I've heard that people are complaining everyone are getting dumber because of popular culture and the Internet. I read an article in cracked that said people are actually getting smarter because of improving education. The question is, are people really getting dumber or simply acting dumb?

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    Are you talking about the US or global (Korea/etc)? They've got hard-working students, and in North America, we've got hardly-working students. :) Apr 16, 2011 at 19:50
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    It's rather subjective and can hardly be answered. What I do know is that people at Plato times complained about how every new generation gets more and more dumb too ;)
    – user288
    Apr 16, 2011 at 22:05
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    "Children today are tyrants. They contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers." - Socrates
    – user5341
    Apr 17, 2011 at 4:10
  • You may enjoy the concept behind the movie "idiocracy," although the movie itself is a little dumb. May 14, 2011 at 19:52
  • If my grandkids can program my new toaster, but I can't, maybe that means I am getting dumber!
    – GEdgar
    Mar 28, 2016 at 12:48

1 Answer 1


Here's an example of where the confusion comes from. This is a fairly representative USA Today story that bemoans the poor performance of U.S. students. Many such stories have been published in the past few years. (Indeed, probably since at least the early 80s.)

In ranking, U.S. students trail global leaders

United States students are continuing to trail behind their peers in a pack of higher performing nations, according to results from a key international assessment.

Note those first two words: In ranking. At first glance the story might seem to be asserting that U.S. students are getting dumber. But after a listing of U.S. student rankings among various nations of the world, the story states:

Those scores are all higher than those from 2003 and 2006, but far behind the highest scoring countries, including South Korea, Finland and Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai in China and Canada. [emphasis added]

So if we try to look at the scores objectively, comparing year-over-year, we may not be #1 at present, but we do seem to be getting smarter. Right? But then follows this quote:

"This is an absolute wake-up call for America," U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in an interview with The Associated Press. "The results are extraordinarily challenging to us and we have to deal with the brutal truth. We have to get much more serious about investing in education."

If our Education Secretary can't understand any kind of measurement except a ranking, and thus regards a measured improvement as "extraordinarily challenging", then it sounds to me like Mr. Duncan himself has an education problem.

I will give kudos to this story for being detailed. It examines actual average score differences further down. But it's the quotes that draw your eyes, and the quotes all say the results are a disaster.

Alfie Kohn wrote this in one of his books in regards to school or district rankings on standardized tests, and I think the same principle applies here:

One expert on testing suggests that if newspapers insist on publishing such a chart, they should at least run it where it belongs, in the sports section.

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    It may not be that the secretary of education only understands rankings, it could be that he's placing more priority on rankings. This may make economic sense, I don't know.
    – Publius
    Mar 17, 2013 at 5:56
  • Mr. Duncan has a conflict of interest problem.
    – user11643
    Mar 22, 2017 at 20:37

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