Dumb and Getting Dumber

April 29, 2011

in Dumb Americans

You’ve seen snippets of their ignorance on Jay Leno’s “Jaywalking” feature on late night TV.  Dumb Americans.  After struggling to name   the date of Independence Day and failing, they giggle.  “Ha, ha, ha,” we laugh back, when we should be crying, “Boo, hoo, hoo.”  Americans can’t be that stupid.  Well, there’s more proof they are.

I refer you to the April 4th issue of Newsweek in which you can find a long feature by Andrew Romano, called, “Ignorant America: How Dumb Are We?”

The magazine conducted an experiment, which I have been using in several of the journalism college courses I teach each year.  Journalists must know the basics of U.S. history, civics and geography.  How can they report to the public with intelligence and context if they think there are 98 justices on the U.S. Supreme Court?  Yes, that’s one answer I got from a student.

Newsweek gave 1,000 Americans the U.S. Citizenship Test immigrants are required to pass to become naturalized citizens.   Thirty-eight percent of them failed.  Almost 30 percent couldn’t name Vice President Joe Biden.  Forty-four percent couldn’t explain the Bill of Rights and 73 percent didn’t know about The Cold War?  But here is the worst, in my mind.  A whopping 86 percent of those tested did not know how many voting members are in the U.S. House of Representatives.  Yikes!!  Of course, you knew there are 435.

It’s downright embarrassing that our people are dumb, getting dumber and don’t know or don’t care.  In this increasing global community, we are ignorant about the world and our place in it.  The European Journal of Communication asked citizens from Britain, Denmark, Finland and Americans to answer questions about foreign affairs.  Well more than 75 percent of Brits and Finns could identify the Taliban.  Despite the fact that Americans have been fighting against them in Afghanistan since 2002, only 58 percent of Americans had heard of them.

Why, America, why?

I give my students a break because many of them have come from public high schools around the nation, where they were taught under the dictates of the Leave No Child Behind Act.  Many history, geography, science, and social studies courses were dropped so students could spend their valuable class time learning how to pass the verbal and quantitative sections of standardized tests.

What about the rest of us?  We know people are not reading newspapers or watching television news like they used to.  They claim they get their news from the Internet.  Right.

We don’t know the Taliban but we know the latest antics of Charlie Sheen or Lindsay Lohan and, what’s that little child’s name on “Jersey Shore.”  Yeah, Snooki.  Oh, they’re going to have an impact on the life of the nation.

I am ranting because I believe our democracy is in danger.  Stupid people believe stupid things and take stupid actions.  They don’t know how to think critically.  It’s hard to believe the “birthers” led by The Donald and many Republicans distracted the nation for so long from oil prices, unemployment, and the shredding of the social safety net for the least among us.

I hear folks on the street wondering why there are tornados that killed hundreds of people in the South and why the Mideast is in flames, and where these earthquakes and tsunamis are coming from.  “Is God angry?” I heard one construction worker comment to his buddy.

Yes, he’s angry that the people of the most powerful nation on the planet are so intellectually void.  Americans don’t deserve our vaunted place on earth because we are a people who are dumb and getting dumber.


tee April 30, 2011 at 5:36 pm

Its so very sad and sadly true. I took the online test for immigrants and got every question except the number in house of representatives. I knew the ballpark figure but not the exact number. We’ve heard this drumbeat before but nothing ever comes of it. I don’t see things getting better with the techie diversions. I am petrified to have a huge culturally and intellectually illiterate nation. My friends and I have discussed this subject to death so what are the answers? Better schools, yeah right with budgets slashing almost everything. I hope someone wakes up before its too late, but based on what I’ve seen I really don’t see it happening any time soon. I also have to add in closing that the media’s obsession with scandal and the sensational has only added fuel to the fire.

Mary hayes April 30, 2011 at 6:04 pm

I have to agree Carole, it seems they are getting dumber. We are so far behind other countries. Teacher should be one of the most highest paid yet they are the lowest. The teaching profession attracts people who are really not qualified to teach. If America would pay higher salaries and and make it difficult to qualify to teach then maybe we can attract those who are worthy to teach. Our priorities are messed up. Why not pay teachers like professional ball players. What’s wrong with this picture?

Phil Voss May 8, 2011 at 3:00 pm

I totally agree with you, Carole. I’d like to add that one big reason why we are a nation of stupid people is because as a society we simply don’t value intelligence. We value toughness, bravado, greed, and materialism way more than we value intellectual power. We spend trillions on blowing things up and killing people, but can’t seem to pay teachers enough to recruit the best and the brightest. Until we change that mindset, I’m afraid that Americans will continue to get more and more stupid.

T. Renée Crutcher June 4, 2011 at 1:04 am

I too agree with you Carole. This is a subject dear to my heart. I work with young people who live in abject poverty and go to a school named for an incredible civil rights activist and scholar yet 90% of the students cannot tell you anything about this person and his significant contribution to America, let alone having a modicum of knowledge of civics, U.S., World history or geography. I agree as well that the Dodd Miller Act (Leave No Child Behind) dedicated to investing in the excellence of public education that was co=opted by the Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind dedicated to underfunding public education is largely to blame for the ‘dummying’ down of America. I could go on and on, but you have said it in a nut shell. It’s frightening!

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