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Pinker on the Ubiquitous ‘Kids These Days’

I’ve written before about the line I use whenever people my age start blathering on about how much better things were when we were growing up: “Even the nostalgia was better in the old days.” Steven Pinker hammers this near-universal idea in an interview.

Having once been a young person myself, I remember the vilification that was hurled at us baby boomers by the older generation. This reminds me that it is a failing of human nature to detest anything that young people do just because older people are not used to it or have trouble learning it. So I am wary of the “young people suck” school of social criticism. I have no patience for the idea that because texting and tweeting force one to be brief, we’re going to lose the ability to express ourselves in full sentences and paragraphs. This simply misunderstands the way that human language works. All of us command a variety of registers and speech styles, which we narrowcast to different forums. We speak differently to our loved ones than we do when we are lecturing, and still differently when we are approaching a stranger. And so, too, we have a style that is appropriate for texting and instant messaging that does not necessarily infect the way we communicate in other forums. In the heyday of telegraphy, when people paid by the word, they left out the prepositions and articles. It didn’t mean that the English language lost its prepositions and articles; it just meant that people used them in some media and not in others. And likewise, the prevalence of texting and tweeting does not mean that people magically lose the ability to communicate in every other conceivable way…

The most tempting and common answer is the thoughtless one: “The kids today are worse.” It’s tempting because people often confuse changes in themselves with changes in the times, and changes in the times with moral and intellectual decline. This is a well-documented psychological phenomenon. Every generation thinks that the younger generation is dissolute, lazy, ignorant, and illiterate. There is a paper trail of professors complaining about the declining quality of their students that goes back at least 100 years. All this means that your question is one that people should think twice before answering. I know a lot more now than I did when I was a student, and thanks to the curse of knowledge, I may not realize that I have acquired most of it during the decades that have elapsed since I was a student. So it’s tempting to look at students and think, “What a bunch of inarticulate ignoramuses! It was better when I was at that age, a time when I and other teenagers spoke in fluent paragraphs, and we effortlessly held forth on the foundations of Western civilization.” Yeah, right.

Here is a famous experiment. A 3-year-old comes into the lab. You give him a box of M&Ms. He opens up the box and instead of finding candy he finds a tangle of ribbons. He is surprised, and now you say to him, “OK, now your friend Jason is going to come into the room. What will Jason think is in the box?” The child says, “ribbons,” even though Jason could have no way of knowing that. And, if you ask the child, “Before you opened the box, what did you think was in it?” They say, “ribbons.” That is, they backdate their own knowledge. Now we laugh at the 3-year-old, but we do the same thing. We backdate our own knowledge and sophistication, so we always think that the kids today are more slovenly than we were at that age.

Yep. When you catch yourself saying such things, unless you’re just joking around, you really need to stop and think. No, the world wasn’t better when you were younger and the kids these days aren’t worse than we were. Your parents said the same dumb thing about you and their parents said it about them and so on, ad infinitum. Somewhere 4 billion years ago the prokaryotes were complaining about those damn eukaryotes and how badly they dressed. Just stop.

Comments

  1. says

    Seriously, my kids have it way better than I did — better computers, better telecommunications, more choices for watching TV & movies, instant access to music & movies, better access to books via digital delivery, email, social networking, free software, etc etc etc. I could only dream about this stuff when i was a kid, or read about in SF novels or see it on Star Trek episodes. I don’t even necessarily think “my” music from the 70s is better than today’s music, there is a hell of a lot of great music out there by young musicians, and it’s so much easier for aspiring musicians to get their music heard.

  2. says

    Somewhere 4 billion years ago the prokaryotes were complaining about those damn eukaryotes and how badly they dressed.

    That’s a great line.

  3. marcus says

    I have read several of Steven Pinker’s books and have found them all fascinating and thought-provoking, particularly his books on language and linguistic development.

  4. eric says

    “Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teacher.”

    -The Clouds, written by Aristophanes in 423 BC.

  5. scienceavenger says

    While I agree with the general thrust of Pinker’s point, and #2 above, I think there is more to the traditional view than he gives it credit for. Each generation is to a large extent more “dissolute, lazy, ignorant, and illiterate”, and “has it so easy”, not in an absolute sense, but as measured by the yardstick of life for the older generation. This is a GOOD thing, it’s a sign of progress. For example, current generations can’t tell you much above the phases of the moon and what it means like older generations could. They don’t need to, because we all have clocks all around us and don’t all live on farms. This is GOOD. Kids today don’t plan their activities as well in advance as we did, because of cell phones they don’t have to. This is GOOD. It’s akin to when cars were invented and the importance of horsemanship declined. The old farts complaining that “kids these days” don’t know how to handle a horse were making the mistake of not changing their standards with the times.

    I tell my kids all the time that they live in the greatest time to be alive ever, and I remind my parents that however nostalgic they get for “the good ol days”, I notice they aren’t making any effort to live like they did back then with their rotary phones, TV antennas, etc. This point is even more emphatic for women and minorities.

  6. beezlebubby says

    My ivory tower view is that while colleges are reporting that freshmen are coming to us less well-prepared than in the past in terms of basic writing, reading, and math skills, I’m not clear that it’s really more true now than it was 20 years ago. There has always been a small cohort who are under-prepared and require remediation. That being said, my observation is that the college students of today are far better-enabled than my cohort from a generation ago, which only means that we ask and expect so much more out of them than we did a generation ago. I can’t believe the awesomeness of the students I meet these days, and I can say emphatically that their moral development easily exceed that of my own generation. “Those kids” are so damned polite that I keep having to asking them to stop calling me “Sir”. Still, I’m green with envy that they have Excel. I spent HOURS writing lab reports, most of it doing calculations and plotting goddamned graphs.

  7. zippythepinhead says

    I remember when the kids were smart as monkeys, but now they’re dumb as chimps.

  8. says

    Back in my day, we had to work to find boobies. Now they’re so easy to see that the kids these days can’t even appreciate them like we did.

  9. brucegee1962 says

    I just finished reading a whole bunch of essays written by college freshmen on the topic, “With all of the information and entertainment that is available on the internet today, will there continue to be any demand for books in the future?” A fair majority of them wrote in response that, no, they saw no use for books in their own lives, and they foresaw a continually declining demand for them in the future as their generation moved forward.

    They’re probably right. And I couldn’t really say that I believe giving up on books makes you stupider. For that matter, I read far fewer books than I did twenty or thirty years ago, for a variety of reasons, including the internet. Nevertheless, I can’t say that these essays made me feel optimistic about the future of intellectual discourse.

  10. Numenaster says

    Eric, thanks for the full quote. I just wrote it up on my white board with the preface “How long ago was the following text written?” and the actual number under a sticky note. In 5 minutes I’ve had two people stop, read, look, and marvel. I hope they remember too.

  11. Shatterface says

    I might have more sympathy with the view kids are going to hell in a hand cart if it wasn’t coming from people who whinge when their casual racism, sexism and homophobia is challenged by those same ‘kids’.

  12. lpetrich says

    eric #6, I looked for that quotation in an online copy of a translation of that play, and I couldn’t find it. There are lots of such quotes floating out, and I would *not* want to use one unless it can be sourced.

    Here’s a sourced one, from Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale (1623). The shepherd says:

    I would there were no age between sixteen and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting…

  13. says

    In the 70s:

    “It’s your generation that started all the drug problems”.
    “Nice try, Pop, but we got a lot of good drugs out of YOUR medicine cabinets”.

  14. eric says

    @7 – I think that kinda misses the point. Kids today are no more ill-mannered or lazy than their parents because we are forgetting how ill-mannered and lazy we were back then. When we remember our past selves, that memory is constructed – and the pieces our brain uses to construct that image are largely taken from our (understanding of our) current selves.

    Now I think it’s great that they are growing up with all these marvelous technological innovations we didn’t have. But in terms of day-to-day labor, I don’t think they have it any easier than us, because societal expectations keep up with capabilities. I heard a science snippet the other day that kind of encapsulates this “arms race:” a few decades ago, a grad student would spend their years and write their thesis on determining a single crystal structure. Now, that is one day’s labor. But guess what? You don’t get your Ph.D. for one day’s labor just because you accomplished in one day what it took grandpa five years to do. No, you still work 12-hour days for several years. Grad school hours and the amount of years you’re expected to work haven’t changed. Likewise with high school and other areas of life. Our kids have tools that let them accomplish (some) tasks faster and easier than what we could accomplish. Heck, faster than what we could imagine. That doesn’t mean they do what we did and take the extra time off, however. It means they are now expected to accomplish more tasks in the same amount of time. As labor gets more productive, amount of labor per person stays the same, we just expect ever-increasing amounts of productivity.

  15. grumpyoldfart says

    I still laugh every time I see a teenager with his pants down below his arse. It’s the dopiest (and funniest) fashion ever.

  16. AsqJames says

    Two of my favourite quotes on a similar theme:

    I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
    1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
    2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
    3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

    – Douglas Adams The Salmon of Doubt

    The shortest-lived creatures on the Disc were mayflies, which barely make it through twenty-four hours. Two of the oldest zigzagged aimlessly over the waters of a trout stream, discussing history with some younger members of the evening hatching.
    “You don’t get the kind of sun now that you used to get, “ said one of them.
    “You’re right there. We had proper sun in the good old hours. It were all yellow. None of this red stuff.”
    “It were higher, too.”
    “It was. You’re right.”
    “And nymphs and larvae showed you a bit of respect.”
    “They did. They did,” said the other mayfly vehemently.
    “I reckon, if mayflies these hours behaved a bit better, we’d still be having proper sun.”
    The younger mayflies listened politely.
    “I remember, “ said one of the oldest mayflies, “when all this was fields, as far as you could see.”
    The younger mayflies looked around.
    “It’s still fields,” one of them ventured, after a polite interval.
    “I remember when it was better fields,” said the old mayfly sharply.
    “Yeah, “ said his colleague. “And there was a cow.”
    “That’s right! You’re right! I remember that cow! Stood right over there for, oh, forty, fifty minutes. It was brown, as I recall.”
    “You don’t get cows like that these hours.”
    “You don’t get cows at all.”
    “What’s a cow?” said one of the hatchlings.
    “See?” said the oldest mayfly triumphantly. “That’s modern Ephemeroptera for you.”

    – Terry Pratchett Reaper Man

  17. says

    grumpyoldfart “I still laugh every time I see a teenager with his pants down below his arse. It’s the dopiest (and funniest) fashion ever.”
    Now look at photos from your high school years*, blush, then go to the fridge and pour yourself a tall, cool glass of Shut-the-Fuck-Up.

     
    * Example: Mullets, rat tails, big big big teased bangs, acid wash denim, parachute pants, shoulder pads, fringed t-shirts, white framed Ray-bans or “shutter” sunglasses, day-glo colored everything,…

  18. Alverant says

    But then thanks to kids these days we got Justin Beiber so maybe the “kids are worse” claim has some merit.

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  20. John Horstman says

    This reminds me that it is a failing of human nature to detest anything that young people do just because older people are not used to it or have trouble learning it.

    Though I reject this essentialism. It is not part of some universal human nature at all, it’s just that people who DON’T detest what young people do/like have no reason to speak out about that fact (at least not until some asshat starts disparaging kids these days). It’s just part of a conservative (as in wanting to conserve what was, not it’s present political use meaning trying to return us to a world that only ever existed in the fantasies of contemporary Conservatives) tendency in many people, but certainly not all people. I know plenty of (older) people who think most of what kids these days are doing is awesome.

  21. John Horstman says

    Also, college students are turning in unintelligible papers with greater frequency, though I think this has more to do with budget cuts for public education over the most recent decades than with Twitter.

  22. John Horstman says

    @beezlebubby #8: It really is true – enrollment in remedial courses (below the 100 level) has exploded. The assessment tests haven’t changed much (in design; obviously the specific questions change every time), but a greater proportion of students are testing into remedial classes. As I said in the previous comment, cuts to public education funding (and increasing direct attacks on comprehensive curricula by the Right wing – both those who identify as Republicans and Democrats) are the most likely culprit. The only portion I’d be tempted to attribute to the rise of the internet is that a greater proportion of the things people read have not been reviewed by editors for compliance with normative writing conventions (as most traditionally-published written works are), providing a greater potential for adoption of malapropisms and ‘incorrect’ spellings, punctuation, etc. into the norms of everyday writing.

  23. says

    wanye smith “my name is waynei really want to share my testimony on how i became an Illuminati member…”
    You kids these days and your leaving get rich quick schemes on blogs. Back in my day, we had to stand on soap boxes on sidewalks and shout our get rich quick schemes!

  24. ludicrous says

    KIds these days are being royally fucked over by the absurd costs of education. Kids these days, if they are able to borrow themselves thru four years, end up indentured servants. .

  25. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    I still laugh every time I see a teenager with his pants down below his arse.

    This really is an uncommonly stupid fashion trend.

  26. Numenaster says

    Regarding BruceGee at #11, ” “With all of the information and entertainment that is available on the internet today, will there continue to be any demand for books in the future?” is a question about the format of information, not the need for it. You’d probably get a similar answer if you asked whether there will be a demand for magazines. But it’s not books that are essential for discourse, it’s knowledge, writing or speaking ability, and a forum. Well, and moderation: otherwise all the discourse turns into Youtube comments.

  27. says

    There are things that were ‘better in my day’ and there are things that are better today. When I was a kid, I played with homemade explosives and launched trashcans in my backyard. I was organizing school protests and walk-outs. By the time my little sister was that age, she’d have been expelled/arrested for doing such things. I have a much greater love of science and a far greater willingness to be politically involved than she does.

    But by the time my sister was that age, bullying was starting to be taken seriously in school. I used to come home with horrific bruises on my developing chest and was told ‘boys will be boys’ and ‘oh he just likes you’. She dropped the phrases ‘sexual assault’ and ‘legal liability’ and the school put an immediate halt to what was happening.

    Step forward, step back, and the steps are different everywhere.

    I nearly got arrested for dating a black man as a teenager. My younger cousin is dating a black man and while she still takes some crap for it, those giving her crap are generally seen as in the wrong and the ones engaged in shameful behavior. At my first convention, it was just assumed I was there to be a sexual object for basement dwelling anti-social neckbeards. Now, if I go to a convention, I’m just assumed to be a fake geek girl and some minor effort is made to cater to me. So… progress?

    I maintain that Saturday morning cartoons were way better in my day though.

  28. philhoenig says

    People who say that you can’t say something profound on Twitter because the messages are so brief need to read some good haikus. It’s possible to evoke a lot in a few words.

  29. Numenaster says

    A haiku can be profound, but it’s not the venue for setting out a complex chain of reasoning. Especially if you want to include the evidence for the links in the chain.

  30. psanity says

    Regarding the deteriorating writing skills of Youth Today, I have a yardstick for this: I read papers for a university professor from about 1968-1995. At the beginning, almost all papers were typewritten (some were in longhand). As word processors came into use, we noticed that the quality of word-processed papers was noticeably worse then typewritten ones, which at first made no sense to us. Then, we figured that it was because a typewriter-using student was very alert for errors, because of the necessity of re-typing a whole page if they screwed something up. This “crossover” period in technology lasted over a decade, and the more students were using computers to write, the more their spelling, and especially syntax, suffered. The problem was that they thought the computer was magic and would do their thinking and proofreading for them. By the late 90’s, the sharpest students were turning off spellcheck (and the even more horrifying grammar check), and learning to use them as tools they made decisions about, rather than as magic thinking replacements. But, it’s also true that these were the years in which public education in CA was dying the death of a thousand cuts, so the overall quality dive was only partly due to technology.

    I have worked in youth development programs (serving teens) for most of the last two decades, and I am in constant awe of how intelligent, engaged, energetic, and competent kids are.

    Oh, and MO, I will have you know that I can look at my high school photos without fear. I dress exactly the same now as I did then — like a sort of bohemian academic six-year-old. Either I lucked out finding a style that suits me early, or I’m just a stick-in-the-mud.

  31. doublereed says

    This always drives me crazy. It makes me angry when people say such things.

    Our generation is smarter, harder-working, more politically active, more social, more technological, and more sexy than any generation ever before. We value intelligence above all else. We commit less crime. We have less teen pregnancy. We actually think about our relationships, marriage, and careers in practical terms a lot more than the previous generations. We are less religious. We have better sex.

    We are better than them in basically every way. And they dare look down on us. The reason we have massive student loans is because they were too dumb, apathetic, and corrupt to do anything about it for the last twenty years. Bunch of selfish, stupid, old fogies if you ask me.

  32. brianl says

    @18 You should count your blessings that you don’t have a family portrait of yourself in a green leisure suit. Not all of us made it through the 70s as unscathed.

    Also, there is a magnificent image of Martin Landau and Barbara Bain I came across in a magazine in a special collection I was cataloging years ago. He was in a brown suede Nehru jacket and she was in a white polyester jumpsuit with cut out circles in a variety of interesting locations. I have no doubt when it was taken, there was not a more fashionable couple anywhere on the planet, but by the time it was published it was already on route to questionable taste.

  33. carlie says

    There is also simply more to know. I have a college level genetics textbook from the late 1950s that has less information in it than my kid learns in freshman year bio. Our kids might not be able to diagram sentences, but they can tell you how information is transferred from parents to offspring and what DNA looks like and how it works.

  34. eric says

    @12 and @14 – I must unfortunately apologize, as @14 made me look further into my quote @6 and it appears to be a common misquote. See, for more information, here or here. Sorry to all.

  35. dingojack says

    lpetrich – who knew Shakespeare travelled through the Bible Belt?*

    doublereed – first four: citation required. Five: and people sweat more now than they did in the Little Ice Age (could it be that it’s hotter now?). Six and seven: Citation required. Eight: and in the 1980″s (apparently the epoch in which MO is stuck) those who grew up in the 1960’s could say them same. So what? More police surveillance doesn’t reflect on your generation’s moral (or physical) characteristics, does it. Nine: less teen pregnancy (I suppose the Bible Belt folks are No True Scotsman then) could this because there are more options available now? (And why would that be, I wonder?) Not really saying much. Ten: citations required for each. Eleven: a trend that is more that a generation in length. Again, not saying much. Twelve: Citation required.
    Overall: F (Should do better).
    :( Dingo
    ———–
    plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose
    [The proverb is of French origin and was used by the French novelist Alphonse Karr (1808-90) [Les Guêpes, January 1849]. It also appears in George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Revolutionist’s Handbook’ (1903). Listed in the 1946 ‘Macmillan (Home) Book of Proverbs, Maxims and Familiar Phrases’ by Burton Stevenson and in the 1992 ‘Dictionary of American Proverbs’ by Wolfgang Mieder et al.” From “Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings” by Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996).]

  36. dingojack says

    “The older generations cling to their old appalling ways; while the new generation strikes out to find new ways to appal.” – Dingo
    :s

  37. had3 says

    What I wouldn’t give to find a copy of Rod McKuen’s song “Le bourgeois,” that traces the life of three friends who mock their elders until they too are mocked by insolent youth.

  38. Ichthyic says

    No, the world wasn’t better when you were younger and the kids these days aren’t worse than we were.

    sometimes you’re not paranoid though, and someone really is following you.

    you can convince yourself of anything, really. But in fact, the world in many ways IS worse than when we were kids.

    my dad’s generation was the last generation to have things better than the previous generation did. Even he admitted as much when he started to really think about it.

    try to buy a house lately?

    make a career for yourself?

    hell, ever even try to go fishing?

    it all really boils down to one thing: with every generation, there are more people in the world, and fewer resources to share between them all. We maximized our ability to exploit those resources around 30 years ago, but the population has still kept on growing

    don’t bullshit yourself, resource-wise, things are not better in most ways than they were when you were a kid. they never will be again.

    sure, you can focus on social progress, and that for sure in many ways, especially in the US, has improved.

    but there really IS something real in comparing the way life is now vs the way life was a few decades back.

    It’s not just a fiction of the mind.

    … now get the fuck off my lawn.

  39. Ichthyic says

    I maintain that Saturday morning cartoons were way better in my day though.

    some of them were. the original Bugs still kicks ass over most of the stuff you see today.

    it’s a lousy metric though, as some are actually quite a bit better (looking at the 90s and early 00s) than they were in the 60’s and 70’s.

    Example: Spongebob is actually a pretty decent kids show.

    Speed Racer and Kimba were terrible in comparison, even though I recall loving them when I was under 10.

    but really…. saturday morning cartoons are kind of a dead issue anyway these days. hell, the Simpsons is a prime-time cartoon that has how many decades under its belt now? almost 3 isn’t it?

  40. Ichthyic says

    you know, instead of asking Pinker what he thinks about the issue, I would recommend a much better source.

    go ask secondary school teachers that have been teaching for at least 25 years what their thoughts on the issue are.

    I’ve spoken to many that retired early because they saw a serious degradation in the interest in learning in the kids they taught.

    they have had direct experience watching generations of kids come and go. I’d take what they have to say on the issue with far more interest than what Pinker has to say any day.

  41. Ichthyic says

    There is a paper trail of professors complaining about the declining quality of their students that goes back at least 100 years. All this means that your question is one that people should think twice before answering. I know a lot more now than I did when I was a student, and thanks to the curse of knowledge, I may not realize that I have acquired most of it during the decades that have elapsed since I was a student.

    this is an apples-oranges comparison.

    he is comparing a fixed observation point: someone who has taught at the same school for decades; vs a moving observation point: himself as he has learned things over the years.

    sorry, but that doesn’t work. this is very sloppy thinking on Pinker’s part.

  42. martinc says

    Judging the modern generation on their ability to write an essay is to use a standard that does not have equal importance for each generation. How would we older people fare – as a generation in toto, so please do not refute by anecdote – if the standard test for intelligence was how well you can program the functionality on an iPhone?

    Funny thing, even that comparison is getting out-of-date. I used to illustrate the same principle by pointing out that no-one asks wise old Grandpa how to program the VCR.

  43. julial says

    toujours la meme chose
    But not really. Modern recording technologies have made it much harder to lie to the children about how we behaved when we were their ages. The days when adults could tell the kids how perfect we were are gone. Way back, children had to believe parents because there weren’t videos to prove otherwise. As a result they would rebel at that level to differentiate themselves. After all, the purpose of adolescence is to break up the family and form new ones to spread the society. Parents and youngsters have to hate each other, temporarily. Too much cooperation holds the families together. Now that they know exactly how their parents behaved, youth are forced to ratchet up the weirdness each generation to make their own mark.

    Some marks are harder to cover up than others. Hairdos of the 70s are easy to cut and bell bottoms or baggy pants are simple to discard but piercings are harder and tatoos even harder to to get rid of. I don’t think that the young of today who are getting body art understand how they will be objects of derision by their own offspring when their times come.

  44. John Casey says

    My children are less racist (approaching zero as a limit) than I am, and I am less racist than my parents were.

    There is progress in some things.

  45. escuerd says

    Ichthyic @ 50:

    he is comparing a fixed observation point: someone who has taught at the same school for decades; vs a moving observation point: himself as he has learned things over the years.

    Not sure where you are getting that. It seems to me that he’s claiming that professors have been complaining about students for a long time, and that the perception of declining quality may have more to do with changes to the observer than with the younger generation actually being worse in some substantial way. I doubt it’s going much out on a limb to think that most professors (teaching at the same university for a long time or not) continue to learn and change over time and that their perception of the quality of students might not be completely reliable.

    go ask secondary school teachers that have been teaching for at least 25 years what their thoughts on the issue are.

    I’ve spoken to many that retired early because they saw a serious degradation in the interest in learning in the kids they taught.

    That doesn’t sound like a representative sample, and even if it were, it wouldn’t address the claim that this perception reflects a quirk of human psychology rather than a real trend.

  46. Alex says

    I currently teach advanced undergrads in GER, and I honestly think that they are better prepared and informed than my cohort was 12 years ago, in the day before the wikipedias and facebooks. Actually, school and university have become more difficult to manage in the meantime because there is less time for more material, and they are forced to be more pragmatic with what they devote time to. This shows a bit, but it’s not their fault.

    Alverant @ 21

    But then thanks to kids these days we got Justin Beiber so maybe the “kids are worse” claim has some merit.

    Sorry, you don’t get to illustrate the cultural decline of today’s youth with J. Bieber if you can’t even manage to spell him correctly.

  47. Ichthyic says

    Not sure where you are getting that.

    There is a paper trail of professors complaining about the declining quality of their students that goes back at least 100 years.

    this contains both a reference to a long history, and an obvious reference to long standing teachers with the use of the word “declining”.

    he is noting a long history of professors regaling the declining quality of their students within their own teaching histories, not a history of a continuing decline of students.

    it’s very clear.

  48. Ichthyic says

    it wouldn’t address the claim that this perception reflects a quirk of human psychology rather than a real trend

    if you don’t think it a good population to sample, what WOULD you think would be a good population to sample?

    because right now, you are relying purely on the authority of one man… Pinker.

  49. laurentweppe says

    Every generation spends more than 30 years to take the reins of power from their parents, then fight tooth and nail to keep these from their own kids.

  50. Ichthyic says

    Every generation spends more than 30 years to take the reins of power from their parents, then fight tooth and nail to keep these from their own kids.

    my generation failed then.

    Grandpa still rules the roost.

  51. escuerd says

    he is noting a long history of professors regaling the declining quality of their students within their own teaching histories, not a history of a continuing decline of students.

    Sure. And I don’t think that the point is that every teacher who has made this claim about their teaching history is wrong, but that the perception by teachers that the quality of their students has declined relative to students at some point in the past doesn’t necessarily mean it’s so.

    if you don’t think it a good population to sample, what WOULD you think would be a good population to sample?

    Students. Not the ones you happen to know, and not for their opinions on the matter. Test them on the skills you think are changing over time. See if there’s a change. But yeah, it depends on the precise claim you want to assess. The reported opinions of people that one person knows who became frustrated enough with their school to retire early isn’t really more compelling than someone else’s anecdata.

  52. escuerd says

    jonathangray @52:

    So…?

    All I see is that the kids who apply to elite schools these days aren’t as steeped in classical languages, and literature as they were in the 19th century. Admittedly, though, now that English is de facto the most important international language, people in anglophone countries probably slack off a bit more on language study. That’s unfortunate.

    As for the math portion, does anyone really think that modern applicants to Harvard would have all that much trouble with most of it? Archaic units (rods? Ew.) and terms (vulgar fractions) notwithstanding, the questions all seem like something that a bright high school sophomore could answer with a little bit of time.

    It’s not clear how much time was allotted, but it also appears that applicants weren’t even necessarily expected to finish all of the questions given that applicants for advanced standing were allowed to omit the answers to certain questions. My guess (and please let me know if this is incorrect) would be that this was a test that was meant to act as both a filter and a sorting mechanism for incoming students, and that the people who made it realized that it sorting tools are most useful if the majority of admittees aren’t hitting the floor or the ceiling.

    I think it’s worth noting that throughout most of the 20th century, there was actually a secular increase in raw scores on the various tests collectively labeled IQ tests (I think they needed to be renormed every decade or so to correct for the higher mean). There may be at least a grain of truth to the “kids are getting dumber” narrative in that this trend may be petering out or even reversing, and that it may have been a short-term trend masking a longer-term one in the other direction.

  53. says

    Kids are dumber today.

    I have not met anyone under the age of 30 who can dig a straight sided cesspit;X; hew a log to a squared timber with a roughing adze; make a reasonably straight furrow with a mule and a steel moldboard blow or, for that matter, shoe the mule.

    They’re idjits!

    OTOH, I don’t know ANYBODY who can do those things, mostly because they don’t need to.

    I play trivia every Tuesday and I’m twice the age of anyone else on my team (at least). We win more often than not and the reason is that I often know more about ancient history (anything prior to 1975) than they do. I am often asked how I know so much and I always tell them the same thing. I’ve been reading books for almost 60 years and watching video for nearly as long. My memory process is not volitional, it just happens. This means that I can remember obscure and arcane trivia but not remember to pay the intertoobz bill on time.

    I do not envy today’s youth, I did not think everyone my parents age was an idiot. I think that we live in our own realities and some people are uncomfortable with the notion that their reality is not universal.

  54. doublereed says

    @44 dingojack

    Certainly.
    Most of those claims come from the GOP’s study of the millennial generation. You can find it here:
    http://images.skem1.com/client_id_32089/Grand_Old_Party_for_a_Brand_New_Generation.pdf

    Except for “sexy.” That’s a self evident thing.

    The teen pregnancy, crime, and religion are all generational trends that are easy enough to google. Nonetheless true. As Greta Christina points out in her Do Atheists Have Better Sex article, religion correlates strongly with having better sex.

    If you want me to grab the citations I can, but is that sufficient? I probably won’t be a computer for a little while.

  55. eric says

    my generation failed then.

    Grandpa still rules the roost.

    Yep, I think there is definitely a geographical and temporally local trend here towards older people in charge (in the US…in the 21st century). I see this as being due to two factors; better health and prosperity in the 50s-70s has lead to people being economically active longer. IOW people today don’t die or retire as early as their grandparents. The second factor is the postwar baby boom; there’s just a lot more people in the 40’s-60’s generation than there were in earlier generations. So of course that means less places for the ’60s-’80s children to take over.

    But I think that’s local and doesn’t really speak to long-term historical trends. Many other countries, for instance, have the opposite of the baby-boom problem; they are struggilng with unusually large cohorts of young people. As a local problem, it doesn’t really say much about whether today’s “kids these days”
    grumps have a legit point or are just suffering from selective memory/confirmation bias. IMO the case today is that US corporate and business leaders ARE older, but it’s still true that when we fogeys complain about young people not being as competent, we are just suffering from selective memory.

  56. says

    I do not envy today’s youth

    Neither do I. They have to be teenagers in a world where both texting and driving exist and it seems like everybody does both at the same time, things you say/do on the internet never go away, and you can be convicted of child porn by sharing nude photos of yourself.

    And your dating pool is full of guys who wear their pants below their ass.

    That’s a fate I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

  57. jonathangray says

    escuerd:

    So…?

    All I see is that the kids who apply to elite schools these days aren’t as steeped in classical languages, and literature as they were in the 19th century

    “All?” If a degree of familiarity with classical languages and literature has ceased to be a part of what it means to be an educated man, a thread connecting our age with the two preceding ages has snapped. How can that not be a civilisational catastrophe?

  58. Ichthyic says

    Students.

    by what metric? it’s a moving target, just like Pinker is describing himself.

    are you trying to say teachers don’t have an objective metric to use to judge their own student classes by?

    i find that laughable, just like I find Pinker’s analogy laughable.

    Pinker has a point about an individual maturing in their information content over time, but it simply is NOT applicable to someone who is teaching the same courses for decades.

  59. Merlin says

    As the son of a primary school educator, I can relate things that I have heard my parent say, as well as why they are choosing to retire when they are.

    Its not the kids. You see, the situation surrounding kids gets slightly worse, and slightly better, depending on their income bracket, but my parent’s statement is that the children are the same. Some good, some with issues that schools cannot handle, but largely the same.
    Its not the teaching methods and standards. My parent is quite happy with the improving landscape of teaching techniques and standardization of Core Curriculum.. Also, RtI (Response to Intervention) makes me positively jealous of today’s kids. My parent has more tools to address the issues before them than ever before.
    It is politics. Both the internal politics of administration favoring later grade levels over primary schools, the sexism that exists even in quite liberal school districts, and the idiocy of the school board concept, as well as state and federal politics continually beating up their profession for cheap political points, often assigning higher ups who are not educators and have never been educators to head departments. Don’t get either of us started on the cuts to education. Those cuts are like starving a horse and then beating it when it cannot summon the energy to gallop.
    It is parents. The adults today hover and micromanage and over-protect their kids to an utterly foolish extent. I include grandparents in this, as many children are being raised by their grandparents. There is an arrogance to the adults, as if since they made it through 3rd grade, they know everything about educating children. It is hard for them to accept that school has changed since they were last in it.

    So, in short, before saying (or implying) the generation after you is stupid, lazy, uneducated, or any other denigration, please remember that it your generation and the ones prior who educated and raised them. This is your handiwork you are so callously casting aside.

  60. whheydt says

    RE: Telegrams…
    One of the ore famous “how much information can be crammed into a minimal message” is one that wasn’t actually sent (but which makes such a good story that is often claimed to have been0.

    Gen. Charles Napier on subduing rebels in a chunk of what is now Pakistan by conquering the area is (falsely) reputed to have sent a telegram saying “Peccavi” using his school-boy Latin. (It means “I have sinned {Sindh)”.)

    In partial defense of the thesis that “things were better….”, my father had truly beautiful handwriting. In addition, in high school he took French, Latin and Greek. I don’t think you’ll find that very common now (and one could argue about where such a course of study is “better” or not…). It’d be great if I could ask his opinion of all this, but if he were alive today he’d be 104.

    Once all is said and done though, here is an example of seeing a deplorable trend and making something positive out of it… Eben Upton, after observing the decline in actual knowledge of computing shown on the applications to the Cambridge University IT program, and deciding to do something to try to reverse the trend, invented the Raspberry Pi.

  61. whheydt says

    Re: Merlin @ #72.

    I can honestly state that I have been startled this year by the amount of academic material that my grandson has been getting in kindergarten. There is a whole lot more reading and math than I remember taking place that early. There is more such teaching taking place than I remember from when my kids were that age as well. (And I think it’s a good thing.)

  62. dingojack says

    Doublereed – so we can count that as ‘no sources (at all) available’ then.

    whheydt – A contributor to the satirical magazine Punch, one Miss Winkler (aged 17) was the source of your amusing anecdote (sources should be cited).

    Dingo

  63. says

    “And your dating pool is full of guys who wear their pants below their ass.”

    My dating pool which did not contain any men was drained a LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG time ago.

  64. dingojack says

    doublereed – “… And I would have got away with it too if it weren’t for you meddling kids…”
    :) Dingo

  65. doublereed says

    You should at least read the GOP report on the millennials. It runs through most of my claims and is quite comprehensive.

  66. doublereed says

    And violent crime and teen pregnancy is easy enough to google. I’m just going to give you links from google.

    There’s no need for you to be such a dick because you don’t know generational trends and moderation is apparently eternal purgatory.

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