutes a bigger threat to the future. "Because I think so" shouldn't ever pass for knowledge.
// Last time i checked, the "parents of today" are the first generation to leave a worse world for their children. How about that for dumb and lazy.
I do apologize for the ambiguity of "better."
The economic and environmental problems that are being handed to this next generation are partially caused by the handing down of the same problems from generation to generation. Perhaps now they are just coming to fruition. Industrial pollution is not new, neither is it "fixed". Maybe these problems have been exacerbated by being taught "that it could all end -- and probably would -- at any second." (If you see a flash, get under your desk.)
Things could have been different, but in retrospect that's always easy to say. I hope that this next generation can learn from the one before it. With the wealth of information readily available, we have all the tools for which we could hope.
This program struck a chord with me. Here's my little case in point re: how we are dumbing ourselves down.
I have been griping to dear hubby lately how so many of our friends -- well educated doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc. -- have completely forgotten their critical thinking skills. I am stunned at how many of them forward junk emails propagating ridiculous (and false) stories and superstitious chain letters. Ugh! They stick their heads in the sand about the economy, the environment, etc., and are afraid of anyone who doesn't attend the same church they do claiming that anyone who doesn't think like them is, at best a buzzkill, at worst a (god forbid) liberal/radical/pick a label. It's just bizarre to witness this happening.
I can't figure it out. Are we just worn out? Is it a factor of getting older that we just don't want to learn anything new? I know it isn't exclusive to our generation but my husband and I have both given up on having provocative discussions with the friends and family members who are so frightened by intellectual challenge. It has left us feeling rather isolated too.
I am no great brain. I do have two graduate degrees and am staying home right now with my kids, and I suppose I am an intellectual insofar that I care about thinking, reflection, and introspection. (Although these days my intellect has atrophied a bit due to short nights with baby.) All that aside, I have a terrible memory for facts and for the longest time thought that qualified me as a dummy -- so I am insecure when the world defines intellectuals too narrowly. I'd like to see more people think of themselves as smart and therefore be driven to maintain that identity with a life of honest inquiry. I think there is usefulness in trying to rescue the term "intellectual". We have family members that use the term "intellectual" as if it were the highest insult they could level at someone. What a gut punch. I am convinced though that this is an insult they feel powerful in using simply because they do not see any way to enter the world of "intellectuals" on their own accord. If that's the case, we have really messed up. Intelligence should not divide people -- it is a way in which we can enter into mutual discovery -- but it takes willing participants.
We live in a time where education has become more commodified than it ever before. That has some scary repercussions - esp. in a PowerPoint culture where information is chunked into bits of duh-candy and nuance & depth is seen as an inconvenience. As a college teacher, I met more than one student (I worked in public universities) who felt they should get A's because their parents PAID for the degree. I've seen plenty of online courses that deliver fluff content and are devoid of any real rigor. And most of us have experienced at least one teacher in our past who was tenured and tired - no longer willing to be an advocate for innovation and discovery. It's worrisome and sad. Some of us have willingly chosen to go along to get along with a factory mentality - don't work any harder (or know more) than the next guy and we can keep the standards not just "low" but "achievable."
One last point - kids today aren't smarter than their parents merely b/c they can use computers. Jacoby was right on in deflating that argument. When I was teaching college students (up until a few years ago) I was shocked at how many of them came to college not knowing how to email, type, use Word or a basic spreadsheet. They knew how to text and surf the internet for fun, but their technological skill sets (and discernment) were limited in many ways -- no different than parents who are mystified by their kids' skills simply because they haven't bothered to ... ahem ... learn (or be intellectually curious to find out) what their kids are doing. We all limit ourselves unnecessarily in these ways. That said, I have noticed my 8 yr. old is learning concepts in school that weren't presented to me until I was much older. That is cool to see and I do hope that my daughter's knowledge is always fresher than my own and that I am motivated to stay current as well!
//One last point - kids today aren't smarter than their parents merely b/c they can use computers. Jacoby was right on in deflating that argument.
But that's *my* argument. That wasn't the claim. It was Jacobs who turned the assertion to the "because they can use computers part." It showed, in my opinion, an intellectual dishonesty. She trivialized the assertion in order to respond to it. But in the end, she responded not to the assertion, but to the trivia that *SHE* created.
In many ways her conclusions are driven by anecdotes rather than research.
That, to me, is somewhat ironic.
Jacoby summarized the comments of the blog post calling it the "kids are smarter than us because they can use a computer" argument. Did she generalize? Yes. Was that dishonest? I'm not convinced of that. Was it a bit mean? Well, there was a kind of energy in her voice when she jumped in... The comment she summarized was:
Kids are so technologically advanced that they leave adults in the dust.
I don't know about you, but I've heard that one too about a million times and I'm rather tired of it as well. It is a gross, anecdotal generalization. I don't see how she trivialized something that was trivial to begin with. I don't want to rip on the commenter either - I know where they are coming from completely - but that comment states that kids' technological skill sets are superior to adults and therefore their technological superiority is indicative of their intellectual superiority to adults (given the context of this discussion). Hardly a fair statement, but it certainly illustrates how many of us allow our own intelligence to be trivialized when we are mystified by something. Jacoby just stated it another way. I will too - just because someone knows how to text and IM at lightning speed doesn't mean they leave someone else in the dust intellectually. I don't know too many teens who understand (or care for that matter) about the algorithms used to generate rankings on Netflix or YouTube or what complex statistical formulas determine how much they will be charged for their text messaging. Use of a tool is not a definitive indicator of intelligence. Trust me, I LOVE my IT toys and feel like they liberate and democratize information (just as much as they can truncate information and imagination as well) but I know better than to mystify and idolize their use. It really doesn't take a brain surgeon to know how to use this stuff. I'm 40 and I have a good friend in her 50's who has gone back to school to learn Flash and HTML and she rocks at it in ways I can't even imagine. But she is immersed in it every day - I am not. She taught me how to text message - but I taught some of my younger friends recently how to video chat and have taught her how to do things in Photshop and Illustrator. Skill with a tool - regardless of age - is not a reasonable way to delineate degrees of intelligence. There's no way Jacoby could have left that point untouched - it wouldn't have been responsible on her part. It would be like saying because the show, Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader, is a hit that all 5th graders really ARE smarter than most adults. Intelligence is situational, flexible, and dynamic. We have to understand that and embrace that position if we are going to move forward.
// but that comment states that kids' technological skill sets are superior to adults and therefore their technological superiority is indicative of their intellectual superiority to adults (given the context of this discussion).
This reminds me of a debate I had back in 10th grade. The question was "Will computers make humans irrelevant?" This was 1970.
My position was "no," because someone will need to program computers to do their thing.
OK, it was somewhat simple, but so is the translation as meaning because someone can IM, then therefore the extent of the technological knowledge is wasted on IMing or twittering or whatever.
What is left out, however, as I tried to explain in the live blog, is the industry that has sprouted because of the computer.
Give the "kid" (whatever that means) a computer program, and they will very soon figure out a use for it that was not the intended use, but which makes infinitely more sense than the original purpose. That is the creativity, intelligence and thoughtfulness that we have always possessed.
The mistake that Jacobs makes is that she believes anyone who "uses a computer" is only an end user, not a creator.
She diminishes the computer's value as merely "a tool," and trivializes those who have become expert in it.
Computer logic is, at its very foundation, logic. It involves a reasoning skill, mathematic skill, and a language skill and it doesn't give points for "getting close" to the right answer in areas of programming.
Her "just shut up and learn" approach to education was positively frightening.
I've heard her book today described as "a long essay." By her judgment, however, somebody who bought her book -- and only her book -- last year would be "intelligent."
Someone who used a computer and spent time online learning Spanish, or sign language, or listening to any of the free college lectures on YouTube is "dumbed down."
When you hear someone lament the passing of the English language, and then make a sweeping statement such as "NO ONE wants to work for their knowledge," well, it just conjurs up images of being cooped up with an old geezer talking about why the buckboard was so much better than a car.
While I found this show interesting and agreed with the premise, there was plenty of ego stroking on behalf of the host and guest. A little humility would go a long way.
I also have objections with statements that kids know how to use computers better than adults. This may have been the case a decade ago, but it no longer is. Computers have been in homes and workplaces for years with real adults using them for a myriad of tasks.
We are not dumber, but we are duller.
A few years ago I read somewhere that the Ancient Romans got that way too--dull.
//that kids know how to use computers better than adults.
From what I can understand from generations of this same debate, the definition of "kids" is "people who are 10 years or more younger than the person speaking."
Great, now I'm over the hill at the ripe old age of 34! It's just rather sad hearing someone who is so self-righteous using such tired, old arguments.
I'm not sure why we lament the "death" of the English language, or why its "passing" would be seen as a dumbing down of our culture. We've made up a language and added artificial rules to govern the language, and even these are ever changing. If someone uses txt language, it doesn't automatically indicate the person stupid. It might be indicative of instant gratification, but just because something takes longer (and still gets across the same message) doesn't make it more intelligent.
Why does reading a book make someone more intelligent than those who watch movies? If a movie is well done, it too can cause introspection, isn't that what's important.
Wait until these kids really get into computer programming, we're going to see some amazing things. If we think Google is amazing, i think we're about to see some awesome leaps in technology, due in part to the creativity of these kids.
We'll see leaps in technology due to a small number of those who are now kids, but only if they work at it. I have taken a few college computer science classes (programming and logic). I aced every one of them. Most of the kids in my classes who were supposed to be so smart with computers were gamers who either couldn't understand the logical thought required for programming or couldn't pull themselves away from games long enough to study and practice. Computer programming requires a level of diligence and thought that many people do not exhibit.
As a middle school English teacher for these past thirteen years, I can only say that the 'correct' use of written English has always been limited to a very few who actually care about it, and this self-seleceted few generally elevate it to the level of art. These include everyone from Shakespeare to George Will. The vast majority of us, however, use English not for art but for communication, and as a result we are constantly morphing it to meet our most expedient needs. My students ask their friends to "borrow" them a pencil and exclaim, "Are you joking me?" when told something they can't initially believe. And they understand one another perfectly. Language is never static; its rules most often reside with those it has long since passed by. Like me, for instance; I can't help noting that virtually every one of the dozens of posts on this blog contains numerous misspellings and examples of poor usage. But, like my students might say, I know what you mean. Isn't that the point?
//I know what you mean. Isn't that the point?
Not when you're trying to impress someone. If you do not know the rules enough to use them successfully in a job interview, an important college paper, or a presentation before management, then it is about more. In those cases, poor spelling and grammar encourages the listener or reader to ponder whether you might be deficient in other areas.
If you don't believe these things have an effect, spend a year at work with me. Read the e-mails and reports from my colleagues. Watch who advances and who doesn't. Some of the crap I have seen is the literary equivalent of wearing cutoff jean shorts to work in business office.
I don't wear cut-off jean shorts but I wear curtains to work.
Different strokes for different folks and the fact that an individual has no desire to impress someone but to show their true self has nothing to do with intelligence. I realize that there are some professions that call for a certain apparel but I would not be caught dead (he-he) in any of those types of places.
I have read through this blog, a couple places more than others that I thought were more thought provoking. Ironically, these bloggers that I thought were interesting were writing what they meant, (and most grammaticlly flawed, eek!) and it did not come across that they were not presenting a written image of how they wanted you to see them. ie: "one that venerates youth and individuality to the detriment of authority" this guy is probably one of those " English as Art folks or this guy who wrote-
"It is more important that students learn to manage information that is within their grasp than to reach world wide for information for which they have not the intellectual tools to manage". Actually I get a big kick out of this intellectual because he has a link to his website where he displays some of his credentials and other attributes. How much of a real brilliant guy he is (sorry not the best grammar but at least I didn't dangle my preposition).
I think that the guys, folks or the peops of true intellect, aren't concerned about it and feel no need to prove just how smart they are, they have a true desire to discuss philosophical issues.
While i agree with most postings here, and after listening to the program, what i'm struck by is the continued polarization of this argument. Maybe Ms. Jacoby incorrectly concludes what "intellectualism" means, and this may go back to the quote of Robert F. Kennedy's at the beginning of the program. In many ways, it is an unfair quote to start the program because in the entire context of the quote, it was an extraordinary moment in time that required something that would reverberate culturally. But it gets to my point in that "intellectualism" may not be the content of what one has learned, or come to know. One can be an "intellectual" of any philosopher to any tv program. For me, intellectualism is how do i improvisationally communicate my body knowledge to someone else who may not know, AND allow for it to be a two way street where I can be surprised and learn something new.
//Someone who used a computer and spent time online learning Spanish, or sign language, or listening to any of the free college lectures on YouTube is "dumbed down."
If Jacoby said that watching a YouTube lecture is a dumbing down of the universe, well that would be an alarming generalization. But I would understand the spirit of a comment like that. If we only consume ONE kind of input without critically evaluating it, holding it up against other kinds of experience, digging deeper to test what we think we know, well then we ARE dumbing and numbing ourselves -- limiting ourselves to just consume rather than consummate our knowledge in a variety of ways.
I think it's too easy to characterize her assertions as geezer sentiment and therefore I am reticent to do that. No doubt there is a little of that color in her point of view, but she is just saying out loud what a lot of other scholars have been saying for decades - and with good reason. Edward R Tufte, an information designer, is a good example of someone with this insight. No doubt Jacoby is not the first to suggest we are dumbing ourselves down - it is not the sole lament of the elderly either.
In our efforts to sound bite everything into small, easily digested chunks of info, we have inadvertently driven the populace to distraction. There is a price to pay for this kind of willful, divided focus.
BTW - I don't lament the *passing* (i.e. evolution) of the English language either. I have an MA in English, but that degree is no longer fresh and I know it. Thank goodness the field is not as finite as a degree - so I have to work to keep my interest fresh. Language is thankfully dynamic - that quality unfortunately freaks some people (folks - haha) out. I think we all have to pay homage to whatever legacy brings us into being, but not the extent that we exclude all other innovation with the fear that we might lose something of our heritage. Letting go of some convention is a good thing - not entirely the mark of laziness.
My roommate still thinks that we invaded Iraq as a result of 9/11. When he goes to vote in Nov, he plans to vote for the Republican Presidential candidate no matter what even though he does not know the first thing about the candidate. He is ignorant of current events, yet he can quote every line from his favorite movie and tell you the statitstics of each team going to the NCAA Final Four. Are we dumber? No, we have the ability to retain a large amount of infomation, but we have certainly shifted our focus to being entertained and have become so accustomed to instant gratification that most find it boring to educate themselves on current events or elections or the greater world. The book "The End of America" by Naomi Wolf has some interesting points on how we have become lazy.
I'll defend high school students. My older son (he's now 24) took physics his senior year. He and his friends were captivated by what they learned; they'd sit in the fish house on weekends talking about physics. Summer came, and they'd lounge on the boat in the middle of the night talking about physics. Kids are kids: curious and vibrant, and I've been delightfully surprised by how successful some of my son's high school friends have become. In high school, a couple of them seemed destined to achieve nothing, but they've taken control of their lives and have flourished. My younger son had ADD and struggled in school; he had planned to enlist in the military but couldn't because of bad knees. We thought he'd be living at home until he was thirty. But, he went to college, graduated with honors, and is now working for an aerospace company. He reads voraciously, and none of it is fluff. His success, too, has been a delightful surprise for my family.
J Sahm (I enjoyed your comments very much) laments that a provocative, interesting conversation with friends has become impossible. Perhaps her friends should hang out with high school or college students. I've found that it doesn't take much prodding to engage them in lively, thoughtful, intelligent, and thoroughly enjoyable conversations. Despite the host of societal problems enumerated in this blog, I'm confident there will always be kids who will do what we did when we were kids: Grow up, learn from experience, and strive to do their best.