Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Dumbing It Down

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?


Bernie said...

A/C I am not sure I care that we North Americans are "dumbing down" I think we all have so much more to offer this world and by challenging ourselves we can only better ourselves. I too do those word quizes in RD. I rather enjoy this monthly magazine and find I always learn something new, and yes there have been times I have laughed out loud with their printed humor, other times not so much. Have a great day my friend:-)

Donna said...

When Hollywood makes remakes of the remakes because the writers can't "think" of any new plots...there's a problem Houston!!
Dumb & Dumber? Good Lord!

Mary G said...

I hadn't noticed the change in the RD word quizzes; I guess I just thought I was getting smarter.
Hold the laughter, please.
I think the generation just achieving escape from being taught is more fluent in spoken language (in spite of, like, like) and more aware of the world around them. And I think this is good.
But I could have done without all the sword fights and other massed mayhem in TLOTR movies - I liked them, but I have to categorize them as an adolescent boy's version, made by a perpetual adolescent.

Ruth said...

I agree that fewer words are used in the spoken and written media these days. However, I noticed that our daughters' high school biology courses were at the same level as I studied in university 25 years earlier. Knowledge has increased exponentially in some areas. For instance, my text books had nothing about genetic and DNA typing.

Mary said...


I do know that Brandon was taught things in grades 7 and 8 that I didn't learn until high school. Kids today are very intelligent and learn a lot off of tv. The boys like to watch National Geographic, The Learning Channel and Discovery.

Thanks for commenting on my post for tonight. Your name has been entered into the draw.


jinksy said...

Each and every quiz we do keeps our grey cells on tip toe, so can never be a bad thing!

Diana said...

Hi AC,
Probably because attention spans are not as long as they used to be especially when it comes to holding something other than a computer in ones hands. If it takes to long people move on!
Love Di

KGMom said...

I think all of our transcripts should be accordingly altered--all my Bs should now be As.
HA--and that D in chemistry I got? Well, just make that a C, or a B. And now I will apply to med school, as I originally intended.