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Do you think our culture is anti-intellectual? - Page 2

post #21 of 229
When I moved to the US I was surprised by the fact how little Americans were aware of the world outside the US. I am still baffled by the level of mathematics at schools that is considered "normal". The knowledge of classics written by non-American writers is at a amazingly low level. :

The big part to the OP's answer will depend on how you define intellectual. I don't think one has to be gifted to be an intellectual, nor do I think one has to graduate from college.

To me an intellectual is a person who reads, a person who knows a lot about the world, has an open mind, absorbs knowledge, and is interested in learning new things. Something about classical education rings a bell... Can you be an adult intellectual and not know who Plato was? Or Tolstoy? Or how WWII came about? Or the capital of Japan? I don't know.. it's hard to define.

In short, I don't think there is a simple answer to this question. As imperfect as American society is, I've known far worse, and it would be a shame for me to throw stones, kwim? I think there are plenty of venues for those who want to broaden their intellectual horizons in the US. Starting from National Geographic subscription, to opportunities to travel the world with archeological digs. I think the US is such a big country that you are bound to witness the good, the bad and the ugly. I'm guessing there are areas that are more intellectual than others, if you wish.

What I am 100% certain, is that US provides a great variety of opportunities for academically inclined individuals, and if YOU are an intellectual, you have a lot of ways to go about with your interests.

I have too many thoughts on the subject. A great topic
post #22 of 229
Quote:
Originally Posted by rhubarbarin View Post
It seems like 'intellectual' these days means, 'someone who is extensively conventionally educated, and believes anyone else who isn't has subpar intelligence'.
I like this definition from Wikipedia: "An intellectual (involving thought and reason) is one who tries to use his or her intelligence and analytical thinking in either his profession or personal pursuits."

Equating intellectual with conventional education just furthers the anti-intellectual culture. It creates false stereotypes to further encourage a lack of intellectualism. You can have intelligence and think analytically without ever stepping foot in a traditional classroom. The people that are conventionally educated and look down their noses at others are the ones that are trying to convince themselves that they are intellectual. A true intellectual would be able to see beyond the confines of the traditional stereotypes.
post #23 of 229
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Originally Posted by MusicianDad View Post
My friend made an interesting observation back when she started post-secondary. She said, the people who do well in school are the people who are capable of regurgitating the information force fed to them in a way the instructor likes. She also pointed out this was more true in elementary and high school, but still noticeable in later education.
I have a couple different thoughts on this.

First, the school system is set up to create workers that tow the line. When I was in grad school, I had to read a book and do a presentation. I don't remember the book but I remember that it was about technology and getting people locked in. The product that succeeds is actually the one that gets the most people locked in. It doesn't matter which one is actually superior. It's about which one can dupe the most people. Anyway, it was one of those moments of revelation because higher education is all about lock in. The SAT and all of those other tests for college are to help see who they can most likely lock in. If you aren't a good test taker, then you will not succeed in college so they don't want you. They want good test takers so that they can be sure you don't drop out and they continue to get your money. It has absolutely nothing to do with intelligence.

I think the regurgitation culture is filtering into the colleges more and more. I work with a graduate level class and I am amazed at the number of students that are unable to read and understand directions. If every little detail is not clearly spelled out, they are asking how we want it done. We give a basic rubric and basic instructions but how they carry it out is really up to them. You have no idea how many e-mails I get where students are asking, "I am going to do X, is that okay?" Ten different students ask the same question in a slightly different manner because they didn't understand it the first ten times. I have no problems with this because it is my job and I thoroughly enjoy it. (Please don't think I am complaining about the individual students.) The problem that I have is that this has become the norm. We don't spell out every little detail because we want them to learn and think for themselves and students don't quite know how to handle it because most of them haven't been asked to do it.
post #24 of 229
Quote:
Actually, his inventiveness is his ability to steal great, artistic ideas from Steve Jobs, and then butcher them into crud.
And from IBM. Although you could argue that his genius, all along, has been to identify promising technologies and find ways to popularize them. That's a special kind of talent, too.

MusicianDad, does this mean the gifty forum FINALLY has a man posting?! Or two? Is your daughter gifted? Introductions, please.

Quote:
Sometimes a little practicality is also a wise choice.
I chose something practical (software engineering) because I simply wasn't good enough for my dream job (literature critic -- you're either the best or you starve). Of course, I found my studies mind-numbingly boring and dropped out but I ended up in software quality assurance which is sort of a mix of the two. And now I'm wasting my intellect as a homemaker and homeschooler...

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Yeah I know a lot of those too.
Me too.
post #25 of 229
Quote:
What I am 100% certain, is that US provides a great variety of opportunities for academically inclined individuals, and if YOU are an intellectual, you have a lot of ways to go about with your interests.
This is very true. All I can say is we just got back from Germany and we are absolutely impressed by two things: libraries and homeschooling. And combining the two is just draw-dropping awesome. :

Everytime we go to a library my German DH feels guilty checking out books (sometimes 20 at a time) because it's for free. He feels like he's getting away with something. And I got a couple of inter-library loans which he just thinks is TOOO COOOL!

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I don't mean to slam other mdc members, but a post about sales at target would probably get more hits.
Well, I've got to defend MDC here (although you weren't really slamming them) because I've actually been impressed by some of the posters on the MDC forums. The conversational level is generally a bit higher than most other forums I've seen: some punctuation, full sentences, decent English. If you complain about MDC than you probably haven't seen some of the OTHER forums out there (although I must say that the Well Trained Mind forums are more intellectual -- surprise, surprise).
post #26 of 229
1. Yes, absolutely anti-intellectual as a whole, though it can vary widely according to region.

2. I have been pleased to find the level of discourse very high at MDC -- seriously, google some random parenting thing and see what churns up.

3. I agree that formal education is a useless marker for intellectualism. Plenty of stupid a-holes with Ph.Ds from Ivy League schools, plenty of high school dropouts with an innate love of learning and knowledge.

4. I am fortunate enough to have a dad who encouraged me NOT to "choose a trade" at college, and then who is a huge supporter of my staying at home w/kid. (We will leave aside the issue of old-fashioned sexism for the purposes of this post. ) My family was always an island of intellectuals in the midst of...well, people who actively hated on us for reading books.
post #27 of 229
Quote:
Originally Posted by library lady View Post
I think the regurgitation culture is filtering into the colleges more and more. I work with a graduate level class and I am amazed at the number of students that are unable to read and understand directions. If every little detail is not clearly spelled out, they are asking how we want it done. We give a basic rubric and basic instructions but how they carry it out is really up to them. You have no idea how many e-mails I get where students are asking, "I am going to do X, is that okay?" Ten different students ask the same question in a slightly different manner because they didn't understand it the first ten times. I have no problems with this because it is my job and I thoroughly enjoy it. (Please don't think I am complaining about the individual students.) The problem that I have is that this has become the norm. We don't spell out every little detail because we want them to learn and think for themselves and students don't quite know how to handle it because most of them haven't been asked to do it.
They're taught that in high school unfortunately. If they don't do it exactly like the teacher expects they get low or failing grades. One friend got a C- on a paper that was meant to express her opinion and the teacher wrote on the paper that it was the wrong answer. The question specifically asked for an opinion. Confused the heck out of her cause as far as she knew an opinion couldn't be wrong. So the students start looking for exactly what the teacher wants and by the time they get to college they have a hard time with doing it their own way. :
post #28 of 229
Thread Starter 
Thanks for replying everyone!

Library lady...I am also a librarian - although not by trade. I studied Art Education in University. I work part - time in a tiny rural library. It is a very cool job.

While I absolutley do think our collective culture is anti-intellectual, I also see a bit of progress in this area. I think things like the Harry Potter phenomena (which makes reading look cool) help. I believe the internet has been a great boon for intellectuals of all sorts. Not only is their oodles of info online on a huge variety of topics, but message boards help decrease the isolation.

On the negative side, I think schools are far less intellectually challenging or oriented than when I was in school. To discuss it would be a thread in itself.

For those of you who self identify as intellectuals (and the word gives me pause, even though it shouldn't, because of cultural stereotyping) was there a period in your life when you were not an intellectual? As a child I was alway interested in learning. My kids do not seem to be - or not to the extent I was/am. I find it kind of sad and suprising - how the heck are children who are gifted not interested in learning???? Learning has brought me such joy in life, I want that for them too. I am unsure how to foster it. Of course, people have the right to not be intellectuals - I just wonder if that is what is going on or are they suppressing it due trying to conform to the dominant culture? Part of it may be their ages, 9 and 12.

Kathy
post #29 of 229
Quote:
Originally Posted by MusicianDad View Post
They're taught that in high school unfortunately. If they don't do it exactly like the teacher expects they get low or failing grades. One friend got a C- on a paper that was meant to express her opinion and the teacher wrote on the paper that it was the wrong answer. The question specifically asked for an opinion. Confused the heck out of her cause as far as she knew an opinion couldn't be wrong. So the students start looking for exactly what the teacher wants and by the time they get to college they have a hard time with doing it their own way. :
My bachelor's degree is actually in elementary education and I saw first hand how regurgitation is rewarded and orginal thought is dissuaded. That was part of the reason that I chose not to teach in the public school system and chose to pursue librarianship instead. When teachers had to plan two and three weeks ahead and stick to carefully designed lesson plans that took into account all of the "skills" required by state mandated testing, there just wasn't any time for teachable moments or real teaching. The teachers were just as stifled as the students.
post #30 of 229
Quote:
Originally Posted by kathymuggle View Post
For those of you who self identify as intellectuals (and the word gives me pause, even though it shouldn't, because of cultural stereotyping) was there a period in your life when you were not an intellectual? As a child I was alway interested in learning. My kids do not seem to be - or not to the extent I was/am. I find it kind of sad and suprising - how the heck are children who are gifted not interested in learning???? Learning has brought me such joy in life, I want that for them too. I am unsure how to foster it. Of course, people have the right to not be intellectuals - I just wonder if that is what is going on or are they suppressing it due trying to conform to the dominant culture? Part of it may be their ages, 9 and 12.
Kathy
That is a tough question. I think I was more intellectual before I started kindergarten because I didn't have to please anybody. My dad is the antithesis of popular culture. He doesn't give a rat's patooty what the rest of the world thinks. I hung out with my dad all the time and he is very intellectual and is always pushing people to think outside of themselves even if he does encourage practicality. I tend to be a people pleaser by nature so when I got to school I worked to please my teachers and learning was more an excercise in doing what was required rather than pursuing knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Frankly, school was too easy most of the time and it wasn't fun either. It was just a place to go because I had to. I learned a lot more about business, life, and who knows what else by hanging out with my dad.

In retrospect, I think college was more of the same. I did well and I gained a lot of knowledge but I don't think I really appreciated it until I got out of school. While in school, I never really thought of myself as intellectual. I was just another geek trying to get through school and go to college. I always felt that there was a ton of people out there that were smarter/better than me for a variety of reasons. I never really thought of myself as that intelligent. When I was in high school, we had to write a computer program in BASIC for one of my classes. The output was supposed to list 3 numbers in order. I wrote a very short program and the teacher rejected it because he wanted us to go through the process of testing each number individually rather than the shorter/easier way. I was very content to be a mediocre honor's student. Why should I think about some of that stuff? I can't remember most of it anyway because it had absolutely no relevance to me at all.

I don't think I really became intellectual until I met my husband who would engage me in logical arguments and debates. Until I met him, I had never really met anybody that was able to engage me or truly appreciate knowledge. I had friends but they weren't interested in the same things that I was or they came from different backgrounds. I didn't fit with the smart kids so I hung around with the stereotypical dumb crowd, which was very stifling. I think it has been a gradual process that has required some deprogramming on my part. Having the Internet and message boards as a kid would have been a great thing because you don't have to deal with all of the social awkwardness or stereotypes. People in cyberspace don't know where you live, what kind of car your drive, or what brand of clothes you wear.

My older girls (4 & 7) absolutely love to learn. I feel like school is really good at stifling creativity and curiosity which is why we embrace a lifestyle of learning. Learning for us isn't something that is isolated to the hours of 8-5. It is something we do from the time we wake up in the morning until the time we go to bed. Nothing stifles intellectualism quicker than trying to put it in a neat little package that you can test. My daughters are encouraged to ask about and explore any topic that interests them even if it may be a little advanced for them. I always hated getting the "you're too young for that" speach.
post #31 of 229
Quote:
Originally Posted by kathymuggle View Post
Do you think North American culture is anti-intellectual?
Yes, indeed I do. I don't believe this is a new trend, but I feel it is a growing one. I love all the access to information we have in NA: libraries, park and rec. programs, internet etc..... But in a way I think it can also further widen the gap between 'intellectuals' and others. There is more information floating around today then in many years past. How people interpret this information and what they do with it can make differences more pronounced. I have many more thoughts on the why, but don't believe this is the right format for it (read: I'm pretty sure I would offend someone).

I'm interested to see some men (maybe only one?) post on this forum as I would love to get a male/female perspective on this and the differences in the overall NA perception of intellectual males versus that of intellectual females. FWIW, I wish I'd known the women on this board when I was a kid. Oh to never go back to those years of being accused of using my brain to flirt with boys.... Really, not many of them knew who Sartre was either.

Quote:
Originally Posted by kathymuggle View Post
How do think our collective attitudes towards intellectualism affect our children - and their future?
I would love to hear others' thoughts on this as well. First off I will say I do not equate 'institutionally educated' with 'intellectual', I'm in the intellectual for the love/need of it camp.

To talk about intellectual pursuits seems to alienate others, in turn alienating oneself. It's easy enough to pick up on this, and our kids already have to some degree, both in interaction with other children, and in some cases with adults as well. This is a difficult issue to deal with in children, as we as parents try to keep them intellectually engaged with similar-aged peers who are also supportive. This is made more challenging by the issues noted by OP's, that overall the hegemony undervalues intellectual pursuits and is more concerned with the bottom line (NCLB). Add onto that the fact that while it is easy to note differences in 'extra-curricular' activities and support those, this is not the same for basic education because everyone's children are doing many of the same things. I wonder at how much of an influence the competitive nature of parents has to do with this....
post #32 of 229
Quote:
One friend got a C- on a paper that was meant to express her opinion and the teacher wrote on the paper that it was the wrong answer.
I had the exact same thing happen to me. On the TAAS (the Texas school-leaving exam) we had the essay question: Choose your favorite part of the school day or class and explain why it is so. And I'll never forget what happened.
I wrote about the Humanities course I had taken that combined the study of literature, the arts, and history. It was easily my favorite course ever. Well, I got a perfect score on the exam except for the essay where the examiner gave me a B. She actually wrote notes on it to the effect that my paper was well-organized and pursuasive and my language was excellent but she thought the humanities was a poor choice. Yes, that's what she wrote! : I was puzzled so I checked the results my GT-Literature colleagues had gotten (mine was the only B) and they had all chosen things like lunch and PE. No one else chose an academic course. My Lit teacher was apoplectic and reassured me with, "Don't mind, Honey. Your writing is ten times better than the woman's who graded your paper." Sadly, it was true.

I was more visual-spatial as a child but school beat it out of me. Spending time with my v-s family is starting to change that again, though. I can finally do a puzzle without sorting the pieces and laying down the border first. Baby steps, baby steps...
post #33 of 229
Since we all seem to agree that our culture is anti-intellectual today, do any of you think there was a time when intellectualism *was* valued?
post #34 of 229
Quote:
Originally Posted by kathymuggle View Post
For those of you who self identify as intellectuals (and the word gives me pause, even though it shouldn't, because of cultural stereotyping) was there a period in your life when you were not an intellectual? As a child I was alway interested in learning. My kids do not seem to be - or not to the extent I was/am. I find it kind of sad and suprising - how the heck are children who are gifted not interested in learning???? Learning has brought me such joy in life, I want that for them too. I am unsure how to foster it. Of course, people have the right to not be intellectuals - I just wonder if that is what is going on or are they suppressing it due trying to conform to the dominant culture? Part of it may be their ages, 9 and 12.
Kathy
As others have pointed out, giftedness and intellectualism do not necessarily go hand in hand. I know some gifted people who were always at the top of their class and who grasp complex concepts very quickly but who are not intellectuals. For example, I know some gifted engineers and mathmeticians who rarely, if ever, read for pleasure, and who could care less about history, philosophy, or art. And I know intellectuals who are not really exceptionally gifted; they just love to learn and take the time to do so. As far as your children, it may be their ages. It may be peer pressure or their environment (are they in school?) It may just be that they have not yet found the subject that inspires them to learn more....
post #35 of 229
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do any of you think there was a time when intellectualism *was* valued?
The nineteenth century? Medieval monastaries? Ancient China or Egypt?
There must be something more recent...

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giftedness and intellectualism do not necessarily go hand in hand
Very true.
post #36 of 229
Quote:
do any of you think there was a time when intellectualism *was* valued?
Quote:
Originally Posted by VanessaS View Post
The nineteenth century? Medieval monastaries? Ancient China or Egypt?
There must be something more recent...
As I try to rack my brain, I can only think of inventors/contributors that were recognized much later in life for their contributions. Most scientists were scoffed at, works of literature were banned, and so on. We hear about the PITA's like Einstein and Edison when they were young. As soon as their ideas become accepted or their inventions become useful only THEN are they wonderful thinkers.

I think our culture is hypocritical. We want people to fix the world's problems, come up with inventions that will make our lives easier, develop cures for life-threatening diseases, and yet we have a hard time with people thinking outside of the box and devoting their lives to a single cause. I know someone who was always bashing nerds and geeks, but somehow didn't seem to care how geeky their oncologist was when they were faced with stage 4 cancer. They became livid when they realized that their cancer wasn't going to be fixed with a single surgery, and wondered why we didn't have more knowledge and treatments for his specific disease.
post #37 of 229
I'm going to reply before reading the rest of the thread, then I'm going to read. But I have to say that I absolutely do. I think that we play lip-service to being smart, but I think that it's lower on the list of admirable qualities held by the majority of the populace. Just look at the way our intellectual politicians (Gore, Kerry, and even Obama) have been based over the past years.

I keep saying that I want to read Richard Hofstadter's essay "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life" but I haven't gotten around to it yet!
post #38 of 229
Quote:
Originally Posted by library lady View Post
When I would bring up a more liberal arts degree or even a math degree, I was told that with that and a dime, I might be able to buy a cup of coffee.
And he was right. I graduated magna cum laude with a degree in literature, and now I'm washing dishes in a hospital basement.
I'd do the same again, though. Heck, I'm getting my master's in lit, too.

I think there is an intellectual subculture, at least here in the northeast - as with any subculture, though, one has to learn how to appear more or less "mainstream" when necessary.

ETA: Off topic question, but: do you think a master's in library science is something worth pursuing? I have heard rumors of librarian shortages, but also rumors of job shortages...
post #39 of 229
Quote:
Originally Posted by library lady View Post
My bachelor's degree is actually in elementary education and I saw first hand how regurgitation is rewarded and orginal thought is dissuaded. That was part of the reason that I chose not to teach in the public school system and chose to pursue librarianship instead. When teachers had to plan two and three weeks ahead and stick to carefully designed lesson plans that took into account all of the "skills" required by state mandated testing, there just wasn't any time for teachable moments or real teaching. The teachers were just as stifled as the students.
Not finished reading the thread, but had to respond to this.

I understand your comments entirely, because I'm a public school teacher and former technologist, a product of a public school education (and one in which I was gifted and talented in 4th grade, but not in 5th grade!), and a wanna-be homeschooler. I am constantly frustrated by the system at large, the expectations of the students, the grade-grubbing by the parents, and yes, the idiotic demands of the administration. But when I go into the classroom and shut the door, and hear from my students how glad they are to be in my class because I value their thoughts and ideas and their personhood, then I'm glad that I haven't dropped out of the struggle. I read about homeschooling and try to bring those ideas into my classroom. I constantly ask myself, "How would I want my daughter's 10th grade English teacher to teach her?" and I incessantly push my students to think for themselves and clarify their beliefs/world-view while learning the skills of reading comprehension, critical thinking, clear writing, and research.

Am I a master teacher? Hell, no. This is only year five for me, and I have so much to learn. But, I believe that it's my willingness to learn to better myself and push my students out of their comfort zone that makes me an effective teacher and one who is trying to work on the system from the inside.

Do I understand the feeling that the system is unbroken and unfixable? Sure I do. But that doesn't mean that I can leave those kids whose parents won't or can't homeschool them, or can't afford to put them into a progressive private school, to be wholly indoctrinated by that broken system.

I think that the reason that (a) schools often suck and (b) teaching as a profession is relatively disparaged as a profession is that our best and brightest choose to do other things. Library Lady, I understand and empathize with your response. I just wish that more people would stay with education and try to change it.

Sigh. Deep breath. Rant over.

post #40 of 229
Quote:
Originally Posted by maiaminna View Post
And he was right. I graduated magna cum laude with a degree in literature, and now I'm washing dishes in a hospital basement.
I'd do the same again, though. Heck, I'm getting my master's in lit, too.

I think there is an intellectual subculture, at least here in the northeast - as with any subculture, though, one has to learn how to appear more or less "mainstream" when necessary.

ETA: Off topic question, but: do you think a master's in library science is something worth pursuing? I have heard rumors of librarian shortages, but also rumors of job shortages...
I knew he was right which is why I pursued education but that is another story for another day. At that time, I was kind of naive and had not developed the right attitude about learning.

I think there are intellectual subcutlures everywhere. It is just really, really hard to find them because who wants to go around publicizing it.

It is very specific to your area as to whether or not you should pursue an MLS. In Texas, there is an abundance of library jobs and the MLS is highly valued. In other states, having an MLS degree is pretty much worthless because it is not valued and isn't really required to work in a library. Check the American Library Associations web page as well asy the Library Association for your state to get a better idea of what is going on in your state.
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