The most insightful moments in The Dumbest Generation come when the author, Emory University English professor Mark Bauerlein, serves up one study after another that supports his thesis that digital culture is ruining young Americans. But the most maddening moments come when he overplays his statistical hand, and seems oblivious to the valid criticisms of his arguable conclusions.
How could such a seemingly smart guy seem so ... so ... OK, not dumb, but unaware?
The book has not one, but two subtitles: "How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future" and its grumbling afterthought, "Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30." This huffing and puffing to underline the point runs throughout the text within, as Bauerlein spends more than two-thirds of the book drowning the reader in studies that support his conclusions, while arguing against other sources (studies, culture critics) that counter them. Then, in a final-act turn that proves as enlightening as it does frustrating, Bauerlein gets more anecdotal and even personal.
But then comes the return of the studies, and the book's most revealing moment. Bauerlein returns to a study by the National Survey of Student Engagement to note the lack of communication between college students and their professors. He then quotes an observation from it that offers an optimistic outlook: "This shift from passive, instructor-dominated pedagogy to active, learner-centered activities promises to have desirable effects on learning," to which Bauerlein sniffs, "A nice prediction, but wholly without support."
His persistent contrary stance, even in the face of valid push-back, runs throughout The Dumbest Generation, but it by no means invalidates Bauerlein's contention that a nation whose intellectual muscles already have atrophied over the years could further weaken in the face of so many screens. Bauerlein's a noted author of other critically acclaimed works such as the equally cautionary Literary Criticism: An Autopsy. If nothing else, The Dumbest Generation provides a healthy starting point for a vigorous debate.
The only problem is, Bauerlein doesn't believe anyone he teaches is smart enough to take him on.