Dumb and Dumber: Is Our Generation Stupid?

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Andrea Verschuyl

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There’s a rumor drifting through the halls of Olympia High School that suggests students are not as academically inclined or as intelligent as they used to be. Perhaps this same trend has extended itself to the halls of OHS, where it’s becoming imperative to “keep your eyes on the road” with so many of us cradling our phones, absorbed in a song being fed through plastic ear buds. Adults worry that social networks and other various new outlets for social obsession are quite literally short circuiting our teen brains, leaving us self-centered, socially uninformed and disengaged from the academic environment.

If you don’t believe this idea runs deep within the fabric of our generation, think again. Mark Baurlein, author of the recently published book ‘The Dumbest Generation,’ reports that two thirds of U.S. undergraduates now score above average on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, a national poll that tallies how many students are considered self-centered, or egocentric. This score marks a 30 percent increase since 1982. Even worse, Sharon Begley of ‘The Daily Beast’ informs that two thirds of high school seniors in 2006 couldn’t explain an old photo of a sign over a theater door reading COLORED ENTRANCE. In 2001, 52 percent of high school students identified Germany, Japan or Italy as one of America’s World War II allies. These facts alone should be enough to convince you that our culture (reveling in individuality to the point of self-obsession) has contributed greatly to a growing social epidemic.

How is this affecting OHS? One of the top high schools in Washington, OHS has consistently high SAT scores and is well known for its high achieving students. To help clarify whether or not OHS students have been following the national trend, Mr. Bassett and Mrs. Lang decided to speak on behalf of their own experience with their cycling classrooms. Both teachers believe that the change is almost imperceptible. Mr. Bassett asserts that, “Of course teachers have observed behavioral changes associated with technology. We don’t notice this difference from day to day or even from year to year. However, if we look at change in five year increments, it’s mind boggling.” Mrs. Lang says that she has also been mapping a difference in the behavior of students from year to year. She notes that current students don’t give themselves the time to follow through with a train of thought, and that “essays have become more disjointed.” Indeed, the national average for the English portion of the SAT has decreased dramatically by 22 points since 1972, indicating a distinct correlation between inferior scores and the rise of technological addiction. Evidently, the undergraduate’s overwhelming tendency to alternate between Facebook, Hulu, Netflix, Myspace and homework is identifiable by the teacher. So if you think you’re getting away with it (news flash), you’re probably not.

Mr. Bassett goes on to say, “[This] generation is not at fault. You have embraced technology that was developed for you by [my generation].” He adds, “Has it changed social behaviors? Duh.”

“There are other changes in society not directly related to technology that concern me far more,” Mr. Bassett continues. “I speak of increased pressure for students to take an overload of honors and AP classes. That really saddens me.” Mrs. Lang elaborated in saying, “[Students] are more involved and they have more homework. I think there’s more pressure and more competition to get into good colleges. There’s maybe even more stress [now] than in my generation.” Whether or not this is true, it’s definitely reassuring to blame our generation’s lack of academic focus on the school system. Many students would be more inclined to stop trying and retain their sense of pride than continually try and fail in an environment where it’s more important that you get a good grade on a test than take the time to commit everything you’ve learned to enduring memory.

That being said, Mr. Bassett and Mrs. Lang still believe in what they do at Olympia High School. Though nationally we might be facing a generational crisis, locally their dedication is a testament to the fact that, while evolving and different, our student body is worth fighting for. However, it’s important to be aware of the path our generation is forging for itself. Even though you might think that your teachers don’t notice when you write your essay or study for your science test while watching Criminal Minds, the fact is that they probably do. So in order to change those grades on Skyward, or just to prove the nut jobs that believe we’re all stupid wrong, maybe all you have to do is exercise a little will power and shut down that laptop. You might even work yourself up to setting down your phone and taking out those ear buds. As Mr. Bassett and Bob Dylan said, “The times, they are a changin’.” We just have to make sure that we keep up.

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