Sunday, May 11, 2008

boston.com = Poorly Researched Tripe

Boston.com recently published an article mirroring ideas found in English Professor Mark Bauerlein's new book The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future. Apparently, though, both boston.com and Bauerlein consider actual research far too tedious and non-fallacious arguments unnecessary. Here's why.
The first point has something to do with my generation making excellent "Jaywalking" targets. I don't watch Jay Leno, as I read more than watch TV, but I don't think there is any real way to quantify this. Leno's team can, I'm sure, edit the segment for the best possible, oh, how should I say it? LOLs? Unless Bauerlein can crunch some numbers and prove, conclusively, that most of the "guests" of that segment were under 30, I'm calling foul from base one.
Then the inevitable "they don't read" argument. According to this article, while everyone has always hated homework, we are just now singing the praises of illiteracy. Mark Twain did say, "Those who don't read good books have no advantage over those who can't." I'm sure he was talking about us in 2008. Also, I checked into it; according to an Associated Press poll, one in four Americans read no books at all this past year (http://www.resourceshelf.com/2007/08/22/surveys-and-stats-us-reading-habits/). That's all adults. Bauerlein doesn't compare "tweens" to "real adults" with any sort of numbers, or boston.com didn't post those very same numbers. Either way, there's a lot of room for doubt.
"Lack of capitalization and IM codes dominate online writing. Without spellcheck, folks are toast," claims the article. Problem: IM conversations are not academic or scholarly. They are colloquial. Listen to an average conversation in which no one is trying too hard to impress someone else. Is their grammar flawless? Is their enunciation sublime? Does it matter? No, of course not. Read Their Eyes Were Watching God. See the errors in spelling. It's all dialog. Same thing here. You cannot use colloquial communication to decry in an idyllic sense. That's just dumb.
Point 4: "They get ridiculed for original thought, good writing." The smart kid has always been made fun of. Also, MySpace is not a realm to fairly typify all young people, as MySpace denizens are not necessarily a representative sample.
The fifth point has something to do with "Grand Theft Auto IV, etc." Bauerlein is trying to say there is some link between video games outselling other media and this somehow makes kids dumber. I've read this bit a few times, and I cannot find any semblance of causality so much as hinted. Wonderful fallacy, that, putting two "facts" next to each other is oftentimes enough to convince some people, but not this member of the "dumbest generation." If there is a link, pointing it out helps an argument.
Next is, "they don't store the information." Now, the article doesn't specify if this means storing it on the computer or in the ol' noggin, but either way it's the internet's fault for being an information conduit. Yes, the internet is notorious for "metooism," but this isn't unique to the internet. Lots of people above 30 "read something somewhere that said..." The internet is just another way of doing this. There is an assumption here that reading something then writing it in a research paper makes you remember. If fact, it's the same thing.
The next point puts responsibility on the adults who don't foster intellectual growth, allowing for self-esteem to supersede ability and allowing IMing at midnight. No, it's not because the adults in this country have abandoned both the inner-city and rural area schools in favor of rich, white neighborhoods. It's because of the rise of awareness of the student as an actual human being. Even in taking responsibility (albeit left-handedly), Bauerlein misdirects the information to serve him, instead of looking at the real problem: a sub-par educational system built on racism and elitism.
His eighth point? "Because they're young." Filling space, are we? Yes, we lack experience. That's a much more valid point than our news sources being habitually false and favoring celebrity trials over actual news. Even worse, the article is titled superlatively, yet you bolster it with a universal truism. This rather points out the problem with the article: there are no solutions. Not that there aren't any solutions to any of these problems. Rather, Bauerlein makes no attempt whatsoever to find them. I guess that doesn't sell books. It doesn't do anyone any good to attack another group of people and not even try to help. Is this generation a little slow? In some ways, yes. But our generation will make wonderful progress. Maybe it won't just be Americans helming the world anymore, but that may not be a bad thing. Bauerlein does not look at anything but the bad things, and complains about them. No fixes, just breaks. Well, in the words of my mother's generation, "If you aren't part of the solution, you're part of the problem."

2 comments:

Superpickle2k3 said...

Not to mention that the article in question says nothing of the Flynn effect, which is much more important that "correct" grammar and spelling. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flynn_effect

Theoretically, this generation is "smarter" than the old one.

Boo to his disparaging remarks on videogames as well. Apparently, he hasn't played any games (or tried to beat battletoads - that game is obscenely hard.)

A lot from what I gleamed of your review of his article (since I don't believe you have a link to the article itself) is that he is making a sensationalist book to make some quick cash, which is not uncommon by individuals. He massively trolled every reader of that article, and is going to massively troll every bookstore in the nation.

Brandon L. Sichling said...

Hmmm, I thought I did have a link...
Oh, well. Thank you for posting, and you're right on your points. The Flynn effect is interesting and BattleToads is hard. So very, very hard...