The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future
Discordo um pouco do subtítulo ("How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future") porque apesar de os estúpidos encontrarem, nas ferramentas de hoje em dia, farto material para potencializarem sua estupidez, a tal "Era Digital" também abre inúmeras portas para quem está a fim de expandir seus horizontes.
Segue um trecho:
History. Students reaching their senior year in high school have passed through several semesters of social studies and history, but few of them remember the significant events, figures, and texts. On the 2001 NAEP history exam, the majority of high school seniors, 57 percent, scored “below basic,” “basic” being defined as partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that allow for proficient work at a selected grade level. Only 1 percent reached “advanced.” (The NAEP has four scores: Advanced, Proficient, Basic, and Below Basic.) Incredibly, 52 percent of them chose Germany, Japan, or Italy over the Soviet Union as a U.S. ally in World War II. The previous time the history exam was administered—in 1994—the exact same numbers came up for seniors, 57 percent at “below basic” and 1 percent at ‘advanced.” Younger test takers performed better, and showed some progress from test to test. In 1994, fourth-graders stood at only 36 percent below basic, and in 2001 they lowered the number to 33 percent. In 2006, NAEP administered the History exam to 29,000 fourth-, eighth-, and twelfth-graders, and a mild improvement emerged. For twelfth-graders, the “below basic” tally dropped four points to 53 percent, and for eighth- graders it dropped from 38 to 35 percent, although both groups remain at 1 percent in “advanced,” and only 12 percent of the older students fall into “proficient.” More than one-third (37 percent) of twelfth-graders did not know that the 1962 Soviet-U.S dispute arose over missiles in Cuba. Two-thirds of high school seniors couldn’t explain a photo of a theater whose portal reads COLORED ENTRANCE.”
Diane Ravitch, education professor at and former member of the NAEP governing board, called the 2001 results “truly abysmal” and worried about a voting bloc coming of age with so little awareness of American history. Many believe that college can remedy the deficit, but the findings of another study belie their hope. Commissioned by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, Losing America’s Memory: Historical Illiteracy in the 21st Century (2000) reported the findings of a commissioned survey aimed at measuring the factual historical knowledge of seniors at the top 55 colleges in the country. Many of the questions were drawn from the NAEP high school exam, and the results were astonishing. Only 19 percent of the subjects scored a grade of C or higher. A mere 29 percent knew what “Reconstruction” refers to, only one-third recognized the American general at Yorktown, and less than one- fourth identified James Madison as the “father of the Constitution.”
The feeble scores on these tests emerge despite the fact that young people receive more exposure to history in popular culture than ever before, for instance, best-selling books such as Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit: An American Legend and John Adams by David McCullough, movies such as Braveheart and Troy and Marie Antoinette, the History Channel and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and Wikipedia. Many mass entertainments have historical content, however much the facts get skewed. And yet, if teens and young adults consume them, they don’t retain them as history. In spite of ubiquitous injunctions to know the past by George Will, Alex Trebek, Black History Month, Holocaust survivors, Smithsonian magazine, and so on, the historical imagination of most young people extends not much further than the episodes in their own lives.
Civics. In 1999, according to the U.S. Department of Education, more than two-thirds of ninth-graders studied the Constitution, while fully 88 percent of twelfth-graders took a course that “required them to pay attention to government issues” (see What Democracy Means to Ninth-Graders). As they pass through high school and college, too, they volunteer in strong numbers. Despite the schooling and the activism, however, civic learning doesn’t stick. In a 1998 survey of teenagers by the National Constitution Center, only 41 percent could name the three branches of government (in the same survey, 59 percent identified the Three Stooges by name). In a 2003 survey on the First Amendment commissioned by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, only one in 50 college students named the first right guaranteed in the amendment, and one out of four did not know any freedom protected by it. In a 2003 study sponsored by the National Conference of State Legislatures entitled Citizenship: A Challenge for All Generations, barely half of the 15- to 26-year-olds queried agreed that “paying attention to government and politics” is important to good citizenship, and only two-thirds considered voting a meaningful act. While 64 percent knew the name of the latest “American Idol,” only 10 percent could identify the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Only one-third knew which party controlled the state legislature, and only 40 percent knew which party controlled Congress.
In the 2004 National Election Study, a mere 28 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds correctly identified William H. Rehnquist as the chief justice of the United States, and one-quarter of them could not identify Dick Cheney as vice president. A July 2006 Pew Research Center report on newspaper readership found that only 26 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds could name Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State, and only 5 percent knew that Vladimir Putin was the president of Russia. On the 2006 NAEP Civics exam, only 27 percent of twelfth-graders reached proficiency, and 34 percent of them scored “below basic.” Since 2004, the Knight Foundation has funded “Future of the First Amendment” surveys of high school students, and in the last round nearly three-fourths of them “don’t know how they feel about the First Amendment, or take it for granted.”
In civics, too, higher education doesn’t guarantee any improvement. In September 2006, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute presented a report entitled The Coming Crisis in Citizenship: Higher Education’s Failure to Teach America’s History and Institutions. The project tested more than 14,000 freshmen and seniors at 50 colleges across the country in American history, government, foreign relations, and the market economy, with questions on topics such as separation of church and state, federalism, women’s suffrage, the Bill of Rights, and Martin Luther King. Once again, the numbers were discouraging. The respondents came from Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and Stanford as well as lesser-known institutions such as West Georgia College, Eastern Kentucky, and Appalachian State. The average score for a freshman was an F—51.7 percent. And how much did seniors add to the score? A measly 1.5 percentage points—still an F. With both class levels measured, the lSI study also allowed for assessments of how much progress students made at each institution. At Harvard, freshmen scored 67.8 percent, seniors 69.7 percent, a minuscule gain after $200,000 in tuition fees. At Berkeley, the students actually regressed, going from 60.4 percent in their first year to 54.8 in their last year.
Given the dilution of college curricula and the attitudes expressed in the Citizenship study, we shouldn’t be surprised that college students score so feebly and tread water during their time on campus. A statistic from the American Freshman Survey, an annual project of the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA (sample size, approximately 250,000), echoes the civic apathy. In 1966, the survey tabulated 60 percent of first-year students who considered it “very important” to keep up with political affairs. In 2005, that figure plummeted to 36 percent, notwithstanding 9/11, the Iraq war and the upcoming election. No wonder the Executive Summary of the State Legislatures report opened with a blunt indictment: “This public opinion survey shows that young people do not understand the ideals of citizenship, they are disengaged from the political process, they lack the knowledge necessary for effective self-government, and their appreciation and support of American democracy is limited.”