Are We Dumber?

A teacher I spoke with the other day said, “kids are dumber today.” I disputed but felt as if I were in the minority. She said kids have less cultural literacy and have less grammatical knowledge and have fewer insights.

I asked if this was a result of diminished expectations and less access, but  I was overruled in the extreme.

What do you think? Is this the norm? Are kids worse off? Are kids dumber? Or, are thet accessing less?


12 thoughts on “Are We Dumber?

  1. thehurt

    I wouldn’t argue that kids are dumber than they used to be – I remember my share of “dumb” moments. I do think, however, that there is a greater level of apathy regarding “school” knowledge, simply because students feel that most of the information we say they “need” to know is readily available at their fingertips. Unfortunately, they are not really learning how to sift through all of that information to find the important stuff (instead simply Googling their questions and wondering why no answers pop up). Hence, the importance of a skill-based learning environment.

  2. Jim Van Pelt

    I hear this comment often, and I always think it’s false. I know that my sons (11, 15,18) have been asked to do more and to know more than I was ever asked to in school, just as I ask more from my students than was ever asked of me. What’s remarkable to me is how much more today’s kids do than kids from thirty years ago. Most of my seniors have jobs, for example. More are involved in extra curricular activities. Their summers are heavily scheduled.

    The main difference I see, and I don’t trust my observations since they are not data-driven in the least, is that there seems to be a larger gap between the honors students and the “regular ed” kids. My memory is that there used to be a smaller group at the bottom than there is now. The top end kids are as good or better than ever, but there are fewer kids in the middle. The bottom is characterized by immaturity, mostly, but also apathy, and belligerence.

    Is there truly a larger top and bottom and a smaller middle?

  3. Mrs. Chili

    I teach college at the community- and freshman level, and I can say with certainty that students are coming to me WITHOUT what I consider to be some pretty rudimentary skills. Included in that is a decided lack of practice in critical thinking – they’re good with retelling plot, but they have almost no facility with investigation.

    I can’t begin to tell you WHY this is, but I do know for sure that I’m giving my own children exercise in such things. My girls will get to college able to tell their professors WHY they think a character acted in such-and-such a way, and how the WAY a piece is written impacts WHAT it says. Oh, and they’ll know where the damned apostrophe goes, too…

  4. Betty

    I think kids today just have different priorities and skills than they had back in the day. We had grammar and math facts drilled into our heads. Now, problem solving and creativity are emphasized more. Regardless of what people think, the drills really worked. We learned all of the basics first and problem solved later. Students today are also tech savvy and can do things that a lot of adults don’t understand. I think it’s just a shift in the way people think and the way the brain is wired.

  5. Melissa

    I would imagine that privileged students, who come from a supportive environment and have access to good resources, are equipped with more skills and knowledge than students in the past. On the other hand, many students today come from families trapped in cycles of poverty and little education, or from cultures that do not value school or education. Thus many students lack basic skills to help them succeed in K-12, including academic skills, study skills, social skills and norms, and critical thinking.

    What I have been hearing a lot from veteran teachers is a call for more options in schools; usually this translates to needing more technical and vocational schools to train the students who are uninterested in a college-preparatory education.

    Personally I am finding it difficult to teach students who are uninterested in participating in school, or who are so ill-prepared to learn that seemingly simple tasks become arduous journeys.

  6. drpezz Post author

    Joel, I think teachers are often pressured to conform to the state-testing craze (which is often very basic in nature), and they also know that forcing students into upper levels of thought can be quite difficult. Sometimes I think we take the easy way out.

    However, I also believe most teachers do not fall prey to the ease of lower level thinking. Maybe my rose-colored glasses are on, but I really believe the vast majority of teachers do their very best to challenge students.

  7. rashidah

    I don’t think students are ‘dumber’ that is pretty offensive to our students. I think that students are underexposed to educational opportunities like museums, the libraries, bookstores for browsing, festivals and just conversations. I don’t that the students have been empowered with the ability to try new things. I think that a great deal of the parents just did not have the exposure
    and so they could not pass it on. You can only know what you know, so you teach what you know.
    I think that too many basics were taken out of the schools in the name of reform and it didn’t work. I think the students are over stimulated visually, through the media and have not learned how to make good choices. I don’t now if vast majority of teachers do their best to challenge students because I’m not sure if we all know how to do that and what does ‘challenge’ look like.
    I have no ‘golden’ answers as a teacher, but I refuse to walk into my classroom thinking that my students are dumber. My strategy has become to tell them they are brilliant, figuring out where that brilliance is is the question

  8. Jeanette

    I agree with your coworker in two parts. I wouldn’t say they are dumber just lazy. That is the problem I’m dealing with. They just don’t care enough or stuff just isn’t sticking. I’m stressing out beyond belief over this. I am trying to connect with them & I can’t. So I would go as far and say they are dumber because I don’t think I was the sharpest pencil in the class but I will say they are just not caring enough about their futures.

  9. abauescott

    I feel as if children today learn more than what I ever learned in school. My issue is that I think that schools tend to do more “breadth” on subjects. Which means, cover lots of material, but not necessarily a lot of depth. In kindergarten the children are already starting to read! I did not do that till first and second grade. So I feel that children may be learning, but not as deeply as we may need the children to learn. I feel as if teachers have to teach this way because of all of the testing that we have the children do. If the children can just get enough information to pass the test than the children have learned. It is a really tough question to know how much depth versus how much breadth.

  10. HeatherChristine


    I wonder the same thing that another person who posted a response to you asked, What are kids today being compared to? Academically, perhaps they earn “easier” graders or achieve “less”, compared to what my parents, who are in their early 60’s learned. They like to talk about how their generation is smarter than today’s children and that school was harder. Perhaps it was, I was not alive then to speak from personal experience. But I think today’s students have a lot more pressures coming at them from all over, personal more than academic. Societal problems are now thing students are having to deal with at a younger and younger age. For instance, at the school I completed my clinicals in prior to student teaching, one of the 2nd graders was taken by the police on my “staff” lunchbreak. They had to remove her before anyone could pick her up (her parents) because one of the parents had been charged with child abuse. I do believe that this occured a LOT less frequently and was a rarity when my parents were growing up in the 40s, 50s, and early 60s… The world we live in now is a scary place, and one never knows what to expect for sure. Almost nothing surprises me these days, and that to me is sad… 😦


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