Friday, January 7, 2011

Dumb and dumber

Stories of the dumbing down of ordinary people were flying thick and fast last night as I was chatting with a couple of women who work in a local travel agency. They had run into multiple incidences of people who thought Cape Cod is a small town, not a geographic place, a peninsula that is 70 miles long. My favorite of their stories was the man who was disappointed about not being able to take a whale watching boat trip because of bad weather who asked, "Where do the whales go when it's raining?"

The women cited instances of simple ignorance, someone driving from Canada heading for Texas who somehow ended up at a mid-Cape travel info center and wanted directions for driving to Dallas. As if maps had never been invented or they didn't know how to read one. And then there was a tourist who wanted to know if the ocean out there was the Atlantic or the Pacific. Another tourist wanted a room in "the hotel" [as if there is only one] and wanted to be sure to have a view of "the mountains."

Then a couple of non-tourist, just young and ignorant instances: the young Dunkin Donuts clerk who was asked for "a half dozen assorted donuts" who neither knew what a "half dozen" is or what "assorted" meant. And another young person who asked the time and was told "a quarter after one." She then turned to a friend and said, "What's that mean?" The friend had to say "one fifteen." The first person could only read digital clocks. Making change is a major problem, too, for many young people unless they can enter totals into a cash register that tells them how much change to give the customer. I've seen instances of people who do not know what a paragraph is and have no grasp of punctuation at all and I run into the use of texting abbreviations in email all the time.

Our public schools are graduating these people without basic literacy. I do not know what they DO understand, although I think they can follow the words of rap music which I cannot do. It was a "to hell in a handbasket" kind of discussion. I laughed a lot but it was only superficially funny. These young people are going to be the voters in the next election -- if they are made aware that this is something they actually are expected to do. What will they know about making choices? What will we get for for leaders?

9 comments:

Kass said...

Scary, isn't it? My daughter is back in college after a big break because of employment and unemployment and she says she can't believe how much the professors hold the hands of the students. They write horrible papers and are still given passing grades, making them believe their communications skills are adequate.

Jonas said...

True story: I hired a very promising young civil engineer (Masters grad). His academic record was superb. His first assignment was to write a brief report as an engineering consultant. I kid you not, it was pure gibberish. I found sentences without verbs. Incoherent paragraphs. I was stunned.

He was an excellent engineer given the appropriate computational tools, but he could not write. It was an eye-opener.

June Calender said...

Yes, Kass, it's very scary. What do those professors think they are teaching?

Jonas, I totally believe you. People not only graduate from high school unable to write a sentence -- never mind the concept of a paragraph -- but they get out college equally illiterate.

What scares me is how can a person think coherently without the ability to think in sentences and paragraphs? And do they ever READ anything?

FOLKWAYS NOTEBOOK said...

June -- May I quote:
"Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe."
— Albert Einstein
I do believe it is our schools and parents that are dropping the ball with students. -- barbara

Helen Conway said...

I once wrote a letter to a friend in Jerusalem. The post office clerk looked at the address and said "Israel. That's in Egypt isn't it?"

Rayna said...

I laughed out loud and then asked myself why I was laughing because it is so sad. The extent of one's vocabulary is a strong indicator of intelligence (or lack thereof). Nobody reads and don't get me started about the teachers! When my kids were in 6th grade, they used to come home and roll their eyes about their teacher who said "liberry."
They didn't have much respect for him; sad when the kids know more about language than their teachers.

sewinggeek said...

Very true! I wonder sometimes if people just do not listen to what is being said or think beyond the moment. I live in Canada near Niagara Falls, Ontario. Because of the geographic area we have a temperent zone and we have a unique area where tender fruit can be grown and I grew up on a fruit farm. Now this is no kidding - this did happen. A tourist drove by with skis on their car and asked where the snow was, it was July and 90 degrees. A US tourist thought it was Canada therefore there must be snow.
I so think Kass' comment is right. I think people are to used to having people feed them information instead of learning how to do things for themselves.

wlstarn said...

I had a moment on the other side of this today. I am working retail to pay the bills, although I am a bit overqualified for the job of cutting fabric. Customer asks question about getting a cut rate sale piece at an even larger discount; I say I will check with supervisor (even though I probably know the answer I am new and I always check). Customer makesplampa a comment about knowing more than the employees. "No, Ma'am, but if I'm wrong, it's on MY head, so I check first." I am NOT losing my job because I gave her a discount when I shouldn't have!
I think some of the epidemic of stupidity is, well, stupidity, and a lot of it is sheer laziness. Why bother to learn stuff when you can go online and have it handed to you?

Diane said...

My daughter's 5th grade teacher once reprimanded the class, "I don't want to hear y'all usin' no more double negatives." She (my daughter) was sent to the principal's office for pointing out the obvious. The principal sided with the teacher, telling me that respect for the teacher was more important than the information she was trying to convey." Huh?