Sunday, December 7, 2008

Our Generation

My Sunday morning Washington Post had an interesting article in the Outlook section today. It was no doubt inspired by the election of a man who was born in 1961. I've posted a snippet of it below and a link to the whole article at the end of the snippet. I'll make some comments about the author's thoughts in my next posting.

The Kids Are Alright. But Their Parents ...

By Neil Howe
Sunday, December 7, 2008; B01

It is the prerogative of every generation of graybeards to look down the age ladder and accuse today's young of sloth, greed, selfishness -- and stupidity. We hear daily jeremiads from baby boomers who wonder how kids who'd rather listen to Linkin Park and play "Grand Theft Auto III" than solve equations or read books can possibly grow up to become leaders of the world's superpower. The recent publication of "The Dumbest Generation" by Mark Bauerlein of Emory University epitomizes the genre. His subtitle -- "How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future" -- says it all.

Generational putdowns, Bauerlein's included, are typically long on attitude and short on facts. But the underlying question is worth pursuing: If the data are objectively assessed, which age-slice of today's working-age adults really does deserve to be called the dumbest generation?

The answer may surprise you. No, it's not today's college-age kids, nor even today's family-starting 30-somethings. And no, it's not the 60-year-olds who once grooved at Woodstock. Instead, it's Americans in their 40s, especially their late 40s -- those born from the late 1950s to the mid-1960s. They straddle the boundary line between last-wave boomers and first-wave Generation Xers. The political consultant Jonathan Pontell labels them "Generation Jones."

Whatever you call them (I'll just call them early Xers), the numbers are clear: Compared with every other birth cohort, they have performed the worst on standardized exams, acquired the fewest educational degrees and been the least attracted to professional careers. In a word, they're the dumbest.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I agree with the premise of the author's message. We could be one of the dumbest generations, but not for the reasons that were used to support this hypothesis.

I think that we were dumb, because we held on to the values that worked for our parents: hard work, honesty, and loyalty are the path to a successful life. We believed that short term gains should be foresaken for long range goals. If you persist through difficult situations, you will be rewarded. We saw parents that worked at the same companies their entire life. We saw that skilled, manual labor was still a viable option in the labor market of the day. We even learned to consider the needs of others before ourselves.

Today, the skills and lessons for success are very personal: invest in yourself, there's no reason to be loyal to any company; have fun now, because things could change quickly; hard work is for fools.

I respect the ability of today's generation to not worry about the long term and to be able to adapt to new situations. Ultimately, I believe that this will create a society of individuals rather than a community that cares about each other. I am not optomistic about the world that this attitude will create.