Whilst I was awaiting an appointment this cloudy and unseasonably cool September morn, I thumbed my way through a Readers Digest that lay in the waiting area. I was looking for humour, and while I found many attempts, I did not exactly have to pick myself off the floor after being overcome by mirth. Jokes failing me, I turned to the monthly Word Power test, which, in this case, happened to be a reprint from 1948. You know the drill, I suppose; RD offers four possible choices for each of 20 words, and if you make two errors or fewer, they tell you how clever you are.
Well, that's partly the point. The quiz did offer four choices in 1948, and I found myself sometimes having to choose between what seemed to me to be two somewhat plausible alternatives. While, old AC still did okay, he did miss a few more than usual, and, therefore, was not told to go to the head of the class. Sniff. Perhaps that's partly due to the fact that some 1948 words aren't used as much these days, but I think that it was more because the definition choices were somewhat difficult. To me, there were frequently two choices that seemed somewhat reasonable.
I then picked up another issue of RD and found a current vocabulary quiz. Because I was called to my appointment before I completed the task, I can't report my final stunning score, but let's just say I was finding it rather easy and was rolling along in fine form. You see, nowadays, or at least in this particular edition, the reader was only offered three choices, and if one had any level of familiarity with the word, s/he was almost bound to come up with the correct answer. That's because two of the three possibilities weren't even close to being correct. Instead of four choices in 1948 when two were at least somewhat plausible, the modern reader only had to select from three alternatives, thereby increasing his/her chances of being correct. To repeat, the choices also seemed easier to me.
So, why the dumbing down? It's just the way it is. Having been through schools myself and then taught in them for three decades, I can report that it's generally now easier to obtain a B average, for example, than it used to be. That doesn't mean that modern students are learning less. In some areas they may be, but in other areas they are certainly ahead of earlier generations: perhaps in critical thinking, creativity, social awareness, and oral presentations, for example. However, I think it's also fair to say that the average contemporary student would pull down higher grades than the average student of earlier generations.
Perhaps I am generalizing too broadly, however; perhaps it's a North American phenomenon. I say that because when I watch British television, for example, I usually find their mystery plots much more complex than in our North American counterparts. Our mysteries really seemed to be dumbed down in comparison. I don't know why, for I rather think that we're just as sharp on this side of the pond as they (or you, for some readers) are over there.
I'm not particularly going anywhere with these paltry observations. I don't have any tangibly perspicacious conclusions to offer. It's just what I noticed this morning and thought that I'd mention it. It's good to be challenged a little after all, and I didn't really mind scoring 16/20 rather than getting an almost perfect result. If anything, it challenged me to try a second quiz, and that can't really be a bad thing. Can it?