Are We Dumber Than We Used To Be? Upside’s “Good News”

[Editor's Note: This post is part of the Patheos Book Club conversation about Upside: Surprising Good News about the State of Our World.]

When I read Bradley Wright’s book Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told, I remember thinking, “We need more books like this one.”

Now, Wright has answered my request and one I believe will be of benefit to you as well. In Upside: Surprising Good News about the State of Our World, Wright aptly describes the good news that rarely finds a spot among our grim entertainment-driven headlines.

For example, did you know that extreme poverty has been cut in half since the 1980s? When is the last time you’ve heard that on your nightly news? Or did you realize that life expectancy has doubled over the last century? By my newspaper’s front page, you would think I should stay in my house for fear of the latest salmonella outbreak. Wright reveals these and many more “good news” statistics that we long to hear yet rarely do.

A personal favorite of mine was chapter four, provocatively titled, “Are We Dumber Than We Used to Be?” I say “my personal favorite” because I have served for over a decade as a youth minister and now as a professor to college students. In this time period, I have witnessed how the Information Age has led to a spike in knowledge among the emerging generation. However, because this same flood of knowledge has been picked up in a myriad of new ways that defy traditional evaluation, critics have concluded today’s students are actually less educated than the past. (Despite the fact that my two year old can navigate the options on my mobile phone!)

Wright provides his expert insights as a sociologist to point out the fallacies on such issues. For instance, a century ago only 3% of Americans had a four-year degree; today, 27% have at least four years of college on their resume. (Even if we’re still paying for it when our own children return to college.) Further, on average, student IQ scores have increased by over three points per decade. Worldwide, literacy levels have reached over a whopping 80%.

While some young Americans choose to invest their increased education on improving their video game scores rather than a career in politics or law, the bottom line is that today’s young people are smarter than at any point in American History. The same trend is taking place globally at varying levels, which has profound implications.

Could the recent Arab Spring be a result, at least in part, of the growing level of literacy and education among the next generation? Could the decrease in world poverty be linked to the increased level of education among Americans? Wright does not claim to have such answers, but I would suggest that the details he provides opens the door for a deeper conversation regarding how education influences today’s social issues—primarily for the positive.

In the end, Upside clearly achieves its primary goal—to document the surprising good news of the state of our world in an accurate, helpful, and enjoyable manner. For this, we should all rejoice—and share—the good news of Upside.

Dillon Burroughs is an activist and the author or coauthor of nearly 30 books on issues of faith and culture. He blogs on Patheos.com at “Holy Writ.” Find out more at readdB.com or Facebook.com/readdB.


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