Digital kids

Are today’s kids smarter or dumber than their parents were? Education Week reported on a luncheon hosted at the end of September by the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank. Individuals born between 1980 and 2000 comprise the former group, sometimes dubbed the “millenials.” Two experts debated their abilities and accomplishments, employing a variety of statistics to support their views.

Professor Mark Bauerlein, from Emory University, bemoans the lack of literary knowledge that this generation possesses. An English professor by training and trade, he argues that “students’ obsession with social networking and video games has led to an abandonment of serious leisure reading. This is their opportunity to acquire the conceptual tools and background knowledge that will become the foundation for their intellectual lives, careers, and citizenship.” During their free time, instead of sitting down to read some classic literature like Dickens, Shakespeare, or Dante, they opt to log onto social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace to talk to friends. He backed up his assertions with statistics from the National Assessment of Educational Progress and scores on recent college admissions tests.

However, Neil Howe, a historian and demographer, rejected that glum view of today’s youth. His more optimistic approach highlighted trends such as declining teen-aged pregnancies and lower drug abuse statistics and higher IQ scores. They also have access to more sophisticated pastimes, such as “creating robots, writing software programs, and developing projects to enter into science fairs.”

Both speakers agreed that these millenials have more access to cultural resources and technology than their parents did. “Baby boomer” parents may have to measure their offspring with a different yardstick. Perhaps every generation compares itself to the ones before and after it and finds fault. Boomers may recall the lyrics to one of the songs in Bye-Bye Birdie, a play that debuted forty-five years old. “Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way? Oh, what’s the matter with kids today?” They remain relevant today.

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