In 2008, Professor Mark Bauerlein published a book on the habits of young Americans, titled “The Dumbest Generation.”

Can an adult with even one or two childhood memories believe that kids today are a whit better or worse than they ever were? Could the bar be any lower today than it was 60 years ago without extensive excavation?

Even more distressing than our memories of childhood follies are our diaries, because memories of stupid things said and done are always mitigated by the passage of time. Words written on a page are chiseled in stone.

The next time you are in the neighborhood, stop in and ask to see my diary for 1949 – 10 years before Professor Bauerlein was born. Although my scribbling portends disaster, you cannot deny that it is a product of the generation that put men on the moon.

If you have kept a diary for 65 years, you know that today’s kids could not be dumber than you were in your halcyon years. You read your diary for the year you were 19 and wonder how you lived to be 20.

My third cousin and childhood neighbor, Captain Thomas (who was born in 1877), was a deckhand at 12 and skipper of his own vessel at 19, and I well remember his looking down at me, shaking his head and saying over and over, “You don’t know. You don’t know.” It was 70 years before I understood what he was saying.

The book is “The Dumbest Generation,” and not long ago, after sleeping away half the night, I woke up at 10 p.m. and read it until 2.

The author says that millions of dollars spent on computers for our schools have not made kids smarter. Gov. King and you and I had hoped that it would, but Professor Bauerlein says it hasn’t – and he backs up his thesis with figures. He tells us that cellphones and other plastic screens stand between students and a good old-fashioned “education.”

Each one of us has our own definition of a good “education.” Ben Jonson said that his friend Shakespeare lacked a regular education and had “small Latin and less Greek.” There was a time when the young English gentry were obligated to spend time in London and were not considered educated until they had traveled extensively on the Continent.

The author reminds us that school grades are a reflection of our home environment. A kid who has lived in front of a TV screen for five years before she starts school is going to be far behind a classmate with college-educated parents who have thrown out their TV and converse with a vocabulary several grade levels above the one employed by talking heads.

If Professor Bauerlein is right, is it possible to break the dumber cycle? Could we start with free college for anyone able to handle it, and follow up with a social system that enables both parents to be home at mealtime where the kid overhears and is included in conversations – which will contain multisyllabic words?

Can this be why kids in Finland rank so high and we rank so low when it comes to measuring children’s academic abilities? Luckily for Finns, Swedes and their neighbors, people in northern Europe have discovered that there is a one-to-one correlation between a child’s academic ability and the income, diet and educational levels of the child’s parents.

You have often read that Finnish schools have just about done away with testing, and yet they produce top-notch, world-class citizens. Wouldn’t it be interesting to learn if educational authorities in Finland also write books about “The Dumbest Generation”?

Do some adults confuse “dumber” with “different”?

We read in an 1848 Rockland newspaper that a New York City columnist came down on the polka with great severity. The Rockland editor reprinted the comments and agreed that the polka was both disgusting and indecent, to be met with only among “the lowest rabble of Hungary.”

Three generations later, Penrod’s girlfriend grabbed him by the ear and dragged him from the dance floor for doing the turkey trot. I remember well the first time I saw anyone doing the dirty boogie, which became popular only after being renamed “the Twist.” I have no idea what young people are doing now, but if they are still on their feet, it can’t be all that bad.

Every generation disgusts and disappoints the one that brought it into being. Mrs. Grundy tells me that the newest generation will always be dumber than the one that preceded it.

The humble Farmer can be seen on Community Television in and near Portland and visited at his website:

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