Let’s Face It, Our Kids Are Simply Smarter Than We Are
Nothing is more grating on our nerves than a smart-aleck kid. We all either have one in our homes or we know one. These kids love to show us how much they know about technology, access information on the web far faster than we can access it with our brains, and they can YouTube a solution to just about any task. Yep, kids these days. But are kids really getting smarter? The science and practical evidence seem to say yes. Despite all of our efforts to quell our kids curiosity and ability to learn through draconian textbook committees, school voucher systems, attacks on their self-esteem, and the constant barrage on changing education standards our efforts to dumb down our kids has fallen mostly flat.
Take IQ for example. Since 1900 the average IQ score for industrialized countries has risen 30 points with the majority of that rise coming in the past 25 years (Winerman, 2013). Today, the person of average intelligence has a higher intelligence than 95% of the population had in 1900. This rise has been chronicled by researchers such as James Flynn. By reviewing subject matter tests from the 1940s to today he has found that the average student scores much better in math, science, critical thinking, and other subjects. So why is this happening?
First, the most obvious evidence is we are schooling many more students than we did in 1900. In 1900 only 51% of all adults had attended school of any kind and over 20% of the population was illiterate. Only 5% of the population held a college degree. Today, virtually every kid in America attends school, usually all the way to high school, literacy rates are at .6% and nearly 30% of all adults have a college degree. And educational attainment has reached across socio-economic lines whereas every demographic and gender has seen a massive rise in educational attainment. Where gaps remain, we are steadily closing those gaps and there is hope we will completely close those gaps by the middle of this century.
Secondly, we our brains develop through education, better nutrition, more complex work, and more leisure time we have freed up space in our minds to pursue more esoteric and creative pursuits. This ability to use our brains for higher order consideration allows the intelligence of our children to rise in short order. Quite frankly they have less to worry about, work in less physically taxing workplaces, and have more opportunity to think big thoughts. Ask any kid what they are thinking and their answer now may surprise you. These kids are really, really smart. In the past our minds had to be utilitarian, today they can be more hypothetical.
Third, the thing we fear most will turbo-charge our intellectual growth. The access to information, visual evidence, and differing opinions on the internet has opened a pandora’s box of opportunity. Gone are the days of mindlessly accessing channel after channel of cable television. Kids now interact with their media, commenting on it, creating content themselves, and have access to virtually every book, picture, piece of music, and film ever made. While this can seem overwhelming for you or I, this is considered normal for our kids. While there is room for concern when it comes to our attention spans and addiction to screens there are some futurists predicting that as the next generation is immersed in technology they will become more attentive as they have the opportunity to dig deeper.
Another factor in the growth of our children’s intellect is we nurture them more. That thing many like to complain turns them into entitled snowflakes is also that which makes them smarter. We are having less children, have more leisure time ourselves and use that time to spend with our kids, form bonds with them, and assist in their growth. We model good behavior and teach them to use their negotiation skills to solve disagreements and not to resort to violence. We teach them to be more inclusive, seek out and embrace diversity, and develop a personal world view where they form and support their own opinions and thoughts. Children are not to be heard and no longer just seen.
Speaking of diversity, our growing acceptance and welcoming of diversity in all forms is also a pathway to brain power. Humans learn from each other and the more diversity we are exposed to the more likely we are to be kind, generous, problem solving citizens. We know that all humans have something to share that we can learn from each other and no one has a cornered market on ideas. This has led to incredible advances in technology and scientific thinking. By employing a wisdom of crowds approach we create our future where our kids truly to shape the future in real time.
Finally, our kids are just working harder that we did. Don’t believe the hype. High School is harder and the subject matter is more complex. Today high school students take 4 additional credits than we did in 1990. And these courses are in advanced math, creative writing, public speaking, and STEM. Sit down with your student tonight and take a look at her homework. Likely you will not recognize it. Most of it was not introduced to us until college. And guess what? That is a good thing! After all, we should want our kids to be smarter than we are. There is no shame in that game. Currently we see the consequences when those less educated run for and achieve gains in business and politics. We create a more unstable and less kind economy where individual achievement is the only thing that matters. If we want to make America great we need to get out of the way and let our kids lead the way. They are certainly up for the task, they have been preparing for it, we just need to stop dumbing them down and start building them up.