28 September 2008


Why is it cool to be anti-intellectual?

Recently I saw a guy (student, I'm assuming) skateboarding across (our University) campus. His shirt? Black with one word across the front in bright green: "STUPID". Why wear that? And especially when you're in college, presumably to get a degree and make you more qualified for jobs. Why?! Is it cool? Is that going to make him friends? I wonder what his parents, who are probably paying for his college education, think of that shirt. Does he even think about it beyond "hey, that shirt says stupid. Heh. Cool."? I don't know. I wish I had asked.

Second anti-intellectual occurrence I've encountered: grading a written report in which the student had to read and evaluate a scientific article. This particular student readily admitted that he did not understand the article at all. That's fine and dandy...most people don't understand most scientific writing. Unless it's in your field, it's gobbledygook. However, this student's suggestion for better understanding the article was not that he learn more, or try to figure out what the big words meant. His solution: make scientists write for everyone, not for themselves and for "people who already know too much." Direct quote. So, Mr. Undergrad, do you think that those cancer researchers who wrote this article, and those cancer researchers who are reading this article to learn what works and what doesn't, all know too much? Maybe they should just stop now, go home, and play some Wii. I mean, they already know way more than anyone you see regularly on TV. Should they just stop now?

And forget about learning for the sake of learning. By far the majority of students I encounter are merely interested in getting the grades to get the GPA to get into the professional school of their choice. They don't want to learn it if it won't be on the test. Heaven forbid they know things just because.

*sigh* I guess I'm feeling pessimistic. I see presidential candidates not wanting to seem too intellectual, for fear of alienating their base. I see college students trying not to stand out as anything above average. Where does this get us as a nation? Particularly when more and more of our science and engineering jobs are going overseas. Where? To India and China, where intellectualism is praised. It's so frustrating to see intellectual merits discounted, and being "just a regular guy" (like GWB or Gov. Palin) praised. It's ridiculous.

[/end sour grapes from a frustrated intellectual.]

1 comment:

Daktari said...

I desperately hate to be one of those grad students that complains bitterly about undergrads, but the fact is, I'm not seeing the same level of pride in individual achievement among them that I have and certainly most of my friends have. I'm TAing Plant Diversity. The labs are overloaded (23 and 22 students each) so I don't have scads of time to spend one-on-one with students fostering inquiry. Ya know? Big classes suck! I have one student; a very bright student,who I'm pretty sure he wants to go to med school. He takes a slide and mounts it on the microscope and asks me to double-check if this is what he should be seeing. Every single slide. I finally told him "You need to stop doubting yourself, and when you have a genuine question take some initiative and look in your book for an answer, and if you STILL have a question, discuss it with your lab mates. Science is a group project." I can't imagine someone thinking they have what it takes to be a doctor needing constant hand-holding. But that's how it is. Even the bright and talented want an A brought to them on a platter. The thing that disappoints me most is how few students ever think deeply enough about the material to ask me a question that causes me to think. They aren't intellectual snobs; they are intellectual slobs. I'm really starting to consider it my job not just to pass on knowledge, but to foster a love of learning that they somehow missed in life to this point. All in all, I think the latter is far more important than the former.