American Students: Dumber and More Woke
The upshot of this decline will be that many Americans enter adulthood without having been intellectually challenged. The phrase “mind expanding” will exclusively apply to psychedelic drugs, not higher education. Professors for their own survival will play it safe and avoid anything that might, somehow and in some way, offend those who complain when their cherished beliefs are disputed. The triumph of woke dullness. Absent this exposure to the give and take of competing ideas and all else that defines intellectual debate, honest disagreement will become “hate.” It all adds up to a perfect recipe for killing serious public discussions.
Professors often complain about the current crop of students being less intellectually talented than when they began their careers decades back. Such griping is, of course, easy to dismiss — it has occurred for millennia. Unfortunately, this time around the grumbling may be true and not the usual nostalgia for “the good old days.” The anecdotal evidence from textbook reading levels, shortened college syllabi, scrapbook-like research assignments, proliferating college remedial classes, grade inflation, and the popularity of “gut” college majors such as Gender Studies, is indisputable. We have also invested hundreds of millions in our schools yet test results such as the SAT are flat over the past half century. Add the countless stories of illiteracy among high school “graduates” despite falling class size and expensive reforms. Judged by the standards of evolution, Americans may be going backwards.
The best evidence of this decline are data from the highly respected General Social Survey on mean IQ by decade among graduate students, undergraduates, and high school students (a tip of the hat to Charles Murray on Twitter). This is a complicated subject given how America’s demography has altered, and measuring IQ via surveys might be iffy, but the numbers, even if a bit unsure, are alarming.
These data are divided into three groups: those with high school diplomas, undergraduate degrees, and graduate degrees. Then the data are then divided by decades beginning in the 1960s through to the 2010 onward decade. The overall pattern is a steady decline in IQ scores for each group from decade to decade. For example, high school graduates in the 1960s had an average IQ of 99.3 but this figure declined so by 2010 and onward, it was 93.5. A similar drop occurred among college graduates — from 113.3 in the 60s to 100.4 in the 2010 decade. For those with graduate degrees, the fall was from 114.0 to 105.8.
These are depressing numbers. That in 2010 the average college student had an IQ of 100.4 (almost exactly our national average) signifies that we are miles away from trying to educate the brightest youngsters. Worse, with an average of about 100, many of those enrolled must score below 100 and thus suitable only for low-skill occupations. This picture may even be worse than these numbers suggest if we subtract out the many smart international students now enrolled in U.S. higher education.
This decline has wide-ranging implications for college teachers. Save at the most selective schools, many undergraduates are incapable of grasping complicated arguments, even unable to distinguish what the teacher explained as opposed to what the teacher personally believes. The statement “Many Germans thought Hitler a savior” becomes “the Professor said that Hitler was a savior.” Nor can many of these intellectually challenged youngsters grasp the idea that something can simultaneously be both good and bad. Try explaining that for a statement to be scientifically correct, it must in principle be amenable to falsification. Even a lame joke about affirmative action may be misunderstood as a hostile remark.