Penkava: How to get dumber without really trying

Well, the jig is up. The cat is out of the bag. The beans are spilled, and the cover is blown. Yep, scientists have confirmed what many of us have thought about each other for quite a while: We’re getting dumber and dumber by the minute.

Evidently those who live in the Western World (I think that’s us) have had their composite IQ drop 14 points since the Victorian Era. In other words, according to researchers, the Victorians, whoever they were, were a lot smarter than us.

I read the study and, quite honestly, could not make heads or tails of it. They used words such as “meta-analytic” and “cognitive process” and “cleverer”… vocabulary far beyond the reach of mortal men. All I know is that a bunch of smarty-pants say that our intelligence has waned over the years.

So rather than try to explain their reasoning, I will present to you in easy-to-understand terms my simple rationale to elucidate the so-called depreciation of occidental acumen. I thus bequeath to you my list of substantiations to validate my reasons for …

Why the people of the Victorian Era were a lot smarter than us

First of all, I don’t know about you, but I don’t know when the Victorian Era was. I bet most of your friends don’t know, either. Yet, I’m sure all of the Victorians knew what years they were living in. They probably knew the months and even the days, for that matter. Score one for the Victorians.

During the Victorian Era (OK, I’m gonna have to tell you … this period spanned the years of the reign of Queen Victoria of England, 1837-1901), Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. Interestingly, unlike us, the Victorians never interrupted a wedding or funeral with their phones. And they certainly didn’t walk down streets bumping into people or falling into water fountains as they stared at their newfangled devices.

Speaking of walking, the Victorians walked to get everywhere. However, when we walk, we usually hop on a treadmill and get nowhere. Also, they invented bicycles and used them as an efficient mode of transportation. We ride bikes because we like wearing spandex. 

The public flushing toilet was invented during the Victorian Era, but when we’re out and about, we wave our hands at a toilet like a Navy semaphore flagman and often leave flushless.

Folks back then could buy a stamp with a picture of a queen on it for one cent. We pay almost 50 times that price for one with a photo of a Muppet.

Did you know that still photographs were invented in that era? They took meaningful photos of family and special events. We click meaningless shots of plates of food at restaurants. 

Victorian authors penned such great novels as “A Tale of Two Cities” and “Treasure Island.” We devour “Harry Potter” and “Fifty Shades of Grey.” They listened to Wagner, Liszt and Ravel. We groove to Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and Justin Bieber. The Victorians launched the first airplanes, but we grounded our space shuttles. They invented moving pictures, yet millions of us flocked to see “Texas Chainsaw 3D.”

I could go on and on, but the evidence speaks for itself. The only error of the Victorians that I could find was when they embraced Charles Darwin’s theories. Rather than natural selection producing a species of superior intelligence, it would seem that through the years, we have experienced the survival of the dumber.

But maybe this IQ thing isn’t so important. After all, perhaps the Victorians were just good test-takers. I say bring one of them back, put a Smartphone in their hands, sit them down with a Baconator Meal Deal, and I bet nine out of 10 of ‘em won’t even take a picture of it. Victorian brainpower? Bah, humbug!

• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. He just had a sudden thought … if the Victorians were so smart, why aren’t they still around? He can be reached at

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