A Harsh Assessment of Young Adults

I just finished a book by an author not so enamored with the effects of technology on the “net generation.”  Entitled, The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future, (Penguin, 2008), it mounts massive data from various surveys and organizations to argue that, for all their tech savviness, most young people use the internet for entertainment and social networking and not for (the author’s main concern) “expanding knowledge.”  Hence, the claims made for the educational benefit of the internet are badly exaggerated, even dishonest.

Mark Bauerlein, the author, is not “anti-young.”  He acknowledges regularly throughout the book how curmudgeonly he sounds, but his point is not to run down young people.  It is, rather, to sound the alarm about the myth-making by educators about the educational benefits of various forms of computer and internet-based entertainment.  Worse, he’s concerned about the way some of these educators are talking about plain, old fashioned paper-based books, as if we don’t need them any more.

Perhaps the most damming chapter is “The Betrayal of t he Mentors.”   Here he uses the term “Twixters” to refer basically to the same age period that Jeffrey Arnett calls “emerging adulthood.”  Bauerlein mentions an article from Time magazine (24 January 2005) that describes this demographic category: “22 to 30 years old, have a college degree or substantial college coursework; come from middle-class families and reside in cities and large urban centers.”

There’s the demographic.  Now the problem.  Bauerlein continues: “What makes Twixters different from other people with the same demographics from the past is the lifestyle they pursue after college. [ ] Instead of seeking out jobs or graduate studies…they pass through a series of service jobs as waiters, clerks, nannies and assistants.  Instead of moving into a place of their own…they move back home with their parents or into a house or large apartment with several Twixter peers.  Instead of forming a long-term relationship to marriage, they engage in serial dating. [ ] They have achieved little but feel good about themselves,” (170).

And the betrayal of the mentors?  Here we turn to Bauerlein’s deep concern: teachers who jump on the bandwagon of disdain with their own toward books and more traditional forms of learning.  Bauerlein again: “In casting Twixter lifestyle as genuine exploration and struggle, neither the author nor the researchers nor the Twixters themselves whisper a single word about intellectual labor.  Not one of the Twixters or youth observers mentions an idea that stirs them, a book that influenced them, a class that inspired them, or a mentor who guides them,” (172).

I still don’t know what I think about this book, but I’m inclined to share Bauerlein’s concern.  As he says, there is no question that this generation is bright and full of talent.  But they seem more achievement-driven than thoughtful and they’re (generally) impatient with intellectual struggle.  And the thoughtful ones turn too easily to dismissive sarcasm for ideas that don’t seem immediately to match their beliefs.

The internet isn’t going away.  We need to learn how to use it educationally, with good means of assessing learning without buying the hype of vendors.  At the same time, I’m solicitous for the leisure of slow, thoughtful reflection, for young people.  How else will they become wise?

About Stephen Rankin

Professionally I am an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I currently serve as University Chaplain at Southern Methodist University. Personally I am married to Joni and we have four grown children and four grandchildren. You can find my personal thoughts on this site, as well as on twitter at @stephenwrankin.

Comments

  1. Wendy Mohler says:

    “Not one of the Twixters or youth observers mentions an idea that stirs them, a book that influenced them, a class that inspired them, or a mentor who guides them.”

    I am one of the Twixters and I can tell you an idea that stirs me (I’m stirred by the idea of engaging youth in more meaningful forms of worship), I can tell you a book that influenced me (Messy Spirituality by Mike Yaconelli), a class that inspired me (Applications in Youth Ministry), and mentors who guides me (Steve Rankin and Cheryl Rude are among two of the many mentors I look to in my life).

    Just my two cents worth.

  2. Its strange to know the personality traits of a “Twixter”. This kind of ppl are usually introverts, which their behavior reflects.

    Its true to some extent, that college experience do have an impact on the life of a person.

    Such might have positive experience and some negative.

  3. I suppose I’m a Twixter too. I’d like to point out that my generation did not evolve on our own. Our parents are doing the best they know how, and if we are focused on achievement rather than ideas, that’s just how we were raised. Some of my generation can get past it; I like to think I have but I am still driven by achievement.

    When interviewing for my job, Bob G. said he was amazed at how my generation can focus with so much background noise. I pointed out to him that we grew up with classical music played in the background while taking tests because previous generations had read studies that the music improves brain activity (or something like that). My generation isn’t stressed out because of our back-to-back schedules, that’s what we were raised with. We are a product of previous generations, just like we are shaping the next generation, being born right now.

  4. Kristina C. says:

    Hi Steve, I’m delighted that Ashlee pointed me to your blog. I have not read the book on which you are commenting, but I’d like to, while recognizing my ignorance of the book’s content, offer a thought. It seems a core complaint here is that “Twixters” do not engage in intellectual reflection…a search for the “marrow of life.” Recognizing that any statement about a group of people never applies to all its members, I have to wonder whether the culprit is North American society’s projection of what a makes person “valuable.” Those who are considered “valuable” or are given significant praise and attention by society at large are not the intellectual giants, or if those people happen to be intellectual giants, they are not given praise for their intellect but rather the wealth they have accumulated as a result of their intellect. If society as a whole does not value rational exploration, how can we expect those of us who are products of it to behave differently? That is, in the absence of strong mentors who teach the value of reflection.

    Peripheral thoughts: I’m not sure I understand what the problem is with feeling good about yourself even though your achievements are sub-par. Should the desire to “earn” your self-worth through achievements really be the motivation behind achieving? I’m also lost on what’s wrong with having roommates.

  5. JJ Fullerton says:

    Oh, dear! Reading your post brought to mind much the same comments from the late prof. dr. dr. Edsger W. Dijkstra, late of the University of Texas, in Computing Science. (Yes, the titles are in the correct form and case for Europe, where he earned two doctorates and a professorship).
    His remarks were from the 1970s!

    Wendy, Elsie and Kristina have ge nerally excellent replies. For Kristina, the problem with with roommates exists when there are two genders.

    The reply from someone at College Lifestyle Magazine jumped right out at me because it has a misspelled word in a sentence that also has a grammatical error that should not occur above elementary school (in my opinion). Another sentence makes a statement without any references to back it up. That particular statement is disturbing because I have heard it so many times over several decades (I am 52) and it seems to be a “standard” statement to dismiss the problem.

    I fault the educational system, such it calls itself, for part of the problem. When students are seen as being limited in potential, or in a more sinister view, as pawns, the system is reluctant to (a) teach useful skills and (b) push them to develop and extend their abilities. It even goes back to mainstreaming holding back those who excel to the mean, and subsidizing those who are below the mean. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, as described in any good Psychology text.

    As the educational system tends (increasingly?) paints traditional beliefs, skills and careers in a bad light, is it any surprise that their products score low in marketable skills? If anyone wants to defend, well, the NEA, please give thoughtful, insightful and sound reasons for the facts and observations below.

    Just so no reader thinks I am a blithering idiot with a keyboard, I have worked hard for 27 years as a computer applications developer, applications designer, database designer and administrator. Very few want my job. I have tried to hand parts of it to others, with little success. I have survived five rounds of layoffs, so my employer obviously values what I do. I also volunteer in public science education, astronomy in particular. The audience includes students from a large number of public schools and districts, home-schooled students, scout groups and the general public. Let me just say that some nights (!) I want to stand up and cheer and others I want to hide in my bunker and await the Apocalypse.

    1. Why do USA High School graduates place behind over 20 other nations in Science, Mathematics and Language Skills?

    2. Why are many (most, by my observations) middle- and High school students unable to perform simple tasks of logic?

    3. Why do, again by observation, but validated by some professional educators, home-schooled youth have long attention spans, ask insightful questions (even ask questions at all!), can perform logical analysis, and generally speak well, while, with few exceptions, most public school students fail miserably at every one of those skills?

    There are many factors that contribute to the stated problem.

    I close this lengthly reply with a quote from Newt Gingrich. Whatever you, the reader, may think of him, I ask you to thoughtfully consider these words he said in “Religion and Politics: A Legitimate Role”, Heritage Lecture #507, given December 1, 1994:

    “It is impossible to maintain civilization with 12-
    year-olds having babies, with 15-year-olds killing
    each other, with 17-year-olds dying of AIDS and with
    18-year-olds getting diplomas they can’t read.”

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: