A few years ago, there was a lot of talk that devices such as smartphones were creating a group of young people who were not so smart. In fact, somebody even wrote a book about this supposed trend called “The Dumbest Generation.”
I say “supposed” because in a 2008 column in the Washington Post author Neil Howe decisively took down this premise — body-slammed it, really — with, for starters, the results of college entrance exams from the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The average scores of folks born between 1958 and 1964 were lower than at any time before or since. So were the number of students taking the test. In other words, only the elite students of this mini-generation — my generation — took the test, and they still put up sorry scores.
Graduation rates entered a similar trough as this age group passed through (or didn’t) high school and college. So did subsequent recruitment into professions such as law and medicine.
“Compared with every other birth cohort,” Howe wrote, “they have performed the worst on standardized exams, acquired the fewest educational degrees and been the least attracted to professional careers. In a word, they’re the dumbest.”
Howe gives lots of potential causes, including the high divorce rate and the do-your-own-thing ethos then common among parents and teachers.
I’m sure these were factors, but so, I’m convinced, was one activity in which my age group achieved historically high marks — marijuana use.
In 1978, nearly 40 percent of high school seniors had used marijuana in the previous month, according to the annual Monitoring the Future survey performed by the University of Michigan.
This figure dropped to well below 20 percent in the early 1990s and has climbed slowly since, along with the public acceptance of marijuana use.
Which is why the time is right to bring up Howe’s column. Yes, marijuana is less dangerous than drugs that already are legal for medical and even recreational use. But it’s still dangerous, and a lot more powerful than it used to be. And the general result of legalizing it for medical use in other states has been to make it more widely available to people who don’t really need it, and more socially acceptable.
I’m not sure we need that, based on what I remember of the previous era when it was widely available and socially acceptable.
I remember bongs around the campfire as a Boy Scout, and kids passing joints on the way to class in college. I remember skipping a lot of classes so I could huddle around the stereo and a bag of weed. It didn’t seem like a big deal when so many of my friends — just about all of them — were doing the same.
But it was. I wasted a lot of educational opportunities, a lot of my parents’ money. And as I moved into the harder stuff — because marijuana is a gateway, I don’t care what any study shows — I probably wasted some brain cells, too.
So, really, isn’t one very dumb generation enough?
Dan DeWitt can be reached at ddewitttampabay.com.