It is a generational right, and probably a compulsion, to look at the generation in the rear view mirror and pronounce them unfit to lead. Hence books like Mark Bauerlein’s The Dumbest Generation, and Susan Jacoby’s The Age of American Unreason. But look at the data, and you’ll see something surprising. The short of the stick in the brains department is being held, not by today’s 20-somethings and teens, but by those born from the late 1950s to the mid-1960s. “Compared with every other birth cohort,” writes author Neil Howe in the Washington Post, “they have performed the worst on standardized exams, acquired the fewest educational degrees and been the least attracted to professional careers. In a word, they’re the dumbest.”
Want proof? Let’s start with the long-term results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which is housed within the U.S. Department of Education. Considered the gold standard in assessing K-12 students, the NAEP has been in continuous operation for decades. Here’s the bottom line: On both the reading and the math tests, and at all three tested ages (9, 13 and 17), the lowest-ever scores in the history of the NAEP were recorded by children born between 1961 and 1965.
Same story, different test: “The SAT reached its all-time high in 1963, when it tested the 1946 birth cohort,” says Howe. “Then it fell steeply for 17 straight years, hitting its all-time low in 1980, when it tested the 1963 cohort. Ever since, the SAT has been gradually if haltingly on the rise, paralleling improvements in the NAEP.”