Have American Students Become Intellectually Shallow?

February 12, 2012

Some students must watch lots of television, sit-comms especially.  They look stylishly dressed, and their speech is quick, fashionable, with a charming sense of repartee.  Polish and good looks, yes, but apparently vacuous when it come to depth.

     It seems as though Sesame Street has done it job too well.  Quickly shifting fun images, with a modicum of “learning” thrown in for good measure.   There’s not much to think about, but students walk away thoroughly drenched in liberal values.

     And so it goes in education.  Pictures and software programs, almost like video games, but little of the protracted thinking that goes with reading, writing, math, and other forms of studying that only becomes fun once you’ve accepted the challenge of hard work and knowledge immersion.

      Cal Thomas’Don’t Die Stupid is a recent review of Daniel J. Flynn’s Blue Collar Intellectuals.  Thomas laments that  “Our intellectual depth increasingly resembles floor wax; shiny on top, but lacking depth. A muscle atrophies if it is not used. Similarly, a mind becomes lazy if it is not well fed. And a weak mind dumbs-down our politics. We elect people we come to dislike because too many of us require no more of them than we require of ourselves. We then wonder why little seems to work and the country soon suffers”:

     Evidence of the dumbing-down of America is everywhere. Some of it is chronicled in a new book, “Blue Collar Intellectuals: When the Enlightened and the Everyman Elevated America” by Daniel J. Flynn.

     Flynn contends popular culture has divorced itself from the life of the mind. He has plenty of examples in case television, texting, video games and improper use of English (“she was like and then I was like”) are not enough.

     Flynn calls the digital age that has sped up the process by which we receive information “Idiotville,” because it has made us less intelligent.

    “Stupid is the new smart,” writes Flynn. He says we arrived at this lower level of brain activity because as recently as the last century “the everyman aspired to high culture and … intellectuals descended from the ivory tower to speak to the everyman.” Today, he says, “Those who pursue the life of the mind have insulated themselves from popular culture. Speaking in insider jargon and writing unread books, intellectuals have locked themselves away in a ghetto of their own creation.”

     That has left the nonintellectual class to fend for itself. One library in Portland, Me., rather than leading, is being led by the unformed teenage mind. “Video gaming is just a new form of literacy,” says the “teen librarian.” If so, what’s the new form of illiteracy, ignorance about how to use a joystick?

     Flynn quotes from Steven Johnson’s book, “Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter.” Sure, and sugar makes us slimmer. Johnson says, “Reality shows … challenge our emotional intelligence.” Emotional intelligence? In an age when feelings trump everything and too many reality TV programs feature well-heeled housewives and love-starved bachelors, “emotional intelligence” is a contradiction.

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