The Dumbing-Down of America


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I called my mom the day after the VMAs this year. She commented on Miley Cyrus's performance by saying, "this is the dumbing-down of America." She's said this countless times before, but when the Eberly Dean, Daniel Larson, started talking about the fact that the Earth revolves around the sun, it really got me thinking. I mean, there's a lot of oblivious people on the planet, right? So, I decided to investigate how many American's aren't very good with common knowledge.

In a study conducted by gallup.com, a group of citizens were asked to participate in a pop quiz of sorts. The first question asked what historical event was celebrated on July 4th. About 85% of people in the study answered correctly. Now, 85% doesn't sound awful. But think about it...we're talking about a MAJOR national holiday, and nearly 1 in 5 Americans don't know what it is? The next question asked what country The United States gained its independence from. Only 76% answered England/Great Britain/the United Kingdom. Really? That's one in four Americans that don't know their own heritage. And, relating back to what Dr. Larson said, only 79% of people surveyed knew that the Earth revolved around the Sun. This is staggering to me. I tried to think of what this could be attributed to. Obviously, chance is always an explanation. But the thought that even ONE person thinks the Sun revolves around the Earth is hard to believe...let alone 21%. So what else could it be? I went back to Google.

According to The Huffington Post, we have lost nearly 14 IQ points, on average, since the Victorian Era (1830s - 1900). Shouldn't we be getting smarter? With all the easy and fast access to technology, news, and facts? Some scientists claim this is due to the fact that there is a correlation between women with a higher IQ and having fewer offsprings. Meaning, since IQ is partially genetic, the pool of "smart" people is getting smaller and smaller. This article also mentioned the Flynn effect, which if you remember Andrew telling us, means that the child is smarter than the parent, the parent is smarter than the grandparent, etc. So which one is it, an increase or a decrease? Unfortunately, the article didn't give a definitive answer. Personally, I think there is stronger evidence for a decrease than an increase. I mean, hello, there are people who don't know what the Fourth of July is...seems like a pretty strong sign of a decrease to me.

6 Comments

I understand where you're coming from thinking that these facts are absurd, I was blown away at first as well. Then I thought about the 4th of July and the independence questions. America is a very diverse country and you really can't expect foreigners to know what fourth of July is. I bet most Americans don't know what Australia's independence day is or who they got their independence from. Many people move to the US and don't go to school because they're too old and never learn these things. http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/00000.html Check out that link to see what the background of Americans is and see if you change your opinion.

Whoa, this is shocking! How do people not know what July 4th is? That's horrible. In the comment above, it makes sense that maybe these people didn't know the answer because America is very diverse, so people could have immigrated here and were caught off guard.
But still, the graph you put in about SAT scores is kind of scary. As you said in your post, you would expect us to get smarter because of all the technology. But maybe that is the thing that's making it worse. Maybe technology is making people more lazy.
I found an article online that talks about this possibility. It discusses how different devices affect our learning, like calculators, the Internet, and smartphones.
http://news.discovery.com/tech/technology-brain-intelligence-20130319.htm

This is crazy to think! Ive always heard people make comments about "the grades below me" and how they were the class to receive the highest grades on everything, but maybe they don't know the statistics. Do you also think that since technology is fairly new, that we are not as adapted to it as we should be to the point where it actually increases our intelligence? I do not think that technology is entirely to blame. What other third variables do you think could be effecting the IQ of people today? Is it that drugs are more accessible, or maybe preservatives in food?

I found this article from Discovery that explains the top 5 factors, they believe, effect your intelligence. How can we alter these to make society smarter?

It is pretty interesting how when asked about what day the 4th of July is on people get that wrong which at first glance you have to be asking yourself is this country getting dumber or something. But I think I agree with what some of the other comments have said in that the US is a very diverse country and within it holds a lot of immigrants and non-native American citizens. Who is to say that when they did the survey they didn't just ask American born citizens as opposed to a mix of native born and people who became citizens after they immigrated into the US?

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10000872396390444032404578006612858486012

Here's an article you might find interesting. "In 1910, scored against today's norms, our ancestors would have had an average IQ of 70 (or 50 if we tested with Raven's). By comparison, our mean IQ today is 130 to 150, depending on the test. Are we geniuses or were they just dense?"

Due in part to new "ways" of thinking, we have actually been scoring significantly higher than out ancestors. It makes me wonder if IQ is really a valid way of measuring intelligence. Another flaw to take into consideration with your blog is how seriously people are taking these surveys you mention. If a stranger asked me whether the sun revolved around the Earth, I'd certainly be tempted to answer sarcastically. Just something that jumped out to me from my market research classes.

To those who replied to my post arguing that there are many foreigners who would not know why July 4th is significant, if the experiment was done properly with a good, large sample of people like Andrew mentioned in class, wouldn't it be mostly Americans, or at least people who have lived here long enough that they should know? To me, foreigners do not account for enough of the population to amount to that large percentage of people unfamiliar with the Fourth of July.

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