Dumb and Dumber


Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, Proverbs 3:13

The title of this post comes from an old movie by the same title. The movie depicts the adventures of two men on a cross-country trip who do incredibly stupid things.

The movie has a lot of great quotes, including the following:  Harry: “She wrote me a john-dear letter…something about me not listening enough. I don’t know… I wasn’t really paying attention.”

With the movie as a backdrop, there are several trends of the next generation that are quite worrisome.  They include the following:

  • Diminishing vocabulary – middle school vocabulary has dropped from 25,000 words to 10,000 in the last 10 years
  • Short attention spans – the millennials have an attention span shorter than that of a gold-fish
  • Lack of critical thinking – partly because of the previous attributes, the next generation shows an inability to do any critical thinking
  • Reliance on social media for their opinions and values
  • Lowered levels of interpersonal relationship
  • A school environment that caters to self-esteem resulting in grade inflation so that now 49% of students get A’s while the SAT scores are declining.
  • Lack of reading in general by the next generation
  • Extended childhood and adolescence

Evan Williams, the founder of Twitter was recently interviewed and commented on the impact of Twitter which is a popular type of social media that limits posts to 140 characters or letters.

Williams asserted that the recent election of Donald Trump was a result of “how social media platforms are helping to ‘dumb the entire world down’” and “undermine our sense of truth”.

He continued that it was not so much an issue of an election, but “it is the quality of the information we consume that is reinforcing dangerous beliefs and isolating people and limiting peoples’ open- mindedness and respect for truth.” Wow – and this from the founder of one of the culprits.

Note that two things suffer according to Williams:  truth and open-mindedness.  Absorbing only 140 character messages leads to a lack of tolerance because there is no depth of understanding of an issue. (See my post on Tolerance on August 29, 2017).

Add to the twitter founder’s comments that the next generation is being dumbed down, scores of the SAT, a standard college admission test, have now sunk to the lowest level in over ten years. At the same time, another trend is opposite:  the percentage of students getting  a grade of A (or the highest grade) has increased.

A recent study on “grade inflation” was conducted by Michael Hurwitz of The College Board, and Jason Lee of the University of Georgia. They found that in 1998, 38.9% of students in high school had an A average. By 2016, the percentage had crept up to 47%, again, all the while the SAT scores declined.

The authors of the study rejected the “idea that students were actually getting smarter over time.” I can only reflect at my own high school experience at a difficult prep school which put a premium on excellence and only about 10% of our class had the equivalent of an A average.

Jean Twenge was recently interviewed on prime time television. She is the author of a new book entitled “iGen“. In the interview, Twenge noted that the next generation spends an average of 6 to 8 hours a day in the digital world.

Their lack of social interaction and isolation makes them unprepared for life, where they are not graded on a curve, and real excellence is rewarded.

Their disdain and lack of trust for all institutions – including government – shows up in studies which show that millennials don’t vote.  Only about 20% of Americans aged 18 to 29 voted in the last election, making it the lowest turnout in 40 years.

As noted in The Atlantic, Fordham Foundation’s Robert  Pondiscio is quoted as saying “The more educated you are, the more likely you are to be civically engaged.”

A Pew Research study also showed that a high majority of young adults struggle with basic questions about politics – i.e., who would the next House speaker would be, or what is the annual inflation rate, for example.

Civic literacy has dropped dramatically, with about a fourth of high school seniors scoring “proficient” on the federal government’s civics exam. That does not bode well for the future. The lack of intellectual curiosity coupled with their lack of reading and critical thinking is a recipe for disaster.

Even though they may appear apathetic to government, the next generation is very concerned about transparency according to another article in The Atlantic. Their fixation on transparency makes them more motivated to volunteer than to vote.

They see volunteering as a better venue for exercising their civic duty. Volunteering doubled from its previous averages in 2103 by the younger age group between 16-24.

As a mentor, you should probe to see what your mentee understands about government. If needed, have your mentee do some reading about basic civics and government. Volunteering may be admirable, but it won’t help sway policy decisions of the government which will affect real change in the future.

The next generation’s focus on transparency and accountability also plays into the next generations’ desire to be connected to mentors who are transparent. As one young man, age 17, texted me: “I know I don’t have all the answers (other people don’t either), but people like you definitely have answers that I don’t.”

While low aptitude in civics also reflects failures in the educational system, it also reflects this next generations’ lack of interest in being involved in institutions that they don’t see as either accountable or transparent.

As mentors and parents, some of these trends have to be concerning. Unlike the movie Dumb and Dumber, there is nothing humorous about these trends.

If alarm bells aren’t going off in your head by now, they should be. We are raising a generation of not-ready-for-adulthood kids who, if they stay on these trends, won’t have the intellectual or emotional maturity to cope with life even when they become “adults” chronologically.

If you have a Generation Z around your house, one thing should be screaming at you:  limit their use of smartphones (or better still, don’t cave and give them one at 11 or 12 like I now see being done). Don’t allow them to veg in their rooms for hours on end. Encourage them to get into outside activities at school. Keep them engaged.

The challenges by all of this are numerous. We may not be able to fix everything, but we can, as individuals, take the effort and time to reach out to the next generation and offer to walk beside them.

One thing that may help your mentee: be sure that the digital world is being used in a positive way in his or her life. So many in the next generation are addicted to smartphones, and you should take care to be sure that the digital world of your mentee is not out of balance.

Note: On this post and future ones, I wll start adding a section entitled RESOURCES with books that may be helpful for both mentors and parents on the topic at hand.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  The next generation is looking for mentors – men and women who are willing to dive into their lives and walk along side.  If you are not mentoring, take a chance by asking someone in the next generation if they want to get together.  You should not be surprised if they say “Yes!”.

FURTHER STUDY:  Interview of Evan Williams, the founder of Twitter: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/13/twitter-founder-trump-presidency-short-attention-spans-evan-williams

Lower SAT scores: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/sat-scores-at-lowest-level-in-10-years-fueling-worries-about-high-schools/2015/09/02/6b73ec66-5190-11e5-9812-92d5948a40f8_story.html?utm_term=.20aa96b50a60

An article on grade inflation: http://www.businessinsider.com/grade-inflation-us-high-schools-2017-7

Research on millennial political apathy: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2010/11/23/politically-apathetic-millennials/

The Atlantic on Millennial’s and Politics: http://www.theatlantic.com/sponsored/allstate/when-it-comes-to-politics-do-millennials-care-about-anything/255/

The Atlantic article on the millennial’s lack of civics knowledge: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/09/civic-education-citizenship-test/405889/

RESOURCES:  Jean M. Twenge’s book iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us can be obtained on Amazon.


The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in its Proper Place by Andy Crouch is available from Amazon. Here’s a blurb on it from Barna Research:  https://www.barna.com/techwise/

WORSHIP: Listen to Hillsong sing Cornerstone where the lyrics go “Christ alone, Cornerstone, weak made strong in the Saviors’s blood.”

COMMENT:  I would be delighted at comments on this or any other post. You can comment by clicking on the icon at the top of the page, or emailing me at otterpater@nc.rr.com.

SUBSCRIBE:  You can receive an email notice of each post by clicking on the icon at the top right corner of the site (www.mentorlink.wordpress.com)  and entering your email address.




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