It is an inevitability that with every generational change, the older generation will complain about the new generation and reminisce on the past - the "good ol' days," if you will. It's not a surprise when the new fashions and trends of youth culture get misunderstood by the adults who say they know better, and as those fashions and trends become the accepted norms, those youth turn into the wise adults, criticize their children's youthful ways, and continue the vicious cycle into the next generation.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, for many reasons. When cultural norms change, art, literature, and other creative outlets become more fluid, and people respond to the spirit of the age with an intelligent and relevant civic discourse. Only the old school traditionalists - those curmudgeons who see change as the end of the world as we know it - lambast and discourage this healthy pattern, a pattern that has made our great democracy run efficiently enough throughout the 20th Century.
That's why Mark Bauerlein tries to distinguish himself from these old fogey stereotypes early in his book The Dumbest Generation, and states that his book is not an attempt to insult or undermine the youth of today, but to show "with empirical evidence" that those in Generation Y (or The Millennials, Generation Next, DotNetters, what have you) are truly stupid.
Despite being surrounded with more information than ever before, the generation that grew up on the Internet has become intellectually lazy, and that's not just one man's opinion, it's supported by statistical fact, Bauerlein says. He won't look at their attitudes, behaviors, or values, he states in his introduction, just their capacities for intelligence. And then he spends the rest of his book looking at their attitudes, behaviors, and values (in between his hefty doses of statistics and data), judging them unsound and lamenting the end of intellectualism in America.
It's not the fairest assessment, especially since his metrics of evaluation don't fit with his original premise. After all, can you really measure the intelligence of an entire generation based on samples of surveys and testing data without looking at their changing attitudes? Bauerlein's opinion seems to be that the statistics reveal a surprising move toward stupidity, and that this stupidity manifests itself in Generation Y's anti-intellectual attitudes.
Within Bauerlein's collected research, several disturbing trends among young people do emerge. The fact-based, multiple-choice approach to education has hampered our ability to "think historically," meaning young Americans have difficulties placing current events in relation to their historical contexts. Only 22 percent of those involved in one survey could identify key phrases from the Gettysburg Address. Yet in the same survey, 99 percent could identify Beavis and Butt-Head.