Today's Politicos vs The Words and Deeds of The Founders
Random header image... Refresh for more!
Make a blogger happy, come back. Sign up for email post alerts!

The State of the American Mind Edited by Mark Bauerlein and Adam Bellow

Mark Bauerlein

Reviewed by:
On July 19, 2015
Last modified:July 20, 2015


The essays in this book cover a great deal of territory and all are essential reading for anyone struggling to understand what has happened to America.

The State of The American MindThe State of the American Mind
Edited by Mark Bauerlein and Adam Bellow

Mark Bauerlein and Adam Bellow summoned 16 prominent experts on American culture and society to analyze the dismantling of the American mind and character that has been under way for more than a half a century. The essayists bring to the task a vast array of empirical research to support insightful observations.

As Martin wrote about Charles Murray’s By The People, the findings in this book are astute but depressing. Both volumes provide honest appraisals of our present circumstances. Murrray doesn’t think there is any going back, but offers some “work arounds.” The 16 essayists in this book seek ways to change course.

The Introduction and first essay by E.D. Hirsh provides a framework for the book. Hirsh is founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation and an ardent proponent of broad, content-rich curriculum. His thesis is that such a curriculum develops strong readers and that history, ideals and culture are what defines and unites a nation. Hirsh objects to the prevalent emphasis on “learn how to learn“ and “critical thinking skills” ––manifestations of John Dewey’s lasting influence on colleges of education––because they de-emphasize essential content.

Hirsh explains that the great decline in SAT verbal scores between 1962 and 1979 was a result of young teachers, indoctrinated with Dewey’s progressive pedagogy of social and educational reform, flooding into elementary and high schools. It was not the influx of disadvantaged, black and immigrant students in the test-taking population as apologists continue to insist. The largest expansion of SAT takers occurred between 1952 and 1963. During the great decline, the population was stable.

In his wide-ranging essay, Hirsh also offers some excellent advice to parents who oppose continued experimentation. He could have been even more helpful had he also clarified why the Common Core State Standards and Core Knowledge have nothing in common. A few words, such as he delivered in an Oct. 2014 article, would have been beneficial. 1.

I wish the designers had recommended a curriculum—mine, sure, but others too. Absent that, the [Common Core] leaves the door open for schools to do what they’ve always done.” They’ll try to teach skills like critical thinking, he says, and forget the content that students are supposed to think critically about. He pauses for a moment, considering his legacy. “I hate to be godfather of something that is not going to work.1.


It isn’t possible to do justice to all the essays in a review; so a few too brief summaries will have to suffice. The State of the American Mind is organized into three sections.

1. States of Mind: Indicators of Intellectual and Cognitive Decline

The essays in this section cover specific mental deficits.

Among them, reduced cultural IQ, low biblical literacy, the fractured curriculum and diminished standards of higher education, and an over-medicated general population.

The troubled Trend of Cultural IQ by Mark Bauerlein contrasts rising IQ scores after World War I with the 54-point decline Hirsh described.

Bauerlein explains why the gains in IQ that occurred since World War 1 are not reflected in academic achievement or, according to employers, work performance. His analysis indicates that a poor showing on subtests of Vocabulary and Information (a measure of general knowledge derived from the culture) tracks lagging reading scores.

The significance of general information begins with the fact that texts always have unstated meanings–content that is implicit in the sentences and taken for granted as known by readers.

That is exactly the point Hirsch has been making for decades. This reviewer recently viewed an analysis of sixth graders’ comprehension of short passages about American history. Questions about the American Civil War revealed that a scant half of students could identify the opposing armies.  One about the American founding disclosed the same percentage could not name the country from which America declared independence.


Biblical Literacy Matters by Daniel L Dreisbach reports on the alarming decline of biblical literacy among Americans.

Because of the Bible’s role in shaping people’s thoughts and speech during the forming of our nation, it matters deeply that Americans today know so little about the Bible and its influence on their culture…Moreover biblical literacy is essential to understanding not only Christian tradition and Christianity’s continuing influence in the world today but also core cultural components of Western civilization and the intellectual roots of the American political experiment…

As he also points out, many controversies –– civil rights and abortion to mention just two––require biblical literacy to understand. The same requirement pertains to much great art, literature and music.


College Graduates, Satisfied and Adrift by Richard Arum makes the case that little measurable learning takes place on America’s over-priced college campuses. In the past few decades, the hours full-time students spend studying have dropped from 25 to 13 per week. Compared to European peers, “only full-time college students in the Slovak Republic spend less time on academics than do students in the United States.”

Arum blames a decline in institutional focus on academics, a weakening of standards, and a disproportionate investment in student support services and social amenities at the expense of academic programs and full-time faculty.

Studies show that recent college graduates not only fail to enter the work force with the competencies of previous graduates, but that they also do not demonstrate the same engagement in civic life.


Anatomy of an Epidemic by Robert Whitaker is perhaps the most frightening of all the essays in this section. The epidemic is that one in 5 Americans is now prescribed a psychiatric drug.

Whitaker traces the dramatic increase in the use of prescribed psychiatric drugs over the past twenty-five years and reveals a corresponding ”astounding rise in the number of disabled mentally ill in American society.” He reveals that medical research does not support the popular perception that such drugs provide a safe and effective fix for chemical imbalance in the brain.”

He writes, while such medications may be helpful to many people over the short term and some may do well in the long term, “the drugs increase the likelihood that a person will become chronically ill and disabled by the disorder. Psychiatric drugs do not fix chemical imbalances but instead induce them.”

But the wider implication is that the increased use of such drugs “has reshaped Americans thinking about free will and the capacity of humans to be responsible for their emotional states and for their actions.”

2. Personal and Cognitive Habits/Interests

This section focuses on specific mental behaviors, narcissism and conspiracy obsessions among them.

The Rise of the Self and the Decline of Intellectual and Civic Interest by Jean M Twenge focuses on the exalted self-belief that permeates American culture.

Compared to representative samples of entering college students since 1966, recent students are much more likely to self-rate highly in both academic and personal domains. The same holds true for high school seniors.

Encouraging these inflated opinions are inflated grades. In 1976, 19 percent of high school seniors had an A average compared to 37 percent in 2012. In the 1960s, the most common grade in college classes was C. By 2000 the most common grade was A. She identifies today’s young generation as self-absorbed to the exclusion of broader interests not directly related to the self. Twenge confirms Richard Arum’s finding that college graduates are less involved in civic life than prior generations and suggests narcissism is a contributing cause.

3. National Consequences

This section is an examination of  broader trends such as rates of entitlement claims, voting habits, and higher education.

American Exceptionalism and the Entitlement State by Nicholas Eberstadt marks the growth of the welfare state and the decline of personal responsibility. He traces its beginning to the 1960s and a government bent on increasing state-dependency. The numbers are staggering.

In 1963, less than one federal dollar in four was spent on transfers of money, goods and services to individual recipients under social welfare programs. By 2013, roughly three out of five federal dollars went to entitlement transfers.

By 2011, Census Bureau estimates indicated that just over 150 million Americans, or a little more than 49 percent of the population, lived in homes receiving one or more entitlement benefits.

American today is the richest society in history, and more prosperous and productive now than three decades ago, yet our entitlement state behaves as if Americans have never been more needy. The paradox signals how dependency is a mental condition, one that distorts the facts in order to sustain itself. The paradox is easily explained: means-tested entitlement transfers are no longer an instrument for strictly addressing absolute poverty, but instead a device for a more general distribution of resources.

It is obvious that the values, motivations and work ethic that created a free and prosperous American nation cannot co-exist with the habits of mind engendered by the entitlement state.


We Live in the Age of Feelings by Dennis Prager revisits a theme familiar to his radio audience and one that bears repetition.

The Age of Feelings, in Prager’s words, is “the triumph of sensitivities, preferences, dispositions, experiences, and personal choices over objective norms and traditional authorities…”

He defines the ascendency of feelings as emotional relativism. When only feelings matter, there can be no such thing as objective good, evil, or truth.

dolezalPerhaps the most bizarre example of feeling taking precedence even when it conflicts with reality was recently provided by Rachel Dolezal, the head of a local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter in Spokane, Washington. Dolezal is a white woman who, with the help of hair coloring, styling and tanning lotion, has masqueraded as black for years. In fact, she made a career out of it. She explained that, she feels (emphasis WWTFT) black. According to her defenders on the left, the rest of us should recognize and validate Dolezal’s feelings, much as religious believers are expected not only to accept gay marriage, but also to endorse it.

Leftism, as Prager points out, is rooted in feelings. It doesn’t count if their social policies destroy the people they claim to help. What matters is that the policies make leftists feel good. Conservatives who disagree are labeled offensive, as are religious believers who reject same sex marriage. The believers must be punished and, according to news reports, they are. The lefts’ growing and unfathomable hostility toward Judeo-Christian values just got fathomable.


The New Antinomian Attitude by R.R. Reno takes up where Prager leaves off.

She sees the American Mind operating in an Empire of Desire.

…In this regime moral authority is largely exercised for a very specific purpose: to minimize the psychological power of moral authority…It is forbidden to forbid and our moral judgments need to be transformed into true meaning, that is, expressions of class bias, historical circumstances, or best of all, personal preferences.

The Culture of Desire slides very quickly into barbarism as demonstrated by the recent secretly filmed video of physician and Planned Parenthood national executive Deborah Nucatola. The woman was filmed chomping down on salad and sipping wine while describing the various techniques she uses for harvesting body parts while aborting babies. She explains that she begins her clinic day by matching body part orders with the disposition of the babies who will supply them. That way, she explains, she can decide whether to start crushing “above or below the thorax” so she can get the desired body part out undamaged.

Reno worries that this new antinomian attitude heralds a coming age of barbarism. It appears the wait won’t be long. The barbarians are among us.

The essays in this book cover a great deal of territory and all are essential reading for anyone struggling to understand what has happened to America.

This reviewer found few of the authors’ suggestions for reversing course persuasive. However, presuming there is a remnant, in the biblical sense, to exercise them, efforts must be made. This is not a cheerful way to end a review or to recommend a book. But these essays need to be widely circulated. How they make us feel, after all, isn’t relevant. Think of it as purchasing an alarm clock.



1 Herbert R. { 07.19.15 at 5:25 pm }

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” God knows the people in this country need an extreme wake-up call. Thank you for presenting an excellent book. Will purchase.


Marcia Reply:

Thank you for your comment, Herbert. I hope other bloggers follow your example.


Herbert R. Reply:

You are very welcome. Buying book today. God bless you!!


Leave a Comment