There was a column in the Boston Globe the other day entitled Are We Raising A Generation of Nincompoops?
The piece lists all sorts of things that Kids Today can’t do – they can’t open cans because of pop tops, they can’t tie shoes because of Velcro straps. It’s a litany of things cranky old people are saying about the hopeless imbecility of the age group that is the Future of the Republic.
The columnist quotes from an apparently popular book I haven’t read called “The Dumbest Generation”. Like the column, the title of the book both purports to be addressed to non-dumb people and pulls their strings by giving them a wink and a nod and saying “Hey, this has to do with stupid people – not you.”
Now pay attention to that, because this is about manipulation. Education (both social and formal) is supposed to make adults who are not just able to learn the skills of a trade but to think for themselves; books and articles that purposely dangle provocative titles are about making you read them. There’s nothing wrong with that, we’re in a nation chock full of advertising and a guy’s gotta make a buck. But flattering the public with the title is like smiling in your face while picking your pocket. By all means buy the book if you’re interested — just be mentally agile enough to realize the title’s a magician’s trick of misdirection.
The article’s concerns strike me as empty. In a world of ice makers kids don’t need to know how to use an ice tray and they don’t need to know how to use a can opener if they buy pull tops. As far as I can tell my son can’t write cursive – so what? He’ll never need it. I probably can’t crank-start a Model T or hit a plow horse correctly with a buggy whip.
The column quotes the book that the real issue is “a loss of independence and a loss of initiative” and adds that “growing up with cell phones and Google means kids don’t have to figure things out or solve problems anymore.” That’s not even close to true – kids figure out lots of things; for one thing they can program the cell phone, which many can-opener experts can’t do. I have no interest in playing video games, but I’m amazed at the problem-solving skills needed to get from one level to the next. This generation uses its brains – it just doesn’t use it for the same things as its predecessors.
I’m much more concerned about people who don’t believe in evolution, think Obama’s a Muslim and can’t find Germany on a map. It is amazing to hear tongue clucking about ice trays from a generation that was bamboozled into attacking Iraq because it refused to ask basic questions.
The problem is not Velcro – it is ignorance and it crosses generations. It makes society vulnerable to manipulations by all manner of charlatans and mountebanks.