The main thesis of The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes our Future [Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30] by Mark Bauerlein (2008) is summarized by its title. Bauerlein is a professor of English at Emory University and was Director of Research and Analysis at the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Using studies done in between 2000 and 2007, including the 2004 NEA study "Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America," Bauerlein documents the decrease in leisure reading, participation in other fine arts, and the increase in online activities by young people. He then links these trends to the assessments of student reading, writing and other academic levels, which have either decreased or shown no improvement over the last few decades.
I chose this book in part because I plan on being a college Reference Librarian, and I thought that I might encounter other faculty with attitudes towards digital media and student achievement similar to Bauerlein’s. However, I was hoping for a more balanced portrayal of the arguments for and against online participation and learning. Bauerlein has very strong opinions, and he doesn’t hesitate to state them, to the point of not only using the term "the dumbest generation" in the title, but throughout the book. He uses very traditional student assessment tools to support his arguments. His thesis can be summarized with this statement: "Among the Millennials, intellectual life can't compete with social life, and if social life has no intellectual content, traditions wither and die. Books can't hold their own with screen images, and without help, high art always loses to low amusements." (p. 234). While I think Bauerlein made some interesting points, and as a librarian I couldn’t help relating to his love and support of books and reading, ultimately his perspective was too didactic and condescending to be persuasive.