Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Age of Mediocrity

I had lunch today with a D.C. lobbyist. At one point, the conversation turned to--what else?--politics and the current state of affairs at that vaunted address in the 1600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

In particular, our conversation included the subject of the dumbing down of America and how mediocrity is now actually something to be proud of. It is, to borrow a Dickensian phrase, "the worst of times" in America to aspire to be smart and to seek excellence in all one undertakes. We are rapidly becoming a nation of many adults who think it's okay to quit in the middle of a race or a C-average is good enough or spelling, grammar and punctuation are old-fashioned and time-consuming.

While I know that most parents place a premium on the importance of going to school and getting an education, most of these same parents do little to encourage more reading and less IM'ing, more art and less TV, more substantive conversation and less cell phone dribble, more hard research and less Internet surfing. I shiver to think what the next five, ten, twenty, fifty years hold for us in the form of leadership and intellect in this country. Here are some examples of recent conversations I've had with folks who fear the same thing:

  • A high school teacher in Herndon, Virginia, who told me he ran across copies of a test he gave to students ten years ago. He said, if he administered that same test today, more than half of his students would fail it. And it's only getting worse, he says.
  • A friend of mine, who trained to run in a marathon last year and had to drop out due to injury, was distressed to watch two 20-somethings also climb onto the bus picking up the injured and proclaim, "We're done. Ten miles was enough for us." Her comment: "What are these young people going to do when they get real jobs in the real world with real challenges? Walk away from them when it gets hard, quit, and say enough?!"
  • Or a dinner guest who told me that the organized sports teams their kids participate in don't declare winners or losers--everyone's a winner, because they don't want young people to feel diminished.

As Gilbert Godfrey would say, "What the f***?!"

Jay Leno, in an effort to be funny (and he is), regales us with the stupidity of average Americans who can't tell you where Wisconsin is or what its capital is, who the Prime Minister of Italy is, or how to spell superfluous--let alone define it.* How sad is that? On top of this, we have a President who's proud of the fact that he was a C-average student at Yale and declares that "you can be average and still be president." More than anyone else in our country right now, he's in a position to model for young people what can be accomplished if you strive for excellence, do your homework, pay your dues, work hard, etc., etc. Instead, he's telling young people, "it's okay to be mediocre."

Well, it may be okay for you, Mr. President, but when history looks back on your influence in this country, it will surely note that, among other things, this was the Age of Mediocrity. And that's not okay.

* Answers: Wisconsin is in the upper Midwest and its capital is Madison, Berlusconi is P.M. of Italy, and superfluous is spelled s-u-p-e-r-f-l-u-o-u-s, it's an adjective and it means exceeding what is sufficient or necessary.

2 comments:

KOB said...

Good points, enjoyed this post. Unfortuately, I'm one of those people who would happily get on the bus after a few miles ....

Swizzies said...

On the other hand...here is an interesting perspective on the dumbing down thing:
http://www.gladwell.com/2005/2005_05_16_a_brain.html