Generation why?

“Teenagers and young adults mingle in a society of abundance, intellectual as well as material… Never have opportunities for education, learning, political action, and cultural activity been greater. All the ingredients for making an informed and intelligent citizen are in place. But it hasn’t happened.”

So says Mark Bauerlein, professor of English at Emory University and author of The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30).

Just who is the dumbest generation, according to Bauerlein?

In a word — us.

“This is the paradox of the Dumbest Generation,” Bauerlein argues. “For the young American, life has never been so yielding, goods so plentiful, schooling so accessible, diversion so easy, and liberties so copious… But the enlightenment hasn’t happened.”

The mere mention of the argument qualifies the author as an old curmudgeon, a decrepit, aging man who is unable to let go of the past and unwilling to even try.

But closer inspection belies this thought.

A humorous way of showing Generation Y’s ignorance is by watching Jay Leno’s Jaywalking segment of his television shows. Leno asks presumably easy questions and gets incredibly idiotic answers. Hilarity ensues. A less amusing representation of our collective lack of knowledge is a recent survey commissioned by the Oklahoma Council on Public Affairs.

The results are astounding. More than half of Oklahoman high school students couldn’t pin the Republicans and Democrats as the two main political parties in America, only 14 percent knew Thomas Jefferson wrote the draft of the Declaration of Independence, and three-fourths of the students surveyed could not even name George Washington as the first president of the United States.

Scary.

“It’s Oklahoma, what do you expect?” one is tempted to say. But I’d be willing to venture a guess that the vast majority of our generation would not pass the citizenship test that all immigrants must pass before entering the country.

“This is the essence of the contemporary zeitgeist,” argues Reid Buckley in an article for The American Conservative magazine. “…Young people have not been taught to edit. They have not been taught self-criticism. They have been reared in an environment of self-esteem, even when this went unexamined and unearned.”

In other words, we’re spoiled. We’re pretentious. We’re narcissistic. We’re haughty, brash, and arrogant, and we pride ourselves on our haughtiness, our brashness and our arrogance.

Are Buckley and Bauerlein correct? The evidence sure points in that direction. While the sobriquet, “The Dumbest Generation,” may be nothing more than hyperbole used to sell books, we do indeed have every advantage that our parents and grandparents had, except, as Bauerlein says, the enlightenment “hasn’t happened.”

No doubt our generation is just as capable of turning out a Jefferson, an Einstein, a Gates. In fact, we may be even more disposed to the ability to do so. But will we? My friends (I’m channeling my inner McCain), if we don’t take advantage of all that is out there, our younger brothers and sisters will. We will be left high and dry, marooned on the proverbial beach by those who passed us by.

As George Santayana said long ago in his famous phrase, “those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” And unless we start learning, Generation Y may become Generation Lost.

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