The “Dumbing Down” of America

Dumbing AmericaWhen opinions and speculations are preferred over science and real facts


There is a growing and disturbing trend of ignorant elitism in American culture. It’s the dismissal of common sense, morality, and humility replaced by celebrity, entertainment, self-righteousness, ignorance,  smug gullibility, and a strange sense of “exceptionalism.” As Americans have gotten dummer, they continue to perceive themselves as smarter.

US Math Performance

Dumbness in America has been in a steady process of being redefined. Idiocy has infected this culture through a multi-pronged attack from schools, churches, Hollywood, news media, and government. This comes through video culture which has enjoyed preference over print culture; a disjunction between Americans’ rising level of controlled formal education which has left them with a devaluation of basics, including math, philosophy, geography, science and history.

There has been a long tradition of mental assault in America. There is a cult of ignorance in the United States. It is often equated with “Americanism.” The strain of mental laziness and prejudice has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy empowers my ignorance so that it is just as good as your knowledge.

A whole generation of youth is being dumbed down by their aversion to reading anything of substance and their addiction to digital “crap” via social media.

Journalist Charles Pierce, author of Idiot America, adds another perspective: “The rise of idiot America today represents–for profit mainly, but also and more cynically, for political advantage in the pursuit of power–the breakdown of a consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is a good. It also represents the ascendancy of the notion that the people whom we should trust the least are the people who best know what they are talking about. In the new media age, everybody is an expert.”

We don’t educate people anymore. We train them to follow popular culture and secure positions in corporations. Value in doing the right thing has been replaced by value in “getting ahead” in competition.

Part of what’s causing America’s mental decline can be found in the declining state of education in the U.S. compared to other advanced countries:

  • After leading the world for decades in 25-34 year olds with university degrees, the U.S. is now in 12th place. The World Economic Forum ranked the U.S. at 52nd among 139 nations in the quality of its university math and science instruction in 2010. Nearly 50% of all graduate students in the sciences in the U.S. are foreigners, most of whom are returning to their home countries;
  • 18% of Americans still believe that the sun revolves around the earth, according to a Gallup poll;
  • The American Association of State Colleges and Universities report on education shows that for the first time, the educational attainment of young people will be lower than their parents;
  • According to the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress, 68% of public school children in the U.S. do not read proficiently by the time they finish third grade. And the U.S. News & World reported that barely 50% of students are ready for college level reading when they graduate;
  • According to a 2006 survey by National Geographic-Roper, nearly half of Americans between ages 18 and 24 do not think it necessary to know the location of other countries in which important news is being made. More than a third consider it “not at all important” to know a foreign language.
  • More than 40% of Americans under 44 did not read a single book–fiction or nonfiction–over the course of a year. The proportion of 17 year olds who read nothing (unless required by school ) has doubled between 1984-2004;

In American schools, the culture exalts the athlete and good-looking cheerleader. Well-educated and intellectual students are commonly referred to in public schools and the media as “nerds,” “dweebs,” “dorks,” and “geeks,” and are looked down upon by the more popular “jocks” for openly displaying any intellect.  These anti-intellectual attitudes are not reflected in students in some European or Asian countries, whose educational levels have now equaled and and will surpass that of the U.S.

In Japan, for example, teachers (rather than rich people) are held in high esteem and normally viewed as among the most important members of a community. In the U.S., public schools and public school teachers promote politically-correct curriculum built on popularity and/or profit. In Japan, teachers are typically held to a higher standard and are paid more than their peers in the U.S. The profession of teaching is seen as having central value in society and those who choose that profession are respected for their knowledge and their efforts on behalf of children.

In America we’re creating a world of dummies. Angry dummies who feel they have the right, the authority and the need not only to comment on everything, but to make sure their voice is heard above the rest, and to drag down any opposing views through personal attacks, loud repetition and confrontation.

The anti-intellectual elitism is not an elitism of wisdom, experience, or knowledge. The new elite are the angry social media posters, those who can shout loudest and more often; a clique of bullies and malcontents baying together like dogs cornering a fox. Too often it’s a combined elite of the anti-intellectuals and the ignorant arrogant  – not those who can voice the most cogent, most coherent response. Together they foment a rabid culture lacking in common sense where fact is dismissed without investigation and rational thought is the enemy. Critical thinking is boring, considered merely opinion, and a waste of time.

The herd mentality takes over on the internet; the anti-intellectuals become the metaphorical equivalent of an angry lynch mob when anyone either challenges one of the mob beliefs or posts anything outside the mob’s self-limiting set of values.

The online young are skewed toward fashions, entertainment, spectacle, and voyeurism. They are directed towards trivia, towards the inconsequential, towards unquestioning and blatant consumerism. This results in intellectual complacency. People accept without questioning, believe without weighing the choices, join the pack because in a culture where convenience rules, real individualism is too hard work. Thinking takes too much time: it gets in the way of the immediacy of the online experience.

Reality TV and pop culture presented in magazines and online sites claim to provide useful information about the importance of silly fads that can somehow enrich our lives. After all, how else can one explain the insipid and pointless stories that tout divorces, cheating and weight gain? How else can we explain how the Kardashians, or Paris Hilton are known for being famous without actually contributing anything worth discussion? The artificial events of their lives become the mainstay of populist media to distract people from the real issues and concerns facing us.

The current trend of the increasing arrogance of ignorance now establishing itself in politics and business leadership, and supported by a declining education system should be a cause for concern for all of us.


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