‘The pull of immaturity’

Serving it up to the hyperconnected generation

I read The Dumbest Generation over Christmas, though it came out in 2008. It’s a very satisfying polemic, as well as thoroughly researched — to the extent that I’m competent to judge — and its author Mark Bauerlein is a cut above the average as a stylist.

The title refers to American teenagers and young adults up to about 30, and the book is as provocative as it suggests. Bauerlein presents four theses:

1. The generation in question is indeed dumb, in the sense that they know very little about history, politics, current affairs and literature. This conclusion is based not on anecdotal evidence, but on a mass of academic research that Bauerlein painstakingly surveys. Furthermore, the youth of today are unabashedly ignorant, scornful of books, and bemused that previous generations endured the tedium of reading and absorbing such patently boring and irrelevant material.

2. The source of the trouble is, of course, the amount of time youth devote to electronic interaction, or engrossed in cyberspace amusements. It isn’t just that these activities absorb time that would be better spent on reading books; they foster a focus on ephemeral peer preoccupations, an impatient preference for instant gratification, and a narcissistic fascination with adolescent culture. All this serves to stunt vocabulary, conceptual growth and intellectual stamina, while shutting out adult influences and other sources of enduring wisdom. There is no shortage of sage social commentators ready to respond with ‘Ah, but our youth are developing new and wonderful kinds of intelligence and literacy — creative, empowered, dynamic [etc., etc.]’. However, contrary to the impression given by Michael Duffy, who doesn’t seem to have penetrated very far into the book, Bauerlein is perfectly aware of these arguments, and takes on a phalanx of apologists, harpooning their inflated claims one after the other.

Instead of opening adolescents and young adults to worldly realities, acquainting them with the course of civilisation, or at least the Knowledge Economy, digital communications have opened them to one another — which is to say, have enclosed them in a parochial cosmos of youth matters and concerns.

3. This dismal process is not the outcome of technological innovation alone. It has been allowed to go so far because the older generation of parents, teachers and public intellectuals has abnegated its intellectual mentoring responsibility. Far from discouraging the behaviours and attitudes that caused the dumbing down, the mentors have indulged them, and indeed romanticised them as liberated, independent, and even revolutionary. Bauerlein blames the 1960s counter-culture, not for adopting a questioning attitude, but for instilling a spirit of reckless sacrilege instead of engaging in erudite dialogue with the canon (as exemplified by the New York Intellectuals).

4. The likely consequences of the dumbing down are alarming. Bauerlein opens his last chapter with a detailed retelling of the story of Rip Van Winkle. By sleeping through the whole generation of the Revolution, Rip became completely disengaged, and was unable thereafter to participate in politics or influence events. Likewise the current generation, doped out on triviality, disconnected from history, and ignorant of the pantheon of great thinkers, will be incapable of defending our institutions and developing our culture. No less than democracy itself is at stake:

The youth of America occupy a point in history like every other generation did and will, and their time will end. But the effects of their habits will outlast them, and if things do not change they will be remembered as the fortunate ones who were unworthy of the privileges they inherited. They may even be recalled as the generation that lost that great American heritage, forever.

With the exception of this reflex dismissal in Newsweek, The book’s message was welcomed in reviews, presumably written by over-thirtys, in the broadsheet newspapers. The under-thirtys obviously didn’t read it — including those invited to defend themselves, if the inept performance of Bauerlein’s opponent in this debate on CNN, is anything to go by (his claim that the cyber-smart youth are relatively adept at discrminating between authoratative sources and junk is particularly risible). If readers know any young persons, you could direct them to this interview with Bauerlein, outlining the essential thesis — though it turns out he’s more articulate in print than viva.

Obviously in Australia as in the US there will be a literate minority of young people to whom Bauerlein’s conclusions don’t apply. However, the general thrust of his argument accords with my experience of tertiary students. In a class of thirty last year, only one knew who Robinson Crusoe was. And I’ve long since discovered that it’s pointless telling my History of Economic Thought class that the Bullionist Controversies took place during the Napoleonic Wars — I need to start by asking if they’ve heard of Napoleon. But of course, that’s just a couple of anecdotes. If anyone knows of Australian surveys on trends in youth reading habits and general knowledge, I’d be interested.

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Don Arthur
Don Arthur
11 years ago

I’m not convinced that the young Australians of today will enter middle age less literate and more ignorant than their forebears.

When it comes to literacy (a useful tool for acquiring knowledge)it’s older Australians who come up short. According to the ABS, they’re also the least likely to have “the knowledge and skills needed to understand and use information relating to health issues”:

The low rates of health literacy among older people are similar to results for other dimensions of literacy (see Australian Social Trends 2008, ‘Adult literacy’). This may be due to the effects of age on people’s mental processing skills; the length of time since leaving formal education; and the lower levels of formal education received by older generations.

It’s true that 15 to 19 year olds have lower average literacy scores than 20 to 24 year olds — but many in this group have yet to complete formal education.

I suspect that perceptions of lower levels of literacy and general knowledge among older university lecturers are partly due to the shift to mass education. In the 60s and 70s hardly anyone went to university. Those that did had well above average levels of knowledge and skill. It doesn’t make much sense to compare uni students at Sydney or Melbourne in 1975 with those from Dawkins universities in 2005.

Patrick
Patrick(@patrick)
11 years ago

Whilst I agree, wholeheartedly, that the ‘youth’ of today could be much more broadly knowledgeable (which is what point 1 really means), I call bullshit on the broader point that they are much less knowledgeable than their forebears of nearly any generation (which is what point 1 purports to mean).

I think Mr Bauerlein is right that the (very narrow) elite band of society is surely less classically educated than, say, JS Mill’s contemporaries. But I find it very very hard to believe that (say) 25 yos of today are less educated on average than 25 yos of nearly any previous generation.

I agree with point 4 abstractly, however I can’t really see any comparative validity – how sophisticated were the anti-semitic racist bodies politic of, oh, human history up to the last 50 years?? (this goes to whether point 1 has any comparative value as well!)

I agree wholeheartedly with point 3 ;)

Stephen Bounds
11 years ago

I have three big problems with this bloke.

Firstly, Bauerlein sees time spent socialising online as somehow subtracting from learning hours.

I don’t see him comparing the amount of time “young people” of his generation spent talking on the telephone, hanging out in malls, comparing hot rods to the time they spent reading classical lit’rachure!

Secondly, Bauerlein’s argument boils down to “You don’t know and you don’t like what *I* consider to be important. Since I know things that you don’t, you must be stupid.” He never considers that the reverse might be true — I’ll guarantee you that all of his “surveys” were tailored to suit an older generation better.

So kids don’t know about WWII (an event which was probably only tangentially meaningful to most of their parents since they would have been too young too really remember it). So what? You could probably find similar gaps in Bauerlein’s knowledge if you went back another 40 years. In any case, the historical context of WWII is virtually irrelevant to today’s geopolitics, so it’s a pretty reasonable thing to not know about.

Thirdly, Bauerlein seems to have no ability to distinguish cynicism from ignorance. The LA Times article has a nice quote:

When Bauerlein tells an audience of college students, “You are six times more likely to know who the latest American Idol is than you are to know who the speaker of the U.S. House is,” a voice in the crowd tells him: “‘American Idol’ IS more important.”

If this wag in the crowd means anything, it’s that young people tune out of systems they see as broken or irrelevant rather than fighting to fix them. Why should they follow in the hippie footsteps of their parents’ generation who became the baby boomers that now enforce the very rules they fought against 30 years ago? At the very least, some might argue it’s a less hypocritical attitude.

Gummo Trotsky
Gummo Trotsky
11 years ago

Ironically, Bauerlein’s book has its own website. Among other things, the site includes a page of links to articles by Bauerstein including this 2005 report (pdf), “Reading at Risk”, on the decline of literary reading in the US, as measured in the 2002 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts conducted by the US National Endowment for the Arts & Census Bureau. It’s a good solid piece of civilisation-in-decline alarmism with lots of dodgy inferences from questionable statistical analysis.

Yobbo
Yobbo
11 years ago

What the premise of this book fails to address is that not all literature is worthy of lasting forever and very few pieces of it will.

The fact is that there has been more literature, and more works of art (or “content” as the cool kids call it now) created in the last 10 years than in all of human history previous to that.

World War II was 70 years ago. Most of the people who fought in it are dead. Just because it was the defining moment of the author’s generation doesn’t mean it will be the defining moment of ours. That moment already happened on September 11, 2001.

vanaalst.robert
vanaalst.robert(@vanaalst-robert)
11 years ago

You could look at the Flynn effect, and see whether it’s true at least for intelligence (I seem to remember it peaked for white Americans in the early 1990s), or more simply and more meaningfully, you could look at educational outcomes.

At least from the second of these, we know that literacy outcomes at high school have remained quite steady for a long time, which is high in Australia, but that maths and science have gone down (despite far better textbooks, computers etc. — perhaps science and maths is something you really have to “do” to learn, and I imagine there is less of that as computer simulations replace expensive classes).

As for whether there is an overall effect, I think only an empirical study could tell you once you roll university into the mix (your comment vs. Don Arthur’s comment). My feeling is that overall standards have dropped quite a bit at universities in Australia, including the selective ones (is any disagreeing with that?), but that many more people now get a university education. I also don’t think that most students at selective universities are really that much better than mid-tier ones in Australia (let’s face it, what does memorizing 6 essays in Year 12 tell you?). The evidence I have for that is that the 2nd tier students we get in our honors program at my mid-tier university are almost inevitably worse than our top-tier ones (indeed they are almost perfectly separated on overall marks, which surprised me — and yes, I know that is a terrible sample). This suggests to me that compared to 20 years ago, good students learn a fair bit less, but many people, who wouldn’t have gone to university, learn a fair bit more. Perhaps the real change then is a more homogeneous distribution.

Incidentally, I’m surprised they don’t know who Robinson Crusoe is, since I think it’s mentioned in the Gilligan’s Island theme song.

Stephen Bounds
11 years ago

Sorry to break your bubble conrad, but Gilligan’s Island is a 50 year old TV show of questionable merit when there are a substantial set of people out there who are too young to have nostalgic feelings for Seinfeld!

You’re at least three generations of TV out of date if you expect young’uns to know that theme song :)

Patrick
Patrick(@patrick)
11 years ago

Dear me Conrad, what Stephen said! Do you realise that we are talking about under-30s here?!

More broadly, as an antidote to this guy, I would suggest Tyler Cowen or indeed his most recent book.

Yobbo
Yobbo
11 years ago

I’m 33 and although I’ve heard of Gilligan’s Island I’ve never watched it.

There is actually a more recent allusion to Robinson Crusoe in the Tom Hanks movie “Castaway” and in fact there is a TV series currently airing called “Crusoe” starring Sam Neill. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1117552/)

vanaalst.robert
vanaalst.robert(@vanaalst-robert)
11 years ago

You guys are ignorant. Gilligan’s island is a metaphor for the dreams and aspirations of American society (except blacks). A bit like Ping the duck for the Chinese but more subtle. If we forced kids to watch it, it would help them out in the same way that forcing them to read Dubliners, Death of Salesman or learn to write Latin helps the average 15 year old male. There would be great insight. I know it helped me, as did the Latin. Robinson Crusoe, on the other, is just a poxy version of Rambo or Lara Croft that is designed to brainwash kids into believing imperialism is the solution to their problems, versus teach them their problems are all conquerable, as long as they train hard and have big enough muscles.

Yobbo
Yobbo
11 years ago

Karl Marx thought that Robinson Crusoe was proof of the labor theory of value.

Yobbo
Yobbo
11 years ago

But in actual fact it only proved it false, because as soon as Crusoe made contact with other humans, value was once again discerned by what something could be traded for.

Joshua Gans
Joshua Gans(@joshua-gans)
11 years ago

Don

The series for the US in the international comparison in that ABS document is consistent with Bauerlein’s argument. The ‘prose literacy’ measured here is not exactly the same thing as historical and civic knowledge, but it’s certainly a prerequisite for it. As for Dawkins Universities, I take you point, but they’re into their third decade now, and I sense a deterioration in that time. There is a large and growing minority of students, even if it’s a still a minority, who see substantial reading tasks as a gratuitous imposition.

Stephen

There is actually more to the book than the handful of bold assertions in my summary. Unless you’ve read it, little weight can attach to the fact that you personally ‘don’t see him comparing…’, or suppose that he ‘never considers that the reverse might be true’. In fact he does compare and does consider. The key point is not that kids interact online rather than face to face, or that they don’t know about 1960s sit-coms, it’s that they spend less time reading, hold reading in contempt, and don’t know what the Civil War was.

Conrad

Bauerlein discusses the Flynn Effect. He concedes that ‘screen time’ is probably conducive to the cognitive abilities that IQ tests measure. But he argues that if IQ tests really measured broader intelligence, we should therefore currently be enjoying a scientific and cultural renaissance. This is not happening, therefore IQ tests capture something narrower.

Patrick

I knew Point 3 would get you on side, at least partially. Otherwise I would have suppressed it.

Sam

You might like to reconsider your comparison between September 11 to World War II. They may indeed be defining ‘moments’ for different generations, but that doesn’t make them equally historically significant. More generally, I don’t expect a 30-year old to match my knowledge of, say, Malcolm Fraser (that would be sad), but there’s no reason why he shouldn’t know who Lachlan Macquarie was.

Other matters

Castaway was a great film. As for Gilligan’s Island, my kids have been working through a DVD of episodes. They’re enjoying it, but it was a mistake to give them Get Smart first, against which nothing else from that era stands up favourably.

Guido
Guido
11 years ago

I am 48, and my primary education was in the Italy of the 60’s (which was perhaps too much based on history, geography etc. You started to learn Latin at 12, which is pretty ridiculous) however as I explain to my 11 year old (who thankfully is very interested in the news) history is essential if you want to understand more broadly about what is happening today.

So when he asks about refugees I mention the White Australia policies instituted after Australia became united and how gradually governments and Australia has changed.

Also lots of popular culture refers to the past. It would be a shame if young people see ‘Inglorious Bastards’ as an accurate portrayal of events which occurred in World War II.

vanaalst.robert
vanaalst.robert(@vanaalst-robert)
11 years ago

“But he argues that if IQ tests really measured broader intelligence, we should therefore currently be enjoying a scientific and cultural renaissance. This is not happening, therefore IQ tests capture something narrower”

That’s an odd claim — IQ has been going up all century until about 1990, and there’s been massive scientific and cultural progress in that time. Now that it’s tapered off, I think we’re seeing slower progress (or maybe I’m just grumpy! :) ). That of course could be because (a) it’s just a silly correlation that doesn’t mean anything; (b) my evaluation of progress is based on nothing but eyeball power and is incorrect; or, probably more importantly (c) perhaps new inventions versus incremental progress from our current state is going to be exponentially hard (i.e., we’ve got lots of the easy stuff). If this is the case, even if the average IQ was still going up (assuming the tests do measure what they are supposed to), we would still expect scientific and cultural progress to taper off. I guess we won’t know the answer to (c) except in hindsight.

vanaalst.robert
vanaalst.robert(@vanaalst-robert)
11 years ago

sorry, I’m living in the past again. It should be “IQ went up most of last century”, not “all century”

WhatIsTruth
WhatIsTruth
11 years ago

I am 21 and I can’t fault the argument put forward. I haven’t read the book but I may if time permits.

I did 4 units of history in year 11 and 12 (two short of the maximum, although the second two are only extensions) and I wouldn’t do it any different second time around. To say that WW2 is not important to today’s geopolitics is a huge call and a bit of a slap in the face to those who fought and died in it (even if most of them are dead, there decedents aren’t).

At the same time I was finishing high school I was exposed to what James and Bauerlein seem to be speaking about. It seemed at the time, as it does now, that it was easier to get notes on a book you needed to read for school rather than actually read it. And it was easier again to simply say whatever you felt appropriate about the text and try and substantiate it with quotes, rather than find true meaning.

It seems from my mentality and that I can gather of my peers that high school was simply a competition to get into uni and uni was waiting for a nice job. You didn’t really learn a whole lot along the way. Maybe it should be different.

I have to applaud the personnel comment on history of economic thought, it was clear to me from the first day of that class that history was not a pre-requisite.

Johnboy
Johnboy
11 years ago

There are plenty of people walking around with IQ in the 110+ range who are idiots. IQ is simply a measure of potential intelligence it is not a measure of useful intelligence. Without education, without mentors, without knowledge, a good IQ is largely a wasted resource.

If the upcoming generation really is dumb it is not their fault. If anyone is to blame for that state of affairs it is us because we created the circumstances in which they live. That they appear to have largely lost interest in the world at large says more about us than it does about them. We chose to turn so much of modern education into a factory for producing graduates. The latin root of education means “leading into the light”. In our culture education is principally about finding the right job and making lots of money. We have created a culture where work and money are the over riding imperatives so why then be surprised that this generation has little interest in history, literature, philosophy, politics, science and mathematics?

The imperatives of work and money are only one side of the issue. Take your average 20 year old who decides to take an interest in politics. So instead of being on a social networking site this chap decides to venture into some political blogs. I’ll take an extreme example to illustrate my point. This actually happened to me at the start of the year. On Catallaxy I was involved in a furious debate with Prof Davidson regarding whether or not water boarding and sleep deprivation constituted torture. I knew I was going to win this argument before it even started because I had enough information upstairs to present and could rely on a mountain of peer reviewed literature to buttress my argument. The Professor however would not budge and when I presented this evidence he stated that by relying on peer reviewed literature I was engaging on leftist fantasy world logic. He never conceded the point. So here is this 20 year old reading a professor arguing an all too obvious absurdity. So off he goes to other political blogs and what does he find? He finds the same ideological blinkered attitude where people feel free to present any argument without recognising any standard of what constitutes a reasonable argument. He sees an older generation, full of quotes and historical knowledge but instead of using this knowledge to enlighten the world there is just a continual cherry picking of data to suits one’s political persuasion.

Obviously, he concludes, political blogs are more about propaganda than substantive argument. Perhaps the polticians themselves are more interested in truth than politics. Watches Question Time, listens to pollies in various interviews on TV and in the newspapers. Same problem, complete polarisation of thinking where politicians only support what their party supports. A bunch of clones who again are Rhodes Scholars and purportedly intelligent but continually relying not on reasoned argument but propaganda and sound bytes.

As a teacher said to me recently, the teenagers he is teaching are much more cynical than we ever were, they look on our generation with suspicion and wonder why they have to work so hard when we had it so easy. Again, they are probably going to lay the blame for that at our feet and they are probably right about that.

Now, there is another argument to this but in no way explains why there has been so much decline in general knowledge and a willingness to make a sincere attempt to understand the world. This other argument is simply about numbers. A much greater percentage of people now have high school and tertiary education. When I was in high school there was a very high drop out rate from years 9 -12 because many found good jobs and really were not cut out for all that learning stuff. In those days it truly was possible to find a good paying job without a senior certificate. Now that is impossible. So we have increasing numbers of people entering into grades 11 & 12 and going on to tertiary education. However this will skew the overall talent down because it is being increasingly filled with people who only 25 years ago would not have even finished high school let alone gone to university. Educators had to lower standards otherwise there would be very high failure rates.

derrida derider
derrida derider
11 years ago

You know you really have become an old reactionary when you waste time bewailing the ignorance,immorality, fecklessness, lack of deference to their elders, etc of the young.

Joshua Gans
Joshua Gans(@joshua-gans)
11 years ago

It’s mostly the ignorance bit, not so much the other things. I agree that mere bewailing would be a waste of time, but recognising and measurung the problem might lead to corrective action.

Tony
11 years ago

Why do I get the feeling that someone here will soon disinter the radio quiz caller’s favourite moan: “Dunno, Tony, that’s before my time.”?

Nicholas Gruen
Admin
Nicholas Gruen(@nicholas-gruen)
11 years ago

Guido – “Inglorious Baste,/b>rds” . . . for some reason.

Stephen Bounds
11 years ago

James,

It’s true, I haven’t read the book but I did read his quotes and watch your linked videos.

I saw enough in those to be pretty confident that Mark values classical knowledge which he learnt at school, regardless of the need for young people to know those things in today’s society.

Guido is closer to the point. The issue is not whether someone is ignorant of a fact, but whether they judge a situation or make a decision based on ignorance. That is the fundamental difference between knowledge and trivia. So far I’m not convinced that Mark is interested in the former rather than the latter.

Butterfield, Bloomfield & Bishop
Butterfield, Bloomfield & Bishop
11 years ago

fair points however just remember over 70% of the US population believed Hussein was responsible for 11/9 and Zogby found a similar % for soldiers in Iraq for the reason why they were there!

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Tel
Tel
11 years ago

May I recommend a companion volume: “How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World” which is probably on a par for prejudice and pontification but covers another important angle of ignorance. You are probably better off believing nothing than believing a delusion (regardless of how popular that delusion may be).

I once had a member of the older generation explain to me that the Internet had been patented. Needless to say, I quickly came to the conclusion that the person in question knew very little about either the Internet or the patent system, but did have this general fuzzy notion that patents were important to technology. Campaigners for stronger IP laws keep pushing such general notions onto an ignorant public in a great many ways and so people are happy to accept this without question and assume a whole bunch of nonsense must also be true.

Use of misinformation for political reasons is now widespread. Probably the teaching of history is one of the strongest examples of this. When little Johnny puts up hand in class and ask something like, “Why didn’t the Aboriginals just invent guns to defend themselves from the invasion?” he gets told that he is never allowed to ask such questions. People seem to think that kids can’t detect a hoodwink when it is being pulled on them, but the one lesson that they take away from school history class is, “This is a crock, someone is jigging the story here.”

I’d agree with most of #18 above except for:

Educators had to lower standards otherwise there would be very high failure rates.

Not at all, they could have stratified the system and supported graded difficulty levels. However, that would have upset the one-size-fits-all political concept of what education should be, so lowering standards was the easy option given the pressure. Not the only option, just the convenient one.

Gummo Trotsky
11 years ago

Use of misinformation for political reasons is now widespread. Probably the teaching of history is one of the strongest examples of this. When little Johnny puts up hand in class and ask something like, Why didnt the Aboriginals just invent guns to defend themselves from the invasion? he gets told that he is never allowed to ask such questions.

This looks like one of those cases where “you are probably better off believing nothing than believing a delusion (regardless of how popular that delusion may be).” So many popular delusions colliding in a mere two sentences.

Peter Patton
Peter Patton
11 years ago

Remember, this guy lived in a world when the world’s greatest minds were considered to be people like Sartre, Camus, de Beauvoir, etc. All morose one-trick ponies, whose endless prognostications about humanity turned out to be as wrong as white shoes after Labor Day.

Even today, a whole cadre of “intellectuals” are taken seriously – at least by each other – despite few of them having learnt any maths or science after the age of 15,ignorant of economics, knowing few, if any, foreign – especially dead – languages, and think Foucault is a classical thinker. Even more frightening is that some of these people are called ‘professors’

Peter Patton
Peter Patton
11 years ago

Oh, and who think “Mabo” is History.

Gummo Trotsky
11 years ago

The key to impugning someone’s credibility, Peter, is to find out a bit about the person before you start on the smears. Otherwise you just make a complete fool of yourself and impugn your own.

According to his University bio “Mark Bauerlein earned his doctorate in English at UCLA in 1988. He has taught at Emory since 1989”. That makes him a bit young to have “lived in a world when the worlds greatest minds were considered to be people like Sartre, Camus, de Beauvoir, etc”. He’s also a bit too American for that.

Re your second (off topic) comment – no, “Mabo” isn’t history. It’s a famous High Court decision.

James Farrell
James Farrell
11 years ago

Peter, why don’t you start your own blog as a place to grind your variouses axes, rather than do it by all manner of pretexts on other people’s comments threads. As a potential coauthor who shares most your obsessions I recommend John Greenfield, assuming you’re not the same person.

Peter Patton
Peter Patton
11 years ago

Gummo

I’ll indulge you your snark, but when I was an undergrad in the 1980s, the above mentioned indeed were considered intellectual gods, and “Mabo” is front and centre of school History syllabuses across the country.

Gummo Trotsky
11 years ago

Peter,

That wasn’t snark – that was a very patronising hint. Had you taken it, you might have found this article, by Bauerlain on Liberal groupthink in higher education. Here’s a taste:

The first protocol of academic society might be called the Common Assumption. The assumption is that all the strangers in the room at professional gatherings are liberals. Liberalism at humanities meetings serves the same purpose that scientific method does at science assemblies. It provides a base of accord. The Assumption proves correct often enough for it to join other forms of trust that enable collegial events. A fellowship is intimated, and members may speak their minds without worrying about justifying basic beliefs or curbing emotions.

The Common Assumption usually pans out and passes unnoticed — except for those who don’t share it, to whom it is an overt fact of professional life. Yet usually even they remain quiet in the face of the Common Assumption. There is no joy in breaking up fellow feeling, and the awkward pause that accompanies the moment when someone comes out of the conservative closet marks a quarantine that only the institutionally secure are willing to endure.

You’d also have learnt that Bauerlein held a political appointment to the US National Endowment for the Arts under the George Dubya Bush administration. He’s a conservative and in my experience, conservatives don’t waste a lot of time on Satre, de Beauvoir, Camus etc.

Of course Mabo is on school history syllabuses – it was a legal decision with a great deal of historic (and political) importance. What are teachers and academics supposed to do – pretend it never happened because the High Court was being a bit bloody unAustralian when they handed down the judgement?

Gummo Trotsky
11 years ago

Hmmm – strong the pull of immaturity in this thread is.

Nabakov
Nabakov
11 years ago

Our Earth is degenerate in these later days; there are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end; bribery and corruption are common; children no longer obey their parents; every man wants to write a book and the end of the world is evidently approaching.

From an Assyrian clay tablet around 2800 B.C.

Complaining about how crap the present is and how the future is gonna be totally fucked has been going on ever since the human race has had a past.

Nabakov
Nabakov
11 years ago

“but when I was an undergrad in the 1980s, the above mentioned indeed were considered intellectual gods”

When I was an undergrad in the 1980s, the above mentioned rated about 15 minutes in one seminar.

Anyone else got more anecdata like this?

Peter Patton
Peter Patton
11 years ago

Don Arthur

There is a very interesting trend-bucking element in adult literacy. Of all the WAIS subsets, the only one that does not decline with age is vocab recognition and articulation. Indeed, there is some evidence it actually increases,. For a First Year Psych experiment, we each had to identify a teenager, somebody in their thirties, and somebody sixty and over. They were each given two 20 minute IQ-type tests that tested the usual: numerical manipulation; visuo-spatial/perceptual manipulations; analogies; certain patterns of nouns, shapes, etc. The second test was a list of 20 words, they had to pronounce and use in a sentence.

When all the results across the whole of Psych 1 were crunched. Results on the first test were very strongly inversely related to age. But for the second test, results increased slightly with age, which confirmed what most of the scholarly research literature had found.

In other words, while general cognitive ability did reach a pinnacle and then slope off with age, the exception was vocab.

Now, this narrow test of vocab shouldn’t be used to extrapolate to the more cognitively complex and varied skills needed to master the huge data pool relating to health, but I would question any study that attributed difficulties among seniors as being mostly a function of expected normal cognitive decline in verbal areas.

Peter Patton
Peter Patton
11 years ago

Nabakov

Well I didn’t think much of them myself, personally. :)

Nabakov
Nabakov
11 years ago

“Conservatives dont waste a lot of time on Satre, de Beauvoir, Camus etc.”

To be fair Gummo, the key moment in Ltranger probably tugged at a few neo-con heartstrings.

And looking back to my undergrad days, through a haze of pot, Stone’s Green Ginger Wine and Imperial Leather cologne, we did have one lecturer who introduced Camus in a tute as one footballer who could really write. He then went on to ruthlessly disparage Satre’s claims to be a useful member of the French Resistance.

Then we all adjourned to the pub.

Nabakov
Nabakov
11 years ago

Incidentally I’ve always felt Ltranger could be turned into quite a nice modern opera/multi-media thingy – with some involvement by Robert Smith, possibly playing the dead mum.

Meursault On The Beach

Peter Patton
Peter Patton
11 years ago

Patrick

I’d say the average has certainly increased significantly. After all, as ‘recently’ as 1967, only about 20% stayed on for the Leaving Certificate. Today, about 75% stay on for the HSC, with – correct me if I am wrong – well over 50% earning an ATAR, which entitles them to apply to university.

I think where there might have been decline is at the top. In the 1980s, our 3 Unit HSC Geography teacher brought in a copy of her early 1970s Level I Geography Leaving Certificate exam, and we all thought her paper was very much harder than ours. Not just the subject matter, but the sophistication in the rhetoric of the questions.

Like us, she had to write 5 essays in 3 hours. But whereas we were used to questions like:

How has the settlement pattern shown in the Nubia broadsheet been determined by the regions topography and water systems? What evidence is there of change over time in this relationship?

Whereas our teachers said:

“The evolution over time of a region’s settlement pattern is more likely to be haphazard or reflect a path dependence immune to planning”. Critically evaluate this statement as it applies to the Cambridge broadsheet

The 1970s question was must much harder as it required you to “critical evaluate” a statement that insisted on one of the three -e haphazard, path dependence, and planning. But of course the statement could be ‘criticized’ for omitting other possibilities, such as Cristaller’s Central Place Theory, which the Cambridge broadsheet just screamed at you.

I suppose even though kids today are supposedly so much more sophisticated because their English teachers teach them to be “critical’ in the face of rhetoric, it seems it was always that way.

Nabakov
Nabakov
11 years ago

Yes but Peter, which question do you think would have forced the little bastards to think harder instead of just regurgitating half remembered course notes?

Q. “How has the settlement pattern shown in the Nubia broadsheet been determined by the regions topography and water systems? What evidence is there of change over time in this relationship?”

A. Half remembered stats – evidence – ineffectual segue – half remembered stats – bleedingly obvious conclusion based on half-remembered stats.

Q. “The evolution over time of a regions settlement pattern is more likely to be haphazard or reflect a path dependence immune to planning. Critically evaluate this statement as it applies to the Cambridge broadsheet.”

A. I half remember some stats about this shit but evaluate? Fuck I hafta have an informed opinion here – and justify it by using logic, inference and induction -work brain work -ineffectual segue – bleedingly obvious conclusion based on half-remembered stats. Hey my brain hurts. Must have been working it hard.

I remember very little of the data shoved into me at school but I do keenly remember the teachers that encouraged, stimulated and exercised our critical evaluation muscles.

Peter Patton
Peter Patton
11 years ago

Nabakov

Sorry, but in both questions, the students have the broadsheets given to them in the exam, and they have never seen them before.

Gummo Trotsky
11 years ago

With that piece of extra info I’d hafta say that the 70s question was a giveaway:

Q. The evolution over time of a regions settlement pattern is more likely to be haphazard or reflect a path dependence immune to planning. Critically evaluate this statement as it applies to the Cambridge broadsheet.

A – ‘ere, this broadsheet screams Cristallers Central Place Theory. Statement is plainly wrong! Waffly intro, rabbit, rabbit rabbit, features of the broadsheet, say nicely statemtn piece of crap.

vs:

Q. How has the settlement pattern shown in the Nubia broadsheet been determined by the regions topography and water systems? What evidence is there of change over time in this relationship?

A. Don’t look like Cristaller’s to me so it’s what was the alternative called again – oh bugger there’s 3 of them. Which one fits best. Aargh, I hafta analyse this stuff in terms of some theories I only half remember. Pick the one I know best – bullshit, bullshit, bullshit – I’m toast!

Moral – never believe the older generation when they tell you they had it tougher in their day. Especially the stuff about eating gravel for breakfast and licking roads clean wi’ tongue.

Nabakov
Nabakov
11 years ago

OK, I didn’t grow up in the Australian education system so this whole “broadsheet” shit is completely foreign to me.

However I think my overall point does stand. That is the 70s question asks you to use the data and nothing but the given data to come to a conclusion whereas the later question is suggesting you use, and also think about the data, and then come to a conclusion.

But let’s face it, what we all really learnt from school was not really what they were trying to officially teach us at school.

Peter Patton
Peter Patton
11 years ago

Well Gummo, we unanimously voted for the 1970s paper. The smartest view in the class framed the ‘Cristaller’ issue as being implied by ‘path dependence’ by describing Central Place Theory, and then disagreed with the statement of the whole arguing that the location of government-owned enterprises and railway hubs, even if they were chosen to be built at Cristaller sites, were nevertheless still planned, and as we had no insight into the minds of the decision-makers, while the settlement might look Cristaller, we were not able to discount the role of conscious government planning in Cambridge’s settlement pattern.

OTOH, having said that, the Cambridge broadsheet shows but one geographical space, hardly sufficient to draw such bold conclusions as “more likely”.

A few brave souls proferred a small following paragraph citing examples of regions studied in class both for an against the statement, thus confirming that the “is more likely” claim is even less likely to be the case.

See, it was not all that easy. ;)

Peter Patton
Peter Patton
11 years ago

Patrick

JS Mill didn’t have any contemporaries. He was homeschooled, starting Greek and Latin at age 3, Maths at age 8, Economics at 13, and Science at 14. He very rarely had time, or was even allowed, to hang with his homies. :)

Gummo Trotsky
11 years ago

Not only home-schooled but self-taught if he had absolutely no contemporaries. Amazing that the world population’s expanded from 1 to 6.5 billion in 150 years. Without a woman for poor old John Stuart to mate with too!

Damn! There’s that pull of immaturity again.

Peter Patton
Peter Patton
11 years ago

Excuse me mate, have I said something to offend you, or are just sarcastic at the world in general?

Nabakov
Nabakov
11 years ago

“Excuse me mate, have I said something to offend you, or are just sarcastic at the world in general?”

So first time in the Australian blogosphere Peter?

Between Gummo, Ken, Nick, Jimmy Farrell, Tony T, Geoff H and possibly m’self, you’re dealing with some serious veteran thread gladiators. Surprise, challenge or entertain us. As we did to eachother.

You’re lookin good so far. But need to work on the funny.