Dumbing Down

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Description of the pattern

The term Dumbing Down started in 1933 when motion picture screenplay writers changed the way they wrote in order to gain appeal with those of who had little education or intelligence. However, Dumbing Down will usually involve simplifying critical thought to a point where it begins to undermine intellectual standards of learning in a society. This then trivializes cultural, artistic, and academic standards.

How it works


In the late 20th century, the increased number of students attending university, because of lowered scholastic aptitude standards, required the establishment and maintenance of intellectual distinctions; thus, in 2003, the UK Minister for Universities, Margaret Hodge, criticized Mickey Mouse degrees as a negative consequence of universities dumbing down curricula to meet “the needs of the market”, degrees conferred for studies in a field of endeavour "where the content is perhaps not as [intellectually] rigorous as one would expect, and where the degree, itself, may not have huge relevance in the labour market", thus, a university degree of slight intellectual substance, which the student earned by "simply stacking up numbers on Mickey Mouse courses, is not acceptable"

"'Irresponsible' Hodge under fire", BBC News, 14 January 2003. URL accessed on 24 June 2006.

"50% higher education target doomed, says thinktank", EducationGuardian.co.uk, 14 July 2005. URL accessed on 24 June 2006.

The science fiction film Idiocracy (2005) portrays the U.S. as a greatly dumbed-down society five hundred years hence; which low cultural condition was achieved with dysgenics, over-reproduction by people of low intelligence being greater than the rate of reproduction of people of high intelligence, i.e. the educated. Conceptually, the world postulated in Idiocracy derives from the science fiction short story The Marching Morons (1951), by Cyril M. Kornbluth. Moreover, the novel Brave New World (1931), by Aldous Huxley, discussed the ways that society was effectively dumbed-down in order to maintain political stability and social order.


Here is Courtney's text which inexplicably never was added!

Overview- Academic work should be rigorous and complete, this is necessary to present a full spectrum of information. Some academia may be purposely not presenting full information in an effort to dumb down education.

Example- Strict standardized testing methods that prize quantitative skills rather than an holistic approach to education that develops skills. Teaching to a test enforces memorized learning rather than critical thinking. The Prussian education system in in place and schools are now a place where we learn to follow rules and accept what we are told is fact.

Religious influence that clouds or withholds scientific information in when presenting education. e.g. Catholic schooling; evolution, sex ed.

Why is it bad- Dumbing down education or academic works with the intent to withhold information due to perceived ignorance of the individual trying to learn by a secondary party will result in an incomplete education. Dumbing down information also takes away the full potential of the teacher. It doesn’t allow people to rise above standards and it also creates complacency with not fully understanding the world around them. Standardizing a dumbed down education is more likely purposely implemented to create a population that follows orders, which makes for good consumers.

Linked patterns

Example Link,


(Maybe we should grab some of this text from my Civic Intelligence article which follows....?)

Dumbing Down the Citizen

In the early 1970's Harry Braverman's "Labor and Monopoly Capital" (1974) demonstrated how the process of "dumbing-down" workers, primarily through severely reducing their on-the-job responsibility, flexibility, and autonomy (often called "de-skilling") increases management control and, hence, profits to the advantage of capital. Since we will be soon discussing the idea of civic intelligence we may hypothesize briefly about whether these ideas may also have some applicability outside the workplace. Is it possible that the citizenry is being "dumbed-down" in similar ways? And, if so, can we "run the processes in reverse" to undo the damage?

The key to Braverman's analysis is the decomposition of broad workplace responsibilities by management into discrete constituent parts, which are then used to force workers to perform within circumscribed ranges. This process, often in the name of "efficiency," dramatically lessens the scope and directionality of worker power. How could this process be replicated in realms outside of the workplace? The first responsibility to be jettisoned (as "outside" their primary work responsibility) in the civic sphere under such a redefinition would be the consideration of issues relating to general social implications. Thus workers and labor unions should focus exclusively on jobs and job security (and not, for instance, the social consequences of the jobs); artists should explore and express their individual feelings' scientists and researchers should pursue what is fundable within a narrow, specialized niche – computer science, physics, and other "technical" disciplines would expel implications of their subject matters from the curriculum; while measuring success purely in terms of monetary return on investment. Citizens of course would spend much of their non-working life shopping, buying items that will maximize their individual comfort and status while keeping the economic machine running at maximum capacity.

This general process removes the "politics" of labor, leisure, and learning; indeed it naturally results in the "de-skilling" of the citizen. Economists are the pioneers in this process by adapting and advocating the use of an economic calculus as the sole determinant for all of our decisions. This is the ultimate dumbing down; it reduces human aspirations and agency to that of an greedy and unthinking automaton. The media "de-skills" the citizenry in several ways as well, according to a variety of scholars. Castells (1997), for example, shows how the media's fixation with political scandal encourages cynicism and political disengagement on the part of the citizenry. The media often promotes "the spectacle" (Garber, Matlock, and Walkowitz, 1993) at the expense of the intellectually taxing. The ill effects of money on the media, politics, and elections also further increase the distance between citizens and public affairs (Schuler, 2001). Furthermore, Robert Putnam shows convincingly that, at least in the US, the virtually overnight spread of commercial broadcast television was a primary culprit in the steady degradation of American civic life over the last several decades (1996). One can only wonder what effects this new electronic "opiate of the masses" will have as it continues its spread on cultures outside the U.S.

The questions as to whether and to what extent citizen "de-skilling" has been orchestrated, and by whom, will not be discussed in depth in this paper (although the transformation of the US from a country of citizens to a country of consumers is certainly an appropriate and provocative topic to contemplate in this regard). It is sufficient to say that civic de-skilling is likely to dampen civic intelligence by influencing the content of, and the conditions under which, issues are placed on the public agenda, and by trivializing and polarizing discussion and deliberation on important public matters. Certainly each de-skilling step introduces changes in both institutionalization, the prescribed processes through which actions are advanced and validated, and in conceptualization of what everyday life entails; each step helps erect ordinary and the extraordinary barriers to civic intelligence.