Declining value of intellectuals
Regarding the Jan. 21 Learning article "Deep thinkers missing in action": The otherwise excellent article misses a key point about what goes on at universities today. The article draws a contrast between the chess team and the football team, between the office hours of a professor and happy hours in the quad, but misses the fact that what often happens at the professor's office is less about intellectual expression and more about grinding ideological and political axes.
While doing undergraduate and graduate work at universities in California, I found that the very groups who purported to be deep thinkers were the ones who had essentially taken a position to the right or left of an issue and spent their time roundly condemning those who disagreed while congratulating those who were in their own camp.
"Intellectual" discussion on campus has come to mean arguing one side really well, à la "Crossfire" or "The Capitol Gang." The ideas and practices of true intellectual exchange and learning are almost nowhere to be found. It is here, rather than in examining sports vs. board games, that the death of intellectualism in American universities can truly be seen.
Regarding "Deep thinkers missing in action": What did you expect from the current selection process for admission to the top schools? The entire diversity question aside (the prospective students, alas, cannot yet alter their DNA), the collegiate admission gantlet consists entirely of preparation for standardized tests, good works, résumé building, AP-course notch counting, and GPA enhancement. Nowhere along the line is the issue of whether the student knows or cares about anything in particular raised.
The most amazing aspect of this is that the casual perusal of the biographies of the top hundred creative minds of the past few hundred years, finds precious few resume padders, and an awful lot of mavericks and wild creatures who would never make the first cut in today's system.
All this was a result of a system of classification that first saw light during World War II, when it was thought that the more "intellectual" recruits should not be wasted on the infantry. Their brainpower made them too important to risk in battle. Now, of course, none of the GIs we see on the news or their children would ever make the cut. The system instead turns out the best and brightest whose antics we watch on Wall Street and in corporate governance.
Are we supposed to celebrate the fact that the University of Maryland uses scantily clad women to cheer on its chess team? I guess their model for encouraging increased intellectualism at university applies to only one gender.
The cheerleaders send a pretty clear counter message to girls: Sexiness, not brains, is what women need to get ahead at university. Intellectuals need not apply.
Regarding your Jan. 2 article "On Pittsburgh tongues: a 'sammich dahntahn'": I grew up in northeastern Ohio and have lived in Michigan for 20 years, but I still sometimes hear myself speaking the western Pennsylvania dialect of my parents and relatives. The lawn does indeed "need mowed" in the spring (soon after the "flahrs" bloom). And although we live in a city house with a finished basement, I still go "down cellar" when the washing needs done. Thanks for the nostalgia trip.
Grosse Pointe, Mich.
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