Emory Uni. Prof. Mark Bauerlein on “The Dumbest Generation” & the Digital Age/in Academic Standards, Featured, Podcast /by Editorial Staff
This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-host Cara Candal and guest co-host Prof. Robert Maranto talk with Dr. Mark Bauerlein, Senior Editor at First Things, Professor of English Emeritus at Emory University, and the author of The Dumbest Generation Grows Up. Dr. Bauerlein shares his views about the kinds of content American K-12 students should be reading for preparation for college and meaningful lives. He describes the main findings of his books, including how overuse of technology, excessive screen time, and social media have prevented our youth from pursuing more elevated intellectual endeavors and delayed their maturation into adulthood. He draws linkages between the narcissism of these habits and an illiberal and closeminded outlook on society among too many Millennials and follow-on generations. Dr. Bauerlein offers thoughts on how teachers, parents, and leaders can use higher academic-quality education as a counterbalance to this trend.
Stories of the Week: In Pennsylvania and other states, school districts have filed lawsuits forcing legislatures to allocate equitable funding for K-12 public education. A new book by Larry Cuban, former Virginia teacher and school superintendent, offers some sobering realities about our K-12 education system, as well as reasons for optimism.
Mark Bauerlein is Senior Editor at First Things and Professor of English Emeritus at Emory University, where he has taught since earning his PhD in English at UCLA in 1989. For two years (2003-05) he served as Director of the Office of Research and Analysis at the National Endowment for the Arts. His books include Literary Criticism: An Autopsy (1997), The Pragmatic Mind: Explorations in the Psychology of Belief (1997), and The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (2008). His essays have appeared in PMLA, Partisan Review, Wilson Quarterly, Commentary, and New Criterion, and his commentaries and reviews in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Weekly Standard, The Guardian, Chronicle of Higher Education, and other national periodicals.
Tweet of the Week:
Folks who advocate for the school choice movement to change its tactics should probably wrestle with this graphic first. pic.twitter.com/orOTy8v3Dr
— Mike McShane (@MQ_McShane) February 10, 2022
School Districts Battle in Court for Changes in Education Funding
Jay Mathews/ Will there be big education changes after pandemic? No, but look deeper.
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Read a Transcript of This Episode
Please excuse typos.
[00:00:00] Cara: Learning Curve listeners. I’m back. Is not, I traveled all the way to the other side of the globe, to a different hemisphere. And it still wasn’t enough time away for Gerard Robinson. So now he’s gone somewhere somewhere we don’t know to as we always say an undisclosed location. But in way we are so lucky to have another fat.
[00:00:46] Co-host this week. Dr. Robert Moranto is the 21st century chair in leadership in the department of education reform at the university of Arkansas and our first guest from the university of Arkansas. But our first co-host [00:01:00] Bob, thank you so much for joining me on the learning curve today. How are you doing.
[00:01:04] Robert: I’m doing good. I’m going to try to beat your art 2.0 and oh, I’ll take this opportunity and say, if anybody wants to get a PhD in ed policy, we’re an amazing program, but
[00:01:13] Cara: you are an amazing program. It’s like, , I mean, I can. We try and count. I know we’ve, certainly had Dr.
[00:01:19] Patrick LeFon and Jay Greenspan on, and I’m sure we’ve had on graduates of your program as well. And just the quality of research coming out of your department, especially with, regard to some of the issues that we care about. So deeply in the learning curve, school choice. It’s just, it’s phenomenal.
[00:01:34] I can’t tell you how many times in a day, a week. I cite research done either in the department or by graduates of your department. So thank you very for your
[00:01:45] Robert: great thanks so much.
[00:01:47] Cara: Yeah. And it is the truth. Okay. So we, as always here in the learning curve, we like to start with a few stories of the week and I have chosen, I’ve chosen one from the wall street journal [00:02:00] on.
[00:02:00] something that we’ve been talking about, I don’t know, 50 years, 60 years, seven years, a hundred years. This one is about education funding. And I am particularly curious for your take because not only are you yourself, the author of several books and countless articles, but you also edit a journal among other things.
[00:02:15] And I know, you know, a lot about this topic, but the title of my article from the wall street journal written, by the way, by Sarah Randazzo. Last name I’m probably pronouncing it correctly. Is school districts battle in court for changes in education funding. So it’s like a tale as old as time. In some cases here but this one focuses really in particular, on Pennsylvania, on the state of Pennsylvania, a school funding case it’s sort of winding its way through the courts and listeners.
[00:02:44] For those of you who have not sat through really. Sexy courses on school finance and education funding. let’s just say a little bit here, a reminder for all of our friends and students that the federal government has no [00:03:00] constitutional authority for education in this country.
[00:03:01] So we have, 50 states with 50 different ways of figuring out , how they’re going to fund schools. traditionally a lot of funding has come from the local level, but that. Changed in recent decades, we’ve been litigating school funding cases for 50 years plus in this country. And in many places, the amount of local funding, meaning local property taxes that localities have to kick in to fund schools has gone down a bit while the state share has gone up in many cases due to these education, finance lawsuits charging I’ll use the example like right here in Massachusetts.
[00:03:36] Oh my gosh. I’m going to date myself. early 1990s, late 1980s, we had a famous case that charged that the state, was shirking its constitutional obligation to provide an adequate education for our students. And it caused a re. Of our school funding formula, coupled with lots of other things like choice and accountability, which are also great.
[00:03:56] But this case here in Pennsylvania highlights that [00:04:00] Pennsylvania is actually one of these states where the proportion of money that localities have to raise in comparison to what the state kicks in remains relatively. So in Pennsylvania, the state only funds about 38%. And it’s not meaning of the share of education with, you know, usually the federal government Bob you’ll correct me if I’m wrong here, but usually it’s around nine, 10%.
[00:04:23] That hasn’t changed much, although we could count pandemic relief funding, and that’s a completely different conversation. so what that means is that localities are still kicking in. Sure it could change in the state of Pennsylvania. and the state’s not necessarily waiting its funds to help out those localities that have a harder time generating revenue because they don’t raise enough money in property taxes.
[00:04:46] So all a way of saying that some good folks in Pennsylvania are saying, Hey, wait a minute. Our schools are under resourced. I use that word really carefully because they’re saying our schools are [00:05:00] under-resourced. There was no mention, at least in this article about student outcomes, but they were really talking about inputs in terms of resources and facilities, buildings, collapsing having to crush, cram kids into one building because the other one was, crumbling and deteriorating to the extent that they couldn’t have kids in there, it was unsafe.
[00:05:22] Robert: Yeah, they never in the other, there are 501 school districts in Pennsylvania. There’s a large number of them. I’ve done a lot of work in Pennsylvania. they never mentioned what the mean spending isn’t pencils. In the whole article, which I thought they’re sorta remiss Pennsylvania is mean, it means spending for traditional public schools.
[00:05:42] So a little over $18,000, a child, a little over $15,000, a child for charter schools. It’s I think 11th in the country. And someone wants to be so high cost, but someone’s very low cost. And I think it’s, interesting that nobody ever discusses this here, that, you know, can you do an adequate [00:06:00] education on $15,000 a year in Pennsylvania?
[00:06:02] spending districts probably more like 10 or 11. I think the answer is yes. But that is,
[00:06:08] Robert: yeah.
[00:06:08] Cara: Yeah, that would be one answer. And that’s one answer that. Right. So I feel like in this country we have a really polarized debate about what’s. I mean, in the question of what’s adequate, can you do an adequate education so we can talk about what that again, but that’s why I was also really surprised in this article.
[00:06:21] Doesn’t mention anything about students. Because one measure of adequacy would be our kids learning anything, but yet we focus a lot on inputs. And I think your point is well taken because I think about school funding debates is breaking down. They go usually a little something like this. The schools get too much money.
[00:06:38] They don’t do the right thing with it. Right. And then on the other side, it’s like, give us more, give us more, give us more. There’s never enough. You’re in Boston, we’re spending $25,000 per pupil and kids still can’t read. So I take your point. And I think that probably. The middle ground and we need more data on this to your point , is the truth is probably somewhere in between.
[00:06:58] It’s really interesting though, [00:07:00] too, that Pennsylvania doesn’t seem to be engaging in the kind of weighted student funding, at least not in a robust way that some states are engaging in, or for example, in some states, the state will say, okay, if you can’t raise X amount of revenue to get your per pupil spending up to what we consider to be an adequate amount.
[00:07:19] Make up the difference. And so that’s part of what these lawsuits are based upon is, you know, I’m also thinking Bob, that here’s something that I, as a parent and as a taxpayer, I want to know. And that’s just like, why isn’t there more transparency around not just the amount of money that schools are getting, but where it’s going, because I think that to have the debate about, oh, it’s, they’re getting so much money no more, no more, no more.
[00:07:46] Or give us more, give us more, give us more. We really can’t even begin to get to the bottom of it before we figure out how the money is being spent. And it’ll be really interesting, I think, to see how this case resolves itself, because as the article points out [00:08:00] these cases are being revived in other places too.
[00:08:02] One of which is New York, very high per pupil spending there. So I don’t know. I’m curious as to how you think this one is going to go. And if you could be persuaded that we should be thinking. More deeply about the transparency and where the money’s going versus just saying, Nope, they’re getting enough.
[00:08:20] Per pupil spending is high. Let’s be done with it.
[00:08:22] Robert: What do you think? think that, we’re not going to get transparency. So the education law on both the state and national level is so complicated. That I was on a school board for five years. We had about $115 million budget. I think my last year on the board, which is 2020.
[00:08:40] And I’m also in a charter board, , which are, I think we spend about 11 million a year and. There will be 70 or 80 categories of spending school boards don’t have a good grasp, but often educational administrators don’t to either. and so in program specialists say, legally, you have to spend this on this.
[00:08:57] Usually we don’t have the knowledge to argue back, [00:09:00] even though a lot of times , they’re making it off. and so I think as long as this system is that complicated, it’s going to be very hard . To even figure out which expenditures work better. Nate Levinson a superintendent, Massachusetts for awhile.
[00:09:12] He is on a lot of work on how to spend money more effectively, but. We don’t really pay much attention to that leaders don’t school, board stone. And the result is , when these long-term usually they go in for five or eight years school finance cases go on at the end of the day, they’re usually some modest changes as nearly always increases in what we spend, but whether they have any impacts is, is usually fairly unclear and using different methodologies, you can say they have modest, positive impacts.
[00:09:43] Or you can say they have no impact at all, but I know a lot of lawyers and a lot of expert testimony folks. Some of them, my friends make a lot of money out of this. I’m not sure this is the best way to spend her in.
[00:09:54] Cara: I’m not sure either. And the other question that comes to my mind and maybe it’s because I’m very base state [00:10:00] centric here is that it feels like we’re in an era where tests are increasingly super unpopular and there might be some good reasons for that, but accountability is really up against a wall.
[00:10:10] And if we are going to say. That accountability for outcomes. I don’t even know what it’s gonna look like in the next five years, but if we’re going to dramatically increase funding for schools without also attaching expectations to accountability for outcomes, I mean, it will be a great world, right?
[00:10:28] In which if you could say to schools, if you could say to school districts, we’re going to trust you to spend this money. That helped kids learn and kids actually do learn. Maybe we could feel justified and how the money is being and spent, right. This sort of like loose, tight model of we’re just going to hold like, like the charter model, as you mentioned when the charter model works and I too was a charter school board chair and had to help close a school, right.
[00:10:53] When the charter model works we close schools when they don’t perform well. And they stopped getting that taxpayer money, not true [00:11:00] in our public school sector. So I think the other thing missing from this article to my mind, what does it mean if we’re going to, and I think you’re right, probably going to end up in schools getting more money and maybe in Pennsylvania, just maybe in some districts that could end up being a good thing, but if we’re going to give schools more money, what do we expect as a return on investment?
[00:11:21] Not just as tax taxpayers, but as citizens interested in making sure kids. Get good jobs in the
[00:11:27] Robert: field of educational leadership is just not oriented to doing that. I, you know, I’ve been through a numerable school board trainings, but also I’ve looked at how we train ed leaders and they don’t think in those terms and a good example of this ask your local school board member, how many teachers in the district are on an improvement plan and.
[00:11:47] Never no. And, and half of them don’t know what an improvement plan is. And that, that would probably be also true in many cases of principals and superintendents. So we, can’t really even have that level of discussion about it. [00:12:00] It’s just, we need long-term culture changes, I think, to have a more direct.
[00:12:04] Relationship between inputs and outputs, but it’s also people don’t really agree that academic outcomes are good or useful things. Many people running school districts feel, and superintendent been pretty blunt with me about this. some kids are gonna score in the top 3%. Some kids are scoring in the bottom 10%.
[00:12:22] There’s not much you can do about it. And I disagree with that mindset and I can point to districts and charter. That it had a lot of success with kids that, were maybe a little harder to teach, but people don’t want to hear it. So
[00:12:34] Cara: that’s right. Well, and I, dare those leaders, school leaders and administrators and others though, , to tell a parent that well, your kid just was meant to be in the bottom 10%.
[00:12:43] So we’re giving up.
[00:12:46] Robert: So we of those conversations. So. There you
[00:12:49] Cara: go, but I know you’ve got a couple, stories of the week on your mind as well. So what else has been peaking your interest in the past?
[00:12:57] Robert: Jay Matthews had a really interesting two [00:13:00] interesting stories.
[00:13:00] Actually one was on he interviewed Larry Cuban. Who’s one of the grand old men
[00:13:06] Robert: patient
[00:13:07] Cara: utopia
[00:13:09] Robert: utopia. So my students read it’s a wonderful. He’s got 22 books and he basically said as a, you know, as a young person going into education, he thought we could change all sorts of things. And then over time he became convinced that education is more a product of society rather than a creator of society.
[00:13:28] And we can sort of make incremental adjustments in the argues that we are making incremental adjustments. And many of them were positive. More opportunities for kids to gain acceleration. For example, by taking college courses. But he’s, really more oriented towards the limit to what systems can do.
[00:13:44] I would, I argue and Larry Cuban is brilliant. Met him at a conference 20 years back. So, so I think a delightful person, great teacher, great researcher.
[00:13:52] I would argue he’s a little too negative in terms of what we could do. I think that we’ve been
[00:13:57] Robert: hampered by
[00:13:59] Robert: a few things and he [00:14:00] doesn’t really talk about one is that really ever since the Cardinal principles of education issue back in 1918 Cardinal principles, secondary education the primary driver of secondary schooling in particular is not been content.
[00:14:11] It’s been sort of life adjustment orchids. And that, we were sort of able to manage that as long as women and African-Americans had very few other career options. So I had some teachers back in the seventies and that old breed who were, black or women, or in some cases, both who were amazing, right.
[00:14:29] Because. Allowed to do other things. So we had that captive labor pool. my sister-in-law’s African-American she’s this very successful banker. , her mom was a teacher for 35 years. She would never be a teacher. Right. She can do anything now. And teaching is not what she’s going to do. We’ve had a dimunition of the human capital going into teaching over the last 50 years as women and blacks have.
[00:14:51] And I think it’s a great thing, by the way. We, I don’t want to turn back the. But 1970. We had amazing people going into education because they literally didn’t have [00:15:00] other options. Now they’re doing other things. And so the human capital going into teaching is a lot lower than it was. And along with that, we haven’t really had curriculum for the most part for the last century.
[00:15:12] And so I think the check-ins on that are really coming home to roost in a lot of ways in people being seduced by tweets and by things that sound good like 16, 19, when they’re often not really compatible with academic content or science with people not being able to articulate why, you know, the January 6th insurrection was really not a good thing.
[00:15:34] Why the 2020 riots were really not the right way to change policy. We’re not teaching kids. Content. And so they’re falling into all kinds of traps, which actually in a lot of ways is what our speaker will be about today. What mark borderline is writing about. So I’m, a little more. I think Larry, Cuban’s more of an optimist.
[00:15:54] He said there are some positive changes going on. And certainly there are, I see more negative [00:16:00] changes, I think, because in part of the ideology of the education profession, I’ll get, I’ll leave with one example. When I was in school board one principal I know was telling me is important winning principal.
[00:16:11] He’s nice guy personally, who was saying, well, you know, We didn’t really have to hire Matthew, your son map because kids can download it. And I said, okay. Yeah. Perfect. And that’s a very common view. , he was candid enough that he shared it. He was complaining that a lot of kids, including my kid were learning algebra from teachers who didn’t know algebra, that in some cases he had.
[00:16:30] And I said, okay, if you believe this, are you going to hire an offensive line coach for the football team who doesn’t know how to protect the quarterback from a blitz? Because you know, the kids can download it, right? They can teach themselves, it’d be better learning. And he said, well, well, that’s different.
[00:16:44] And I said, I, I know it’s different. You care about football, right? we need more ed leaders care about content. If we’re going to be able to translate more resources into more success, we also need to reshape. Leadership in other ways, people who go in [00:17:00] education are people who love schools as they are.
[00:17:02] They will have the activities, they will have content. They will have constant change. But for a lot of kids, especially kids, without dads in the home, we need more stability. We need situations where, you know, we didn’t have a different football coach every year. Maybe for elementary in particular, you shouldn’t have the same teacher.
[00:17:19] We need to find ways to build continuity into schooling. And some people like William Moochie have written very good things about that, that we in the leadership field, we on school boards are pretty much unaware of. I am, I guess more Larry Cuban is a really an analyst. I love his work, but I, think in some ways he’s missing the boat on.
[00:17:38] Cara: Yeah, I’d like to just tack on a little bit to what you’re saying about some of what’s, and leaving aside the really important conversation that nobody seems to crack the code on yet, which is how do you actually attract Really competent, exciting content oriented individuals into the profession of teaching.
[00:17:57] Cause we’re doing a miserable job. And in fact, [00:18:00] the thing that’s worrying me even more is obviously the past two years have. Really competent people out of the profession of teaching. And now what we’re seeing is a rash of stop gap, , desperate measures, understandably, I think, but not well thought out to get bodies into classrooms, to I’m sorry.
[00:18:20] In many cases probably babysit the children rather than teach them everything from, emergency. As to let people who are completely and utterly unqualified being in classrooms for extended periods of time to, I think, a lowering of certification standards. And that’s not, we can debate whether certification is the right thing or not, but a lowering of standards generally.
[00:18:40] And I’m personally kind of scared. That’s not to say it’s happening everywhere. I think we are seeing some innovative ideas about how you can. Get people interested in the profession of teaching younger on innovative ideas about how we can entice people to be educated. content area, I’m a big fan of having a concentration in [00:19:00] math before you’re going to become a math teacher.
[00:19:03] You know, it shouldn’t lead with pedagogy, let’s lead with content, but, really focusing on. How do you say to those kids who are math majors, Hey, I’ll pay for your education if you would like to become a teacher, but by the way, you’re going to need to stick around. So there’s some of that going on, but what I’m seeing a lot more of across the country is instead this reactive, like we just need bodies in the classroom because otherwise we’re going to have to close our schools and guess what parents don’t want us to do anymore.
[00:19:28] So this is like a, really, this is a big issue. And I think that given all of the learning lost during the pandemic. We haven’t even begun to have the conversation about what continued learning loss is going to look like because of this just mass exit as a qualified people from the profession, both before the pandemic and now in the wake of it.
[00:19:49] So I, agree with you on many of them.
[00:19:52] Robert: Yeah, it’s a, huge issue. honestly, one of the strangest things I’ve found on the school board at least is that a lot of [00:20:00] times we don’t even really want to hire amazing teachers because if you don’t treat them well
[00:20:04] Cara: more money,
[00:20:07] Robert: more money, if you don’t treat them well, they will leave for other jobs.
[00:20:10] So a lot of times I’ve seen a leadership really kind of purposely pick sort of second. People when they have the choice of getting first-year people. It’s a very interesting thing to watch. When you see that
[00:20:23] Cara: loops back to your point about how a lot of us aren’t educated a lot of school leaders district leaders, aren’t educated about how money should be sped.
[00:20:29] Teachers are your number one resource. So, as a former charter school board chair, if that science teacher that Matthew. Needed more money to get them in the door. Well, if my kids need math and science let’s do it. So, not all schools have that flexible. We need the
[00:20:43] Robert: flexibility to, you know, sweeten the package sometimes.
[00:20:47] And district schools with contracts have a lot.
[00:20:54] Cara: Yeah. All right. Well, you’ve already mentioned him. We’ve got a fantastic guest today in just a few moments. We’re going to be [00:21:00] speaking with Dr. Mark. Bauerlein very excited about that. And we will be back with him and our learning curve listeners just after this sounds great.[00:22:00]
[00:22:12] We’re back and we’re so fortunate to have with mark Bauerlein. He is the senior editor at first things and professor of English emeritus at Emory university, where he has taught since earning his PhD in English at UCLA in 1980. For two years, he served as director of the office of research and analysis at the national endowment for the arts.
[00:22:32] His books include literary criticism and autopsy, the pragmatic mind explorations in the psychology of belief. And I love this, “The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefied Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future.” I’m going to talk to my children about that tonight. His essays have appeared in PML, a partisan review, Wilson, quarterly commentary and new criteria, and his commentaries reviews in the wall street [00:23:00] journal, Washington post Boston globe weekly standard, the guardian Chronicle of higher education and other national periodicals.
[00:23:07] Needless to say must be a really lazy guy. , not doing anything over there. Mark. Bauerlein welcome to the show.
[00:23:13] Mark: I’m glad to join you honor to be with the Pioneer Institute you have been doing noble. for many, many years.
[00:23:20] Cara: Ah, they have been, we thank you for that. We thank you for that. That’s a good shout out to our fearless producers in the background.
[00:23:28] So Mark, we’re here to talk about your academic background and your career. You have been grounded in the liberal arts and teaching. So talk a little bit about your foundational views about education. Bob and I were actually just talking about this, like content versus pedagogy. Now, you know what kids don’t know and what teachers are and are not teaching What do you think a sound education look like for young people? And if you could include in there, because if your background, like what should they be reading? what should American high school [00:24:00] or. I have read to be prepared not just for college, but just to go on and live a good life. What do you think
[00:24:06] Mark: this plays very well into my, my update, my current update of that dumbest generation book, this recent book, because what I really argue there is that the education that adolescents need.
[00:24:20] Did not happen during that first decade of the third millennium. And it really comes into play what you say, what is a good liberal education all about? And I go back to non ed school thinking, which says young people need apart from the basic skills they need in math and technology and science don’t they need to feel like they are.
[00:24:47] Into a long stream of civilization, they need to be acquainted with great books. Great ideas, great words, great speeches, big events, big heroes, [00:25:00] big villains, great love stories. Tales of passion honor, and dishonor and betrayal as well so that they are stepping into a world when they leave the home. When they leave adolescents that they live in the shadow.
[00:25:16] Of greatness, that there is great beauty and sublimity, purpose, and meaning, and even transcendence awaiting them. That can be their inheritance. And that means they need to leave school with a little acquaintance with lady Macbeth. With Hector and Achilles fighting outside the walls of Troy. They need to know the great love stories of Tristan and Isolde, Dido, and Aeneas great works of art that show them.
[00:25:55] The visualization of David, the statue of [00:26:00] Michelangelo’s David, the great works of architecture, like the American skyscraper circuit, 1930. These are monuments that can come into their lives and send them into adulthood with the equipment to deal with the inevitable disappointments, the tragedies that happen.
[00:26:19] It gives them a reservoir that steadies them. As the pressures of the day of current events and politics and everything else hit them. So it’s a rather old fashioned idea of broad civilizational education that the ed schools really don’t talk about anymore. The pedagogy discussions, more about skills, common, cold.
[00:26:45] Did an inmate, a few gestures in that direction, but it was really all about analytical reading, reading, like a detective as David Coleman. Put it little snippets that turn reading into mechanical [00:27:00] exercise of interpretation, which I regard was an impoverishment of what the reading life is, supposed to be.
[00:27:08] Cara: as a reader, I couldn’t agree with you more. And I didn’t relay that. I was telling my 12 year old daughter last night that she needs to start reading Jane Austin. She looked at me as if I had 18 heads and she was like, oh my goodness. This ultimately got exactly to the point. You’re just making, these are the stories that teach you so much about life.
[00:27:28] And maybe it’s just getting old, but. Younger people and think that they’re not very resilient. So I love that. That is a part of your argument , for reading through literature.
[00:27:38] Mark: Let me say one thing about that. , , you tell your daughter, listen identification with Elizabeth. Is so much better than identification with the latest YouTube star.
[00:27:51] Okay. Tell me about
[00:27:53] Cara: it. And hopefully she’ll still say, I don’t understand what YouTube is, because try my best to keep her away, but we still see, but [00:28:00] now you also touch upon this idea. Shock anybody to know that I agree with you having formerly taught in , at school that, the way we now think about what kids should be reading and as well as how we teach reading has really led to some just disastrous results.
[00:28:17] I think, especially if we look back to recent years, I’ve got some great colleagues at Excel and ed, my day job that are working really hard. To promote different approaches to literacy in our school sound approaches to literacy, but you know, a lot about this because you were instrumental in producing any A’s reading it, risk study a survey of literary reading in America.
[00:28:38] And that was even like 15, 20 years ago. Can you talk a little bit about that report and a little bit more about what’s going on to really negatively impact students’ reading habits, which leads to decreases in student teaching.
[00:28:55] Mark: Yeah, was a report that we did at the NDA. When I was there. And every 10 years [00:29:00] we would do a survey of public participation in the arts.
[00:29:02] We would ask. How often do you go to museums, to the symphony? How often do you listen to jazz and go to see dance? And we also had an, a, how often do you read. And what we found in the 2002 findings was that from 82 and 92, the amount of reading of literature that 18 to 24 year olds did pull plummeted.
[00:29:22] It went way down and we were talking about classic literature, Shakespeare. We would take any novels, any poems and plays that you read. We also asked about book reading in general and only 43%. Of young people read in their leisure time, all year long, any literature at all, this was shocking to us. It was a big drop from preceding efforts.
[00:29:47] And took that show on the road and did a lot of conferences and panels and, boy w the amazing thing. How the professional educators rejected these findings. I had [00:30:00] English people reading people say, what’s the big deal. So they’re not reading as much, you know, cultures change, people do different things.
[00:30:08] That was, that’s actually an actual quote from someone said on a panel. And I couldn’t believe this. Look, you’re English, you’re literature, people. Why aren’t you defending your own materials? can’t imagine mathematicians getting up there and saying, yeah, you know, people don’t need to know any math or what’s the big deal.
[00:30:26] But somehow the humanities professional. Lost their capacity to defend their own materials. they watched, while universities got rid of literature course requirements, they stood by while standards got rid of any specific literary content and turn reading again into this skills technical.
[00:30:54] Capacity. And I’m a, voter of, ed Hirsch’s core knowledge, which says reading [00:31:00] is not just this abstract skill. You have to know things you have to know about the civil war already in order to really comprehend a passage about the civil war. You know, you’re losing the contents of civilization.
[00:31:15] When you emphasize these abstract mental skills, like critical thinking and problem solving and reading comprehension and identify the main idea. Blah-blah-blah I mean, one of the things that that does is what a bore, this turns reading and for kids, I mean, who wants to read when this is what it’s about?
[00:31:35] What evidence does the author summon in order to back up? Nope. We need drama. We need close involvement of human beings with these materials. I mean the Gettysburg address memorize it internalize these phrases from Lincoln Lincoln, internalized phrases from the king James Bible. That’s one of the [00:32:00] things that made him such a great writer.
[00:32:01] We need to have young people internalize. Martin Luther King’s last speech the night before he was assassinated in this new book, I actually hold up Malcolm X. And what happened to him in prison as a model for millennials to follow as they try to make their lives a little better by learning a little more, that they didn’t learn about what they didn’t learn when they were in high school in 2006.
[00:32:31] Cara: let’s pick that up. Let’s talk a little bit more about this new book. It’s a companion volume to oppression to 2008 book, the dumbest generation. And this is the dumbest generation grows up. I want you to, if you could tell us to tell us about the main findings of this book, which a lot of it is about social media, internet, et cetera.
[00:32:48] And am I a crazy person to withhold an iPhone from my kids until the last possible moment and confiscate their school computers at night so they can. Go on YouTube and Instagram and [00:33:00] all of these things that scared the heck out of me. What do you
[00:33:01] Mark: think you are doing? Absolutely. The right thing. We know this because we did this massive social experiment in the first decade of the third millennium, where we let teenagers go into their bedrooms, turn on all the screens.
[00:33:18] They had the music, they had the iPhone, the handhelds of various kinds. They had Facebook, the social media, they had the pictures, they were texting all the time. They envelop themselves in youth culture and peer pressure and adult stuff, couldn’t make its way into that bubble that they had formed.
[00:33:38] And it went on for years, they were inside that room and they could shut out everything. They didn’t like. someone said something on Facebook, just to unfriend that person, if you get a text, you don’t like. That person. I mean, we talk about cancel culture today. Millennials started canceling when [00:34:00] they were 12 years old, they could manufacture a youth reality.
[00:34:04] That was all affirming all about themselves. I mean, they, rate highly now at age 33 on narcissism who would have thought that they would rate highly on narcissism when they could walk around with 250 photos of themselves in their pockets all the time. micros, we gave them the tools. To extend adolescents.
[00:34:24] And also at the time there were all these cheerleaders for the millennials. They’re amazing. They’re ambitious. They’re way ahead of us boomers. We have to ask them how to turn on our iPhone. they’re going to lead America into the 21st century. Well, we’re 15 years beyond that time.
[00:34:40] How are they doing as, as narcissism is up, depression is up. Anxiety is up. Suicide is up. Job dissatisfaction is high. Millennials, they’re not marrying. And having kids at nearly the rate, the boomers did one third of millennial. Men will know, never have married by age 40 and probably never [00:35:00] will. So they’re hitting adulthood.
[00:35:03] They’re facing paying bills and taxes and, you know, trying to find better jobs and so on. And they don’t have that. Civilizationally quick. To cope with manage, understand, absorb the things that hit them in life. They don’t go to church. They’re not Patriots. Only one third of them call themselves Patriots.
[00:35:25] So they didn’t have a country that they can dedicate themselves. They’re not having kids which gives you purpose and meaning, and self-sacrifice, they’re still on their own. And they were told when they were 15 happiness success is building your faith. Network , to hundreds and hundreds of friends. Well, you know what, you’re 33.
[00:35:43] Now that doesn’t seem to work. And now they’re bitter sour disappointed, and some of them are marching up and down the streets and breaking winter.
[00:35:53] Robert: you’ve sort of covered our next question. So I’ll modify it a little bit in your book. You talk [00:36:00] brilliantly about how activists from the sixties and even the eighties would talk a lot about policy things to do, you know, don’t trade with South Africa, right?
[00:36:08] Pull out a Vietnam. And we’re recent activists are talking just about themselves and they want some cosmic level of respect. And I wonder if you’d like to get a little more into that. And what are some of the implications for democracy?
[00:36:21] Mark: Well, they personalized the universe so much so that the activism is bearing much based upon I’m offended.
[00:36:32] You have committed a microaggression against. Against my identity against who I am. If you ask them much about politics or history or the history of racism. In America, they don’t have much of an answer. I mean, we know every time the, the Nate exam is given to 12th graders in us history, more than half of them score below basic, which has an F let’s call it a fail.
[00:36:58] So they don’t know that much, but they [00:37:00] don’t need to know that much because they know how they feel. They know what their identity is and what people are supposed to do with that identity. They know what it means about respect and disrespect. This is again, a personalization. Of the public sphere that makes everyone thin skinned.
[00:37:19] The first amendment requires that we live in a pluralistic society. So you’re going to encounter disagreeable opinions. You’re going to counter people that are irksome to you. Well, you can’t take offense all the time. You have to have a thicker skin. That’s the world we live in. if this orange haired monster wins an election in November, 2016, you don’t go nuts and have trauma.
[00:37:45] You organize politically. You say we’re going to beat them next time you don’t just like resist. We’ll resist. What? I don’t know, just resist. I mean, come on. This is not the way to function. As responsible citizens, do you think you get to [00:38:00] win every time? This is politics? Well, they do think that they should win every time.
[00:38:05] They do think that their guy, I mean, they went for Obama two to one in 2008. They think that their guy should win. Losing is very hard for them to face because again, they lived in this artificial utopia when they were young, where you do get to. All the time you do get to choose your reality. You do get to fabricate the identity.
[00:38:29] You want to have an, everyone has to affirm that. Well, here we are, who cares about the past? When the past was just a time of exploitation and injustice, we stand for justice. Why worry about what happened in the primeval ages of the 1970s? Come on.
[00:38:49] Robert: do you wanna talk a lot about how this started really at elite institutions in a lot of ways,
[00:38:53] Mark: they’re always, they’re always at the forefront of social change. I mean, this [00:39:00] is one thing we’ve learned. I was a big liberal when I was a graduate student at UCLA in the eighties and, and an assistant professor at Emory in the night.
[00:39:08] But I did have this kind of conservative education ideas. I believe in great books. I believed in Western Civ, I believed in a core Canon of readings that everyone should have to read. And there were these novel things going on in the late eighties in the humanities. And post-colonialism, these were very exotic political identity-based formations within the humanities.
[00:39:35] And I thought. Okay. , let them do their stuff. You know, whatever uh, they got their own thing. No, one’s going to pay attention to them. Little did I know that they now set democratic party policy? And th they’re very, they were very high in the Obama administration. People who pass through this formation and not Joe Biden has cranked it up even further.
[00:39:59] The [00:40:00] identity politics. Of the academy circa 1989 are now the identity politics of American society at large. What happens on campus will end up happening in America, writ large. that’s what the formula of the last 40 years of history has shown me.
[00:40:23] Robert: So what are the solutions?
[00:40:23] Mark: In this new book, I lay out the case of Malcolm X. Now I don’t share Malcolm X is religion that’s for sure. But he goes into prison. He’s a horrible person. He’s a thug. He’s a swine. He is a selfish, violent exploitative individual. He’s been caught in a burglary ring sentenced to seven years or plus, and he goes into prison.
[00:40:52] And the other prisoners have a nickname for him, Satan, and he likes that nickname. And, but one thing he says, [00:41:00] I realized my working vocabulary was about 200 words and every sentence had a profanity in it. But you know, here in prison that doesn’t quite get me very far on the street. Oh, I was canny here.
[00:41:13] There’s a man, an older man here who speaks deliberately good vocabulary with knowledge. He’s. Everyone listens to him. Even the white guards, stop and pay attention to him and respect him. This is in the 1950s and Malcolm X real at Malcolm little. He realizes, you know, knowledge is power. Words can mobilize you.
[00:41:41] So he starts reading, but he can’t understand the words in the books. So he’s. Copying out the encyclopedia. He spends months writing down every, every word, starting with aardvark. And he said, this is like an encyclopedia. He reads and reads and reads over years. He reads so much, he ruins his eyes. He didn’t have glasses [00:42:00] before he went into prison.
[00:42:01] Now he does, but it was a conversion experience. A genuine conversion happened to him and he comes out. He dresses well, Coat and tie he’s thoughtful. He’s deliberative. He says I will never curse again. And when he sits across the table from adversaries, he actually listens to what they have to say.
[00:42:25] He’s curious about what’s going on in their minds. He’s read literature, philosophy, history the Bible, he says white people are bad, but I want to know about. He doesn’t say you’re all racist, you’re sexist, I’m offended. He would never say that he would debate. He would argue he would make his points in a rational discursive fashion.
[00:42:51] And you can see he’s a happier person. He may feel he lives in an unjust society, but he has a center he’s grounded. He has a [00:43:00] religion now and it gives him a certain. Piece, you can tell when you see him speaking millennials, this is your model. Get off the network, read, read, read, read, study, get the great books.
[00:43:18] Work at it, transform yourself. We need to have this generation, which is now a rootless without meaning purpose value. And they’re unhappy. They are unhappy, which shows it’s not working for them. Bring them something better. Bring them a country of which they can be proud. Bring them a religion that can evoke from them.
[00:43:42] Prayer, give them great movies with characters, with whom they can identify in a positive fashion. You got to reach out to the younger people in your personal life. And show them is so much better [00:44:00] music out there than the junk you listened to. There’s so many great stories with great role models in here that you can learn from.
[00:44:08] It’s all waiting for you. There’s a positive future for you personally. That’s the.
[00:44:16] Cara: And what a push it is. It makes me want to go read and listen, listen to some better music though. I have to say, I did appreciate this past weekend Superbowl performance. I could still love that part of it. I’m not a millennial.
[00:44:31] Dr. Mark Bauerlein. Thank you so much. Just all thought provoking and exciting. It’s such a pleasure to have you on. And I know that my fearless co-host Bob feels the same way.
[00:44:41] Robert: This was great. This is great. it’s wonderful book worthy successor to The Dumbest Generation.
[00:44:47] Mark: Thank you. Glad to join you.
[00:44:49] Cara: Amazing. Well, the dumbest generation should go out and buy The Dumbest Generation Grows Up. Thank you so much. Please take care and we hope to speak with you soon.[00:45:00] [00:46:00]
[00:46:15] All right, listeners. We always close it out with our tweet of the week. This one from our friend of the show, Mike McShane. And he’s, always bringing the data on Twitter, bring in the charts. And Mike’s tweets says folks who advocate for the school choice movement to change its tactics should probably wrestle with this graphic.
[00:46:32] First, if you look at the graphic, it basically shows. Really overwhelming support for school choice on the part of parents. And that’s, what matters. The thing I really appreciate about this, thank you very much, Mr. McShane is that there has been a lot of talk about how we should shift tactics in the school choice movement and who we should be talking to.
[00:46:50] I think we should always be talking to parents folks. And that’s what makes seems to be saying here. So next week we will be back as we [00:47:00] always are, and we are going to be. Coming to you with Howard Bryant. He is a senior writer for ESPN. Very cool. And the author of nine books, including full dissidents notes from an uneven playing field and the heritage black athletes, the divided America and the politics of patriotism.
[00:47:20] Fantastic. Looking forward to it until then, Bob Maranto. Thank you so much for joining me today. It’s been a pleasure to have you and hope you come back. will. All right. Fantastic.[00:48:00]