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Anti-Intellectualism in Colleges

Discussion in 'Issues Around the World' started by ethics, Jan 23, 2003.

  1. ethics

    ethics Pomp-Dumpster Staff Member

    Inspired by this thread, I thought that I would re-introduce the problem in a new thread.

    What shocked me in the thread above, made me realize how insidious this problem is, with our Colleges, teaching our kids something against critical thinking? I was only mildly heartened to see other college students and faculty that are fuming over an 'anti-intellectual thread' running through college these days.

    They argue that critical thinking, self-examination, and the questioning of assumptions isn't as important to a college education in many campuses as it should be. Many things are pinned as the reason of any decline in intellectualism and the usual suspects are among them: trends and sports. While they are on the right track, they miss one of the main reasons, imho, which were mentioned in the above thread: the lack of intellect formulation.

    As one student professes, it's cooler to be outdoorsy at Dartmouth and 'urban trendy' at Yale than it is to be an intellectual.

    A professor wrote in the Daily Princetonian that 'even at Princeton, one will frequently hear echoes of a national culture that rewards people with an undisguised passion for knowledge and exact intellectual application with such appellations as nerd, geek and wonk.' Murray Sperber, a professor at Indiana University, chalks the decline to the 'beer-and-circus culture' that exists, substituting intellectual growth. But this is a symptom itself. The culprit, Dr. Sperber argues, is the attitude that college serves only to land a cushy job, which, suffice to say, could lead to a life of quiet desperation."

    CS Monitor article here.

    Again, it is in my humble opinion, the article is missing the main reason.

    The yesterday's intellectual was fueled by criticial thinking. In opposition of brainwashing, professors would fuel curiosity, independent research, and thesis based on finds, not political correctness.

    Today, the "geek" and the "nerd", in College, is classified as a brainwashed idiot who tend to be, outside of being great with computers, left leaning, brainwashed, pompous peaceniks, who do not even know the true reasons as to why they sided with the side they chose.

    A bit harsh?


    But weren't our Colleges and Universities the best in the world on the main platform for the freedom of expression?
  2. Techie2000

    Techie2000 The crowd would sing:

    I am a geek and proud of it...:)

    I am not an idiot, brainwashed, or a pompus peacenik. I actually know why I choose what sides I do, as opposed to the anti-intellectuals who chose no side at all. Personally I feel anyone that buys into this anti-intellectualism deserves what they get.

    Anyways I see this anti-intellectual culture every day. People who get good grades (including myself at times) are shunned for being smart. The only thing they view us as good for is copying homework. Kids with good grades have been told to get out more, and that they have no life.

    However where will this country be in the next twenty years? I foresee a possible major class split. A split where the intellectuals become a "ruling class" over the people who thought partying, drugs, and getting laid were more important than learning. A split where they anti-intellectuals are just happy as long as they get a big fat welfare or Social Security check to pay their house, food, and cable bill. Maybe we need to make it harder to get these things. Somewhere the fire that has kept this country going, where people used to work hard to get out of poverty, where people went to school to get an education because they wanted the nice paying job, a family, and a nice house with the white picket fence has burned out.

    In conclusion, I think, that it will only get worse before it gets better...
  3. joseftu

    joseftu ORIGINAL Pomp-Dumpster

    I think the anti-intellectualism is really deeper in the culture than just in the universities. In some ways, I feel myself shovelling sand against the tide, or some other such mixed metaphor.

    College is still, at its best, the last (sometimes only) place where ideas can be freely exchanged and discussed, and learning can take place for its own sake.

    I know, in the other thread, and elsewhere, we've discussed the kind of "brainwashing" or stultifying atmosphere of "preaching to the choir" in too many college classes.

    I still try, though, to open minds, to push critical thinking and deep analysis, to teach students that thinking, learning, exploring, growing nd creating are the reasons to be in college. I know (I talk to my colleagues) that I'm not all alone in this attempt.

    But it's true that this kind of pursuit is getting more and more difficult, even in the college classroom. The anti-intellectual culture around us is just about overwhelming.

    Let me give an (off-topic, maybe, example). Ever watch that tv show "Trading Spaces" or "The Real World" or any of these "reality" shows? Where they show the inside of people's houses? I'm not talking about the shows themselves (definitely a subject for another thread;)), but just about what you see in these "decorated" "ideal" living spaces...or rather, what you don't see...


    Now I'll admit that my home (with two college professors and a nature-obsessed seven-year-old) is a bit excessive. But we have books <b>everywhere</b>. Bookshelves, books on the floor, books on the couch, books by the bed...
    In these houses I see on tv, where supposedly real adult humans live, it's rare to see even one single book. Where are all the books?

    It's sad, but too often when I ask students what's the best book they've past few months, or even the best book they've ever read, they can't answer. Not because there are too many choices, because there aren't <b>any</b> choices.

    It's a small thing, maybe, and maybe not all that significant, but where are all the books? I'd settle for a Steven King, or John Grisham, I'm not all that snobbish. If people don't read, can they really be said to think?
  4. mikepd

    mikepd Veteran Member

    Books? Books!?!? What are you some sort of educator? Oh that's right, you are! I'd settle for even a newspaper in one of those tv homes. No such luck. Everyone has to get their information on the world delivered in sound bites by way of talking heads reading from tele-prompters while we cut to the video clip.

    Books? How quaint. They require effort, imagination, time, critical reasoning, skills taught in school then honed by years of repetition. No, my learned friend, books are a vanishing item from this technological, dumbed down to the lowest common denominator society. My library contains treasured leather bound hardbacks of various novels. When was the last time you saw those for sale? Now we put manuals on cd as it's cheaper, paperbacks cost what you could buy a hardcover for just a few years ago. I don't think I even want to know what reading scores are like these days. My SAT verbal was 712. I wonder what the average is today.
  5. Techie2000

    Techie2000 The crowd would sing:

    mike, if you need books, look at my room. I have too many...
  6. Coriolis

    Coriolis Bob's your uncle

    I come from a slightly different world with respect to intellectualism, or lack thereof, in college. I did my undergraduate and graduate work in mechanical engineering. The engineering curriculum makes no room, whatsoever, for intellectual pursuits. It's very cut and dry stuff, f=ma, you can't push a rope, etc. My undergrad supervisor and mentor, however, was cut from a different cloth. The vast majority of the students (and faculty, no doubt) thought he was wacko -- and he was! That's what made him such a brilliant teacher. He often wore a kilt and always wore wooden shoes, but he was a genius in his field (kinematics in robotics and machine design). Most importantly, he encouraged creativity and expression, and critical thinking. As such, his lectures always appeared highly disorganized because he never taught from a text book, and gave few notes, but if you paid attention to him you could learn more in more in one lecture with him than a whole week in thermodynamics. Unfortunately, few paid attention to him.

    While doing my graduate work I taught 1st and 2nd year mechanical engineering courses for a few years. At first I was quite keen to break away from the moldy, rigid cast of the curriculum, and model my lectures after the example that was set for me by my mentor. How silly I was. It was impossible, and I failed dismally at sparking any creativity or critical thinking whatsoever in my students. The difference between me and my mentor was that he forged ahead -- if you got it, great, if you didn't, too bad. I couldn't work this way -- I needed to know that the majority of my students were getting it, and wouldn't settle for less. So, I was faced with a conundrum, and ultimately my responsibility to make sure the students were adequately prepared for their 3rd and 4th year courses won out.

    In the present day, I find myself in a completely different environment. I now teach part time at a graduate school that trains health professionals --physical therapy, nursing, communication disorders, clinical investigation. I teach biostatistics institute wide -- now there's a dry subject if there ever was one. It's taken me a while (like 6 years) but I now feel that I'm able to incorporate some of that creativity and critical thinking into my courses, but it's a challenge. Fortunately, I'm teaching mature, motivated adults (as opposed to pimply nosed freshman who's only thought is the beer social on the weekend), which has made it easier for me to incorporate what I think is a good teaching style. The other course I teach is biomechanics (where my training really is) to physical therapists, and with that I've been much more successful at implementing a teaching style that highly emphasizes critical thinking. Intellectualizing course material is so much easier when your student body is tuned to critical thinking.

    So, while I live somewhat apart from the "university campus" world, I can still see the problems. Where I teach, the students who succeed in their advanced education courses are generally those who have worked as health care professionals for years. They learned how to think critically by getting their hands dirty. The students who do worse are those who arrive fresh out of college (some science but mostly liberal arts) and expect a lot of hand holding and want everything handed to them. The curriculum where I teach does not bend to this. Both practical training and group oriented classroom course work (discussions and problem solving) ensures they emerge as critical thinkers.

    I do wonder though, if one of the major threats to intellectualism in universities right now is the growing trend of distance learning. As on-line courses become more and more popular (and to the university financial offices they are VERY desireable), fewer students will be engaging in the type of intellectual intercourse that fosters discussion and problem solving, and hence, critical thinking.

    I think the jury will be out on that one for a while yet.

    My, my, how I've rambled. Too much coffee tonight! ;)
  7. joseftu

    joseftu ORIGINAL Pomp-Dumpster

    Thanks for the rambling, Coriolis. Keep drinking coffee--I enjoyed it.
    (And maybe I should start wearing a kilt!)
    I have one quibble, though, and that's with the blanket condemnation of distance learning. Online courses preclude neither discussion nor critical thinking. In fact, it's possible to have students engage in <b>more</b> discussion, and <b>deeper</b> thinking in a well-designed online course. It depends on the teacher, the course, and the students, certainly, and the design and implementation are more difficult. But I can say from personal experience that online courses do not have to be any threat to the kind of learning we've been discussing. But maybe this is a subject for another thread.
  8. ethics

    ethics Pomp-Dumpster Staff Member

    I will echo that sentiment.

    Most of my learning these days is through distance learning and New School University does a fantastic job. I feel I have more attention and the education more catered to me than I would get if I were in a classroom with another 60 students. :)
  9. mikeky

    mikeky Member

    I very much agree with this. Classroom problems are seldom as complex or as interesting as real ones. And with younger students lack of insight into what the real problems are, it's easy for them to just go through the motions. Those with "dirty hands", however, can more easily make the connection between the classroom information presented and real problems, as well as more easily sift the BS solutions from practical ones.
  10. Steve

    Steve Is that it, then?

    I believe a large part of the problem of our universities and, to a lesser degree, high schools, can be attributed to the pressure to acquire "applied knowledge"; i.e. knowledge that is immediately useful to employers upon entry into the work force.

    I lament, along with yazdzik, the decline of the true liberal arts education, which is focussed on teaching the individual to think critically and independently of the subject matter.

    Technical and specialized learning certainly has a rightful place in our education system and plays a prime role in the economy. But when that type of knowledge is taught at the expense of critical thinking, the entire foundation of discovery is threatened.

    Critical thinking is often shallowly characterized today as "thinking outside of the box". Normal thought processes, oriented on technical and factual matters, cannot achieve much more than an incremental, evolutionary advancement in understanding. It is the critical thinking that makes the leaps of thought that result in new solutions and ideas. It is not "thinking outside of the box" so much as it is asking "why a box, in the first place?"
  11. Techie2000

    Techie2000 The crowd would sing:

    I have to agree with Coriolis. I've learned more from fixing people's computers more effectively than anything I've learned from reading computer books or the current A+ certification CD-ROM course I've been working on...
  12. mikeky

    mikeky Member

    I guess I disagree with the implication that technical subject matter cannot inspire critical and independent thinking to the same extent as the liberal arts.
  13. Steve

    Steve Is that it, then?

    "...independently of the subject matter..." is key to my point, mikeky.
    I don't mean to denigrate technical or specialized knowledge; in fact, I acknowledge its value. But by its nature, it does not require, nor even encourage, what is sometimes referred to as multi-disciplinary thinking. It may require, instill, and encourage critical and independent thinking <u>within</u> a particular field, or even cross over into related fields, but that's not the same as being independent of, let alone dependent upon, knowledge of a particulare field.
  14. mikeky

    mikeky Member

    I would argue that the thought processes that go into good problem solving techniques are the same, whether it's which pump to use for a particular application or which tax to raise. The tax issues may be more complex and require more research, but the approach of looking at the alternatives, weighing each of the issues, etc., is the same. Those thought processes can be just as well developed in a technical discipline as a solely liberal arts one.
  15. Steve

    Steve Is that it, then?

    But those are all evolutionary thought processes. They proceed from A to B to C to the logical, best conclusion. They are good and useful processes, but they are still dependent upon the particular subject matter.

    "Why do we need a pump? Can we do it a different, better way?"

    "Why do we need taxes? What alternatives exist that do not rely upon taxation?"
  16. Misu

    Misu Hey, I saw that.

    Ethics, I will tell you what I was told by the TA (teaching assistant) for my psychology of women course. But a quick background of what occured, first.

    Last night was night 3 of class. It meets once a week. So last night, we received our first HW submissions, graded and critiqued so we understand what exactly it is the professor hopes to see in our submissions. The assignment is to read two essays with opposing viewpoints, and create questions based on your readings. One question per opposing view.

    I receive my paper back, and immediately I spot red ink all over my work. I begin to read what she has written, and it quickly becomes apparent to me that I am being accused of plagiarism. The professor had already left, so I spoke to her TA. I showed her the work, and she read it. Then she told me not to worry about it.

    I pressed the issue. How can I not worry about the professor suspecting that I plagiarise??? If I have ANY hopes of entering Graduate school, I can't have a professor thinking I don't do my own work. The TA told me the professor was only covering herself. I was like "huh?" Then she told me that in an undergraduate course, students turn in work at one level. So when a student comes along and turns in work at the Graduate level, professors tend to suspect the student is cheating. I was like "WHAT?!?!? This isn't graduate level writting!" But apparantly, according to the TA, my work was indeed Graduate level.

    She told me not to worry about it, because from now on, it is she, and not the professor, that will be grading turned in assignments. But to say I am confused is an understatement. I have never - EVER - thought of my writing as anything more than being a long-winded rant. Even in high school, I have been accused of submitting work not my own, and once had to sit and rewrite an essay in front of an english teacher who could not believe I wrote the essay myself.

    I used to believe that University was where one went to excell - where one's professors put you through the gamut to ensure you tried your very hardest to excel. To say I am shocked that my puny HW assignment was considered Graduate level work has me worried. How will I be prepared to deal with real-life patients with real and serious problems if my work at this level, which I do not feel is Graduate level work, is being scrutinized because I am expected to be dumber??? Should I dumb it down to not raise suspicions? And if I do that, who am I protecting? Myself or my professors? And won't I be cheating myself?

    To say this has me alarmed is an understatement.
  17. ethics

    ethics Pomp-Dumpster Staff Member

    Wow Misu, thanks for sharing that. I am speechless!!!!
  18. Steve

    Steve Is that it, then?

    Misu, as they say during the employment interview: We're sorry, but you're overqualified for this job. :)
  19. Misu

    Misu Hey, I saw that.

    I guess so. But the thing is - I'm NOT!! It's just that professors expect crap from their students, and when a student comes along and takes the work seriously, instead of being relieved that education isn't totally down the toilet, they question it...

    I guess I can't blame them - it's all too easy to cheat, especially when you can access oodles of scholarly works online and through the library. And what are the chances of a professor reading that particular scholarly work? Very slim.

    I guess I will have to try harder to not sound like I copied work. But the whole point to my post was that although I never encountered it before, I am encountering it now - a professor that discourages critical thinking. I am shocked. She's not even a PhD to have such an attitude! ;)
  20. mikeky

    mikeky Member

    Ok, I'll accept that the above is an evolutionary thought process. But how is "critical and independent" liberal arts thinking really different? There is an issue, there are multiple sides to the issue, there's an opinion on the issue. The only difference I see is the type of issues that the two typically encounter, which I postulate is based more on interests than ability.

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