[lit-ideas] Can U Read Kant?

  • From: "Phil Enns" <phil.enns@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "Lit-Ideas@Freelists. Org" <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 13 May 2008 17:24:16 +0700

This is the title of a review in the WSJ of 'The Dumbest Generation'
by Mark Bauerlein.  The reviewer is from Princeton University's Center
for Information Technology Policy.


According to the review, the book argues that young people today are
using digital media to "harden adolescent styles and thoughts" at the
cost of a general education.  Statistics are given as evidence of
declining levels of proficiency.  Communication skills that are,
according to the book, necessary for the adult world are not being
developed in high school, overwhelmed by the time spent on digital

The reviewer notes that Bauerlein is not primarily concerned with
these deficiencies but rather with "the way a blind celebration of
youth, and an ill-informed optimism about technology, have led the
public to ignore them."  According to the reviewer, Bauerlein harbours
a nostalgia for the days of book-centered, debate-fostered education
that focused on canonical texts and big ideas.

The reviewer responds that those days are gone but technological
developments, for example a new product from Amazon for book reading,
as well as educational institutions adopting the "communications
environment" being used by youth, show a glimmer of hope.  The
reviewer concludes that children will be able to make the most of the
digital life as soon as the current batch of 'elders' get a clue and
plug in.

This is certainly a curious account of pedagogy, but I keep returning
to the title of the review.  Is a 'communication environment' (?) that
uses 'U' for 'you' conducive for the reading of Kant?  Am I waxing
nostalgic if I claim that the communication style of text messaging,
short and abbreviated, is not helpful for slogging through a Kantian
sentence that might stretch over an entire page?  And how would a new
book reader from Amazon make a difference in this regard?  I suppose
one could adopt the style of some philosophy departments and simply
not consider any texts before 1970, thereby somewhat approximating the
live-for-the-moment 'communications environment' of adolescence, but
the question of the title is not 'Should U Read Kant?'

So, I keep returning to the title of the review, wondering what the
reviewer thought he was doing asking this question.  If Bauerlein and
his desire for canonical texts and big ideas is passe, who cares if
kids today can read Kant?  If it matters whether kids can read Kant,
then will a new book reader from Amazon make a difference and perhaps
Bauerlein has a legitimate argument.  I suspect the reviewer was
simply being pretentious, but it is still a curious title for this


Phil Enns
Yogyakarta, Indonesia
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