If you were a professor of English at a distinguished university, you could write a book about the use of meter in Welsh poetry of the 17th century and it might get read by, oh, a few hundred people, many of them almost certainly friends or relatives or colleagues. Or you could throw a grenade into the academic world by writing a book called “The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefied Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30).”
Mark Bauerlein, who teaches at Emory University in Georgia, opted for the latter approach. He wrote “The Dumbest Generation” a decade ago and since then, you will not be surprised to learn, he has watched the problems he described become even worse. The written word has fared especially poorly. “The SAT added a writing section in 2006,” he notes. “Scores have gone down every single year since then except two years when they were flat.”
It’s not that young people aren’t writing. They are, more than ever before, mostly in texts and tweets. “But when it comes to academic writing, analytical writing, expository writing that exceeds 140 characters, we find that their skills keep diminishing.”
Is Bauerlein a bit of a curmudgeon? Yes, and he’ll readily acknowledge the point. But is he wrong? Watch our interview with him and decide for yourself.