The Kids Are Alright

I don’t want to throw anyone off worthy project of Gerson-bashing, but this week’s worst column belongs to Mark Morford, who somehow got himself and A&L Daily link with a piece headlined, American Kids, Dumber Than Dirt.

Most of the column is just an expansion of some ramblings sent to him by an old teacher buddy. Here’s the gist:

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.

We are, as far as urban public education is concerned, essentially at rock bottom. We are now at a point where we are essentially churning out ignorant teens who are becoming ignorant adults and society as a whole will pay dearly, very soon, and if you think the hordes of easily terrified, mindless fundamentalist evangelical Christian lemmings have been bad for the soul of this country, just wait.

It’s like some sort of canned joke. How bad are things? So bad, soooooooooo very bad… that it’s even worse than…gasp!… the Christians!

Well, it must be pretty bad then.

So kids can’t build things, spend more time playing with fancy toys than reading books, and don’t garden in the way they used to. Sounds like they’re extremely typical, mostly well-adjusted students in the year 2007. And yet this is what causes him to ramble on about “the surefire collapse of functioning American society” due to the “dumb-ification of the American brain.”

Are any of the things he misses really necessary? Are we hoping to raise a generation of gardeners and builders who go for long walks on the nature trail? And even if we are, is that what we want from our school system? How about if teachers respected students rather than writing lengthy tirades to their columnist buddies, who then proceed to label them “dumb as dirt?”

Look, there are certainly difficulties in education today, but there’s a far better picture of the complexities of the modern student and classroom contained in this slightly cheesy five minute YouTube video by Kansas anthropology prof Mike Wesch than in anything Morford puts in his column. What if Morford and his buddy decided to actually learn something about students’ lives rather than simply declaring them part of a “tidal wave of dumb” and going home?

None of this is particularly horrifying. The decline of student writing ability is concerning to some extent, but how many kids spend hours a day pecking at blogs and sending email now that never would’ve picked up a notebook twenty years ago? How many kids are adept — almost certainly more so than their professors — at building websites, editing video, designing graphics? Communications isn’t a static thing, and the methods that people, especially in younger generations, use to do it are constantly evolving. Unfortunately, it looks like cranky teachers and lazy columnists aren’t.