Saturday, December 06, 2008

dumb cits - followup

This a brief update to a post I wrote not long ago complaining about reporters' handling of press releases that give survey data (dumb cits?). Today's online Washington Post contains a similar critique -- Making Sense of Science Reporting. It's by a Post columnist, Deborah Howell, who tells how data should be reported and how, as readers, we should exercise skepticism when reading science-sensational news items. The Post's OpEd page also contains an article that's critical of a recent work of data-regurgitating, axe-grinding polemicism. The article is The Kids Are Alright. But Their Parents ..., by Neil Howe, who's identified as co-author of Millennials Rising and other books on generational issues. The book that Howe criticizes is Mark Bauerlein's The Dumbest Generation. In gist, that book tells us "the technology that was supposed to make young adults more astute, diversify their tastes, and improve their minds had the opposite effect." Howe handles Bauerlein's claims not by criticizing methodology, handling of data, or interpretation of results, but simply by pointing to another generation as the dumbest (and quoting an array of sources to convince us he's right). This is clearly a bit self-promotional on his part. His own book has been slammed for its outrageous generalizations and abuse of evidence. This puts us in the position of viewers of the public tv news shows in which talking heads confront an issue from opposite sides without engaging each others' positions but simply using sound-bite argumentation.


I'm sure not to read either author's books.

A brief internet search shows that Blauerlein has not attracted much press attention. The LA Times reviewer described and gave modest praise, nothing more. A more interesting reaction came from Mike Gruss, a columnist on the Virginian-Pilot, who wrote the following pair of short items:
'The Dumbest Generation'? Hold on there, Mr. Einstein!
extracts: Bauerlein will speak Thursday at Old Dominion University as part of American Education Week. I asked why anyone on a college campus, most of whom are under 30, would want to show up and listen to the degradation of their peers. After all, most of The Dumbest Generation doesn't like to read books (or newspapers), he says. Most don't even like to read online. According to his book, a quarter of 18- to 24-year-olds couldn't identify Vice President Dick Cheney. Bauerlein tried reverse psychology by saying that those young people who attend his lectures help prove him wrong. He likes provoking students.

The idea that this generation is stupid is, um, what's another word for stupid?

More than a decade ago, half as many high school students in Virginia passed Algebra I as today. The National Assessment of Educational Progress shows scores for young students in math and reading have improved significantly since 1973.

When it comes to news, The Dumbest Generation watches MSNBC as regularly as the 65 and older group, listens to radio news at nearly an identical rate and reads more news online than any age group 50 and over.

And then there was that whole election thing earlier this month, when, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, turnout for voters under 30 increased 11 percent over that of the 2000 contest.

I saw the best minds of my generation judged prematurely.

I'm 31. You can trust me.

So if students don't show up for Bauerlein's lecture Thursday, it won't be because they were fooled by the hyperbole (or as the author says, humor) in his book's title or because they're indifferent to the label.

Not so dumb afterall So Wednesday I wrote about Mark Bauerlein. He's the author of the provocatively titled book "The Dumbest Generation." I argue, not so fast. But more evidence came out this week to counter his claim:

From the New York Times:

“It may look as though kids are wasting a lot of time hanging out with new media, whether it’s on MySpace or sending instant messages,” said Mizuko Ito, lead researcher on the study, “Living and Learning With New Media.” “But their participation is giving them the technological skills and literacy they need to succeed in the contemporary world. They’re learning how to get along with others, how to manage a public identity, how to create a home page.”
Altogether and in sum, I'm happy to have the Howell piece and think Gruss' attempt at humorous put-down, tho' weak, was the most appropriate response.

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