Dumb and Dumber
By: Tom Chatham – Author of The American Dream Lost
A new bit of news that comes from The Sunlight Foundation is very revealing of our current culture in this country. They have used the Flesch-Kincaid test to rate the grade level of speeches in this country. This test equates higher grade levels with longer words and longer sentences. They analized everything said on the floor of the House and the Senate for the past several years to rate the congress. Our current Congress collectively speaks with an average grade level of 10.6 which is down from 11.5 in 2005. The law makers still speak over the heads of most Americans who read at between an 8th and 9th grade level. To put this in perspective, the U.S. Constitution is written at a 17.8 grade level and the Declaration of Independence at a 15.1 grade level. The Gettysburg Address is an 11.2 and the MLK “I Have a Dream” speech a 9.4 level. They found 4 interesting things about Congress in this study.
1. Controlling for other factors, it is generally the most moderate members of both parties who speak at the highest grade levels, and the most extreme members who speak at the lowest grade levels. This pattern is most pronounced among freshmen and sophomore members.
2. Prior to 2005, Republicans on average spoke at a slightly higher grade level than Democrats. Since then, Democrats have spoken on average at a slightly higher grade level than Republicans.
3. Some of the decline in grade level since 2005 is because junior members speak at a lower grade level than senior members, and some of it is because senior members have simplified their speech patterns over time.
4. On average, the more words individual members speak on the floors of Congress, the simpler their speech tends to be.
The 2012 State of the Union was for the third year in a row at the 8th grade level coming in at 8.4 which is well below the 10.7 average for the previous 67 addresses. You can find more data on individual members of congress at The Sunlight Foundation.
So, what does all of this mean? Just a precursory observation would conclude that Americans are getting dumber by the year. We learn by reading and most Americans don’t read very much any more. Reading increases our vocabulary and the amount of data we have to solve problems. The less people read the less capable they are of solving complex problems. This affects how creative a person can be. This may be why older generations were able to do great things. They gained most of their knowledge from reading, not from xbox or TV.
When you look at this data is it any wonder why we no longer follow the Constitution? Most people are too stupid to understand what it means. We are destroying our country more every day so I guess it’s true what they say about stupid people doing stupid things. The best thing you can do for future generations is encourage your children to read as much as they can. It’s also been said that the most important thing that a farmer can raise is a set of children with a good work ethic and set of moral values. This may be the only thing that saves us in the future.