Is the American populace getting dumber? So say critics who see this as part of America's current decline.
Susan Jacoby, author of The Age of American Unreason, says in an article in the Washington Post, "Dumbness, to paraphrase the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, has been steadily defined downward for several decades, by a combination of heretofore irresistible forces. These include the triumph of video culture over print culture (and by video, I mean every form of digital media, as well as older electronic ones); a disjunction between Americans' rising level of formal education and their shaky grasp of basic geography, science and history; and the fusion of anti-rationalism with anti-intellectualism."
There has been a long tradition is anti-intellectualism in America, unlike most other Western countries. Richard Hofstadter, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1964 for his book, Anti-Intellectualism In American Life, describes how the vast underlying foundations of anti-elite, anti-reason and anti-science Americans has been infused into the political and social fabric.
Journalist Charles Pierce, author of Idiot America, wrote, "the rise of Idiot America today represents--for profit mainly, but also and more cynically, for political advantage in the pursuit of power--the breakdown of a consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is a good. It also represents the ascendancy of the notion that the people whom we should trust the least are the people who best know what they are talking about. In the new media age, everybody is a historian, or a preacher, or a scientist, or a sage. And if everyone is an expert than nobody is, and the worst thing you can be in a society where everybody is an expert is, well, an actual expert."
Morris Berman in his book, the Twilight of American Culture argues for the need to preserve what was best in American culture, including all works of art and science. Mark Bauerlein, in his book, The Dumbest Generation, reveals how a whole generation of youth (Gen Y) are being dumbed own by their aversion to reading anything of substance and their addiction to digital "crap" via social media.
Is there evidence to support these critics?
Here's some data:
One need only look at the social interactions of students in high schools to see the predominant views of the well educated or intellectual. Well-educated and intellectual students are commonly referred to in public schools and the media as "nerds," "dweebs," "dorks," and "geeks," and are relentlessly harassed and even assaulted by the more popular "jocks" for openly displaying any intellect. These attitudes are not reflected in students in most European or Asian countries, whose educational levels have now equaled and and will surpass that of the U.S.
So whether the critics are accurate or overstating their case, and whether it reflects a historical tradition of anti-intellectualism in America, the results of educational assessments and pronouncements by political leaders, gives many a legitimate cause for concern, a concern that may seriously affect its economic and social future.