American kids, dumber than dirt

by Lee Hopkins on October 31, 2007 · 2 comments

in Uncategorized

In my day, television was called 'books'

A very kind soul codenamed vulcan_rc sent me some links on, one of which blew me away (again, reminding me of the power of a great headline).

American kids, dumber than dirt

Miles better than the headline I originally came up with for this post (I won’t share it with you out of embarrassment).

Mark Morford is a writer at SFGate, penning the ‘Notes & Errata column’. Any columnist who proclaims Led Zeppelin as ‘rock gods’ gets my vote! To wit:

Perhaps you are yawning and turning up your Maroon 5 or your Linkin Park or your tepid little Colbie Caillat and muttering, “Led what? Who cares?”

You are a child and an imp and a fool. But that’s not me talking, it’s the sheer numbers. See, it seems the concert announcement sparked something of a stampede, with over 1 million fans registering for a chance at one of 10,000 Zep concert tickets. But even more astonishing: The charity Web site promoting the concert itself logged a staggering 1 billion hits … in a single week.

That’s not just popular. That’s not merely a wave of swell Boomer nostalgia. That’s something else entirely.

I think it’s this: We have no more true rock gods left. Sure, we have a few great rock bands, a precious handful of true rock stars, great gobs of rock mediocrity, lots and lots of rock fluff and piles of rock cheese and barrelfuls of barely edible rock candy.

But authentic rock gods are a unique category. They are borne of this lethal, nearly indescribable chemical alchemy, a combo of deep mystique, raw sexuality, effortless power, the ability to transcend musical styles and generations and reach into your brain and your heart and your daughter’s genitalia, and pull.

To put it mildly: Zep had it. Hell, Zep might’ve invented it.

So, having established the man’s obvious common sense and perspicacity, let us return to his views on ‘dumber than dirt’ American kids.

Dumber than dirt

North American kids, to be precise, but we sort of guessed that.

Mark shares an ongoing discussion he’s been having with a near-retirement age high school teacher and that teacher’s views on the appalling lack of intellectual acumen and general life skills.

To wit:

And he often writes to me in response to something I might’ve written about the youth of today, anything where I comment on the various nefarious factors shaping their minds and their perspectives and whether or not, say, EMFs and junk food and cell phones are melting their brains and what can be done and just how bad it might all be.

His response: It is not bad at all. It’s absolutely horrifying.

My friend often summarizes for me what he sees, firsthand, every day and every month, year in and year out, in his classroom. He speaks not merely of the sad decline in overall intellectual acumen among students over the years, not merely of the astonishing spread of lazy slackerhood, or the fact that cell phones and iPods and excess TV exposure are, absolutely and without reservation, short-circuiting the minds of the upcoming generations. Of this, he says, there is zero doubt.

Nor does he speak merely of the notion that kids these days are overprotected and wussified and don’t spend enough time outdoors and don’t get any real exercise and therefore can’t, say, identify basic plants, or handle a tool, or build, well, anything at all. Again, these things are a given. Widely reported, tragically ignored, nothing new.

No, my friend takes it all a full step — or rather, leap — further. It is not merely a sad slide. It is not just a general dumbing down. It is far uglier than that.

Naturally, being a fair-minded journalist he presents a possible retort:

This is about when I try to offer counterevidence, a bit of optimism. For one thing, I’ve argued generational relativity in this space before, suggesting maybe kids are no scarier or dumber or more dangerous than they’ve ever been, and that maybe some of the problem is merely the same old awkward generation gap, with every current generation absolutely convinced the subsequent one is terrifically stupid and malicious and will be the end of society as a whole. Just the way it always seems.

I also point out how, despite all the evidence of total public-education meltdown, I keep being surprised, keep hearing from/about teens and youth movements and actions that impress the hell out of me. Damn kids made the Internet what it is today, fer chrissakes. Revolutionized media. Broke all the rules. Still are.

Hell, some of the best designers, writers, artists, poets, chefs, and so on that I meet are in their early to mid-20s. And the nation’s top universities are still managing, despite a factory-churning mentality, to crank out young minds of astonishing ability and acumen. How did these kids do it? How did they escape the horrible public school system? How did they avoid the great dumbing down of America? Did they never see a TV show until they hit puberty? Were they all born and raised elsewhere, in India and Asia and Russia? Did they all go to Waldorf or Montessori and eat whole-grain breads and play with firecrackers and take long walks in wild nature? Are these kids flukes? Exceptions? Just lucky?

I will create a tiny bit of tension in your life by not spoiling Mark’s final viewpoint. But the whole article is definitely worth a read.

It won’t be everyone’s ‘cup of tea’ but it sure will spark debate (and there have been 527 comments to his article so far).

The implications, of course, are not just for North Americans. Every western government that provides a dual educational system (publicly-funded and privately-owned) must surely be aware of the arguments and discussions going on.

I know from my own experience that the writing skills required to finish high school back in 1974 (when I left half way through what is now ‘Year 12′ in the South Australian system) were markedly superior to what is required at first- and second-year undergraduate level at one South Australian university (because I help my eldest stepdaughter with her essays, and she openly admits she couldn’t write a logical, coherent sentence until half way through her first year).

The implications for Business Communication

I urge you to read Mark’s article and consider what it might mean for us as communicators, and communication in general. Will the well-crafted written word become the calling card of the elite and the academic? What will it mean to the industry if few are able to write in a style that might, in a few generations, seem as archaic and incomprehensible as Shakespearean prose?

What will become of communicators who need to ‘relate’ to the new audience, but find themselves increasingly unable. Sure, we can learn to ‘media snack’ but will this be enough?

Who is buying books out there? Just the mi
ddle aged and educated? Wealthy kids picking up a Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket and who, in teenagedom, will abandon the habit?

On a lighter note…

But I finish this post with more of Mark’s wit and wisdom, this time from the ‘resource box’ at the end of each of his articles:

Mark Morford

Mark Morford’s Notes & Errata column appears every Wednesday and Friday on SFGate and in the Datebook section of the San Francisco Chronicle. To get on the e-mail list for this column, please click here and remove one article of clothing.

Mark’s column also has an RSS feed and an archive of past columns, which includes another small photo of Mark potentially sufficient for you to recognize him in the street and give him gifts.

 I like his style!


Currently listening to: Led Zeppelin – ‘Communication Breakdown’ and ‘Kashmir’, the only rock song a classical music composing friend of mine likes

  • Kerry Johnson

    Hi Lee

    I’m afraid I cannot share your enthusiasm for Moford or his article.

    Using conversations with a single schoolteacher to create the illusion of an informed opinion would seem to suggest that the author is as lazy as the students he says are being shurned out by a broken education system.



  • Kerry Johnson

    Hi Lee

    I’m afraid I cannot share your enthusiasm for Moford or his article.

    Using conversations with a single schoolteacher to create the illusion of an informed opinion would seem to suggest that the author is as lazy as the students he says are being shurned out by a broken education system.



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