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Why are we Dumbing-down our Future? 18 November, 2006

Posted by paralleldivergence in Brad & Phil, children, education, My Thoughts, Political Correctness.

None of us will live forever. The record advancements of the 20th Century were made on the back of strong education systems aimed directly at providing our children with the analytical and problem-solving skills that each generation needed to continue the progress that humanity was demanding. But now it appears that mankind has well and truly peaked and downhill is the only way to head.


Don’t get me wrong, there will always be brilliant individuals, amazing inventions and important breakthroughs. But global progress requires smarter communities and nations, not dumber ones. The sad reality is that school curricula are becoming easier and more broadly-based. Teachers are confused. They teach too much, and much of what they teach is watered-down and out of context. The orbiting of planets, the rules of mathematics, indigenous peoples, ICT skills, isometric drawing, dance, politically correct history, and so on. Plus, children are being taught not to care too much about anything, even though they may desire to do so.

The focus for most students at school is their social pecking order among their peers. Do they have the latest gadgets? How does their hair look? And is their brand of sneakers better than their friends’? Never before have students had so much information available to them for so little effort. It breeds laziness. We seem to be developing an anti-intellectual society whose citizens no longer want to learn anything.

Yet, somehow, governments are still reporting the wonderful improvements in academic achievements: “More Grade A’s in Mathematics“. While it sounds like a fabulous result for any government to report to the community, how is it possible that 43.5% of students were able to earn an A grade at the ultimate high school examination? You’ll need to read the linked article to find out.

Basically, it’s all about statistics. Governments have realised that in order to look good politically, they need to reduce the range of academic results. It doesn’t matter if that means reducing the highest scores because you’ll still get a top 5% and top 10% of scores regardless of the scores. Only there will be more individuals in those groups than before. The more that they raise the bottom-level results and lower the top-level results, the more students that will end up in the top band. This is the lie of overall improvement. So instead of trying to bring every school up a level in terms of performance, governments actively work to bring the bottom schools up and the top schools down.

The latest decision of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority is aimed at compensating for the poor teaching of spelling and writing. Rather than mark students down for not being able to express themselves accurately in English, they have now approved the use of TXT Speak by high school students in examinations. Yes, the abbreviated gibberish used by kids when keying SMS messages on their mobile phones is now acceptable language in all exams in New Zealand high schools.

This means that teachers marking the exam papers will need to be conversant in this pointless language in order to verify that the student was able to effectively answer the questions being asked. Fortunately, there is a website that might be able to help them. Transl8it is an on-line English-SMS TXT Lingo converter. Just type in the English text and convert it to TXT lingo – and vice versa.

I cnt W8 untl dEz students bcum d leadRz of society.

STOP PRESS: If you need more evidence of the dumb-down, take a look at straight-A student, teen role-model Lindsay Lohan’s heartfelt public tribute note to the late Robert Altman.

Brad & Phil #009



1. mark - 18 November, 2006

I don’t think that txt spk is pointless Stu, if one is paying by the character then it makes perfect sense to me. What *is* pointless tho’ is the use of txt spk out of context, ie, where one is not paying by the character (exams for example).

It’s all too easy to blame teachers for not teaching language skills, but by necessity, the time spent teaching these skills has been reduced over the last few years. Teachers are now expected to mediate conflict, counsel the grieving, ensure the children get exercise, promote an understanding of a healthy diet, etc etc (all extra tasks)which comes at the expense of what? I suppose we could extend school hours to catch up, or maybe we could blame the parents for over indulging their darlings by letting them stay up till all hours, playing in myspace or bebo or some such place, where “proper gramma an spelln” aren’t a necessary adjunct to ones (apparent) success.


2. paralleldivergence - 18 November, 2006

Hi Mark,

I wasn’t blaming teachers for the drop in language skills. Teachers are told what to teach by others, in this case, the NZ Qualifications Authority. Obviously someone there realised that they’ve done wrong over the years and this is their solution. Sounds like they’ve just given in.

3. Pat - 19 November, 2006

Couldn’t the evolution towards “leet speak” simply be the computerized interpretation of our language? At its best, it can be efficient and phonetic. I don’t think that our students, now raised for their entire lives under the influence of computers, are dumbed-down by a movement of language, they simply express language at its most evolved level. Rather than berating them for using this type of speech, why not take advantage of their interest in language? The problem with our education system is its mindless adherence to the teaching methods of the past. In a world where the entire education system of the world can be accessed over the internet, we persist in containing our students in rigid classrooms of singular inspection. The only real hope for improving our “dumbed-down” education system is to give the student the freedom of expression necessary for each of them to find the most appropriate course of study for their personal interests. I’d rather have them express that in leet speak than to not be able to express that at all, or demand that they speak to us in the structure of standard English.

4. Jose - 19 November, 2006

This discussion reminds me of the writings we have been able to read from the Middle Ages. The way people wrote then was being altered along the centuries and it came to be what we write today.

If to this we add the way internet navigators use, then we will have to study both the normal language and its modified version for the internet.

Languages are made by those who speak them, and I am afraid there are still more “normal” speakers than the internet ones. To impose a system of writing of a minority on a majority does not seem to me to be favourable to a better understanding among persons.

There are jargons used in professions: medicine, engineering, etc, which only makes these professions isolated from the rest, why should we advocate the use of the internet gibberish and not the use of our normal way of speaking and writing?

The trend should always be understanding among peoples and there is nothing more helpful for this than a common language.

5. Lee - 20 November, 2006

This is a wonderful post because your clear thoughts are clearly articulated. I happen to agree with your view, but that’s not essential (I totally disagreed with your views you expressed in your Hubble post, but you presented them so well that you invite dialogue and stretch my thinking). My concern about the dumbing down of our education is that the standards of achievement are diluted by politically correct principles: make sure everyone is comfortable; make sure everyone in included; make sure everyone is above average; make sure noone feels bad; make sure we look good. I believe that without striving we slide backward. Without exerting energy into our personal growth, we regress. The only thing that happens effortlessly is deterioration. Progress takes discipline and skill-development (like you reference in your opening paragraph). I look forward to coming back regularly to keep current with your thoughts and to continue the dialogue that you invite. — Lee

6. inherentvalue - 20 November, 2006

I’m undecided about this issue. As a university lecturer I find it rather depressing when undergraduates don’t know how to spell and construct good arguments (actually a good sentence would be gratifying too). Then I look out at my class and see people who 30 years ago would have been excluded from higher education purely because they couldn’t spell. In the classroom discussions many of these people are clearly intelligent, thoughtful and highly motivated and grasp the ideas well enough.

As a parent I’m concerned that my children don’t appear to be as literate as I was at their age, know the things I knew or valued knowledge in the way I did. On the other hand, their social skills are more highly developed, they catch on to contemporary ideas much more quickly than I do, understand technology and technology’s potential, read far more interesting books than I did (there is *so* much more choice!) and are incredibly critical of the media that is apparently sucking their brains out – by that I mean they are much more aware of attempts to manipulate them. And I don’t think I can take all the credit for that!

I tend to agree with Pat – perhaps the future they will grow into will need the skills that they are developing now. The internet generation knows how to collaborate across continents, know how to spread ideas, are unbelievably creative (have you never looked at teenage blogs? I know some are tedious, as are plenty of adults’ blogs, but some are awesome) and I think we should trust them. I mean they can’t do much worse than we have – with all our good spelling we still ended up with quasi-Orwellian governments who refuse to take responsibility for the health of the planets.

7. inherentvalue - 20 November, 2006

I meant planet.

8. paralleldivergence - 20 November, 2006

Great comment inherentvalue! You can only get so much of the story across in seven paragraphs and it’s really great when intelligent comments come in that add more to the overall picture. I agree with you about much of what you say. The question is, how widespread is the development of these modern-age skills? Is it getting across all students or only some? I’ve seen (and have) children that can do all the things you say and yes they are more worldly than I was at their age, but can the same be said of the rest of students? And yes, who’s to say our generation was any good anyway. 🙂

9. GreenLantern - 21 November, 2006

Excellent article, and a good read. This is something I have been talking about for a long time. I am surprised by the number of comments that are defending “txt speak”.

To me using proper punctuation and grammar says something about your intelligence. Sure we all use slang terms, txt speak, leet speak, and various other forms of communications, but when it comes to the classroom, courtroom, and various other places we should use proper English (or whatever your native language is) to the best of our ability.

10. tobeme - 21 November, 2006

Love your article! Hate the dumbing down that is prevalent in our school systems, which has and will continue to filter to the work place and society as a whole. It drives me crazy when I am speaking with a high school student and they do not seem to have a basic understanding of math, spelling, history, etc. Students today have easier access to more information in multiple formats than ever before. This generation should be the smartest generation ever, however, sadly it seems that we are on a downhill slide of education standards. One thing I would like to point out is that this is not a teacher problem or education system problem or a government problem alone, this is a world society problem. We get what we accept! We are all responsible!

11. paralleldivergence - 21 November, 2006

Hi tobeme, I don’t think it’s a whole world problem. Countries like Japan and those in Scandinavia appear to always be ahead of other western countries when it comes to education. They just haven’t succumbed to political correctness yet.

12. timethief - 21 November, 2006

I’m with Lee on this one. My primary concern is neither the promotion of the legitimization of txt speak nor the threat of proper grammar and spelling being replaced by it. Political correctness is the super-highway to “dumbness”. Lee has described my own experience in the regression of public educational values well ” … make sure everyone is comfortable; make sure everyone in included; make sure everyone is above average; make sure no one feels bad; make sure we look good. ” And like Lee, “I believe that without striving we slide backward. Without exerting energy into our personal growth, we regress.”

13. junaman - 21 November, 2006

Great post.

Although if you really want to look at a good education system, you should look at any country behind the Iron Curtain. No political correctness there… but it sure did work.

14. Fleeced - 21 November, 2006

Excellent post – it’s the same in Australia. It’s the same sort of thinking that says every kid on the sports team gets a trophy so nobody feels left out. To paraphrase from The Incredibles (which is a good movie, btw), it’s a celebration of mediocrity.

15. Willow-Esque - 26 November, 2006

Personally, I think we should be scared—very scared for our future.

I have teenagers and I can tell you that public school education (in the US) is CRAP! I think that political correctness, among other things, has driven it to a certain extent. “No child left behind…” is certainly a nice sentiment, but what it really means is that we pass the kids on whether they are prepared for the next grade or not. What it doesn’t mean is that each kid receives a quality education.

16. timethief - 26 November, 2006

I live in the country and many who have made the choice to live here are home based business people. Their response to the celebration of mediocrity produced by the school system predicated on the “no child left behind” concept has been home schooling their children through correspondence.

Interestingly enough some of the parents of the children left in the school took up a mean-mouthed campaign saying the home-schooled kids shouldn’t be allowed library use or sports participation. After they pumped themselves up and started a flame war myself and 16 other people who chose not to be parents but who do pay property taxes for education attended a home and school meeting and had our say.

First, we obtained from the school district a document stating just how many thousands of dollars the local school was being allocated for each home schooled child. Secondly, we surveyed the home schooled parents to ascertain exactly how much their children were not getting from the school which had been funded to provide for them.

Suffice to say that at the meeting flamethrowers looked foolish indeed when the following revelations came to light. (1) It was revealed that the home schooled kids were being short changed by thousands of dollars in terms of service denial, access to library books, laboratory and sports equipment. (2) It was revealed that it was almost exclusively the home schooling parents who were providing the field trip, playground, and extra-curricular supervision required for those activities to be enjoyed by all of the children in the school. (3) It also was revealed that it was the homeschooling parents who were providing almost all the labour as well as the raw materials and finished products (baked goods and bazaar items) for school fund raising projects, even though the benefits did not flow back to their own children. (4) Lastly the injustice of allowing only parents of children attending the school to be full members of the Parents’ Advisory Committee with a vote on what was to be done with the funds so raised was brought forward.

Although I am child-free by choice I did not hesitate to champion the cause of the home schooled kids and their parents. I knew them well from the Kids Club, 4 H and the Recreation Commission where I volunteer. They knew how to behave in public places, how to be polite and respectful of others, and they especially knew how to help kids younger than themselves learn new skills. IMO they were able to be outstanding simply because they had been properly parented and correctly taught outside the school system. Without doubt the home schooled kids were the cream of the crop, not the dregs and I said so. For 2-3 minutes after I said this there was a painful silence then the room rang with cheers.

17. zappi - 26 November, 2006

I rly dont understand where teh problem is wit txt speak. Do u think that they r not able 2 write in da old fashioned way?
We have here in Germany the same problems with our Students, but they are able to write and spell proper German language. Take a look at the difference between US English and EN English. I almost have contact with people from the US. The only contact I have to the UK is my Dad, and if I visit him from time to time on the Island, I have serious trouble to understand him and the other English people there.
The times are changing and the languages too, so why don’t let the People who are the future, design the future?
Using acronyms is not bounded to the young ones. I use it at the IRC since the late 80ies.

18. paralleldivergence - 26 November, 2006

Sure, Txt speak has its place zappi, but accepting it for high school examinations across an entire country is probably not progressive. It’s more like giving up.

19. paralleldivergence - 26 November, 2006

Great insight into the real issues of “No Child Left Behind”, WIllow-Esque and timethief!

20. sfens - 9 December, 2006

I feel I must respond to the issue of homeschooling. It’s a lovely answer when you have intelligence and wherewithal to teach your own children, which I would have.I refuse the option on principal and because the system in Saskatchewan is still holding its own. If home schooling and private schooling becomes widespread you get the problem of people belieivng that the system is too expensive because, they didn’t need it or use it. The less we spend on it, the worse it gets. Until the only people in ‘public’ education are the poor, as is the education they receive.

If we want an educated citizenry, we need to pull off the standardized testing which only tests the things that are measurable, most of which are irrelevant and let teachers teach. Schools need to change and families need to do their part in raising children who are literate and motivated but don’t blame the system. Blame the politicians and business groups who are griping about poor standards and wanting to pull out as much money from the system as they can. Schools are not factories where the output is predictable. If you want predictable outcomes, you need to control the inputs. Schools don’t control the inputs. We are told that we will teach all who come and then, even when we know what would be the best ways of teaching students, programs from on high are forced on teachers and classrooms. Stunting the opportunities for growth and the potential of many.

21. sfens - 10 December, 2006

That would be principle not principal.

Oops, those tricky homonyms.

22. Deme - 18 January, 2007

Great article. It’s true too! They teach TOO MUCH useless stuff at schools. If I ever get a kid or couple of my own, I’ll try to teach them that it’s not about the grades. Sure, you have to be ‘good’ in something(math for example), but I’m not going to spank, shout or make them study harder them if they get a C in something. It’s just life and one C won’t ruin it. If they WANT to study and be A students, that’s of course fine with me. Will make my pension days easier. 😉

Sometimes I wish I lived in the 60’s, I hear things were a lot simpler then. 😀


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