Monday, July 28, 2008

Just how stoopid are we? Anti-intellectualism?

Meanwhile on the other side of the Atlantic, a reviewer in the Chronicle has just waded through a batch of recently published books that bemoan the state of student and wider society's anti-intellectualism, technologies being protrayed as both a major cause and a potential solution. At the risk of ripping a loaded quote out of context....

"The abilities and attitudes of students affect my life on a daily basis. It is my job, as I see it, to combat ignorance and foster the skills and knowledge needed to produce intelligent, ethical, and productive citizens. I see too many students who are:
  • Primarily focused on their own emotions — on the primacy of their "feelings" — rather than on analysis supported by evidence.

  • Uncertain what constitutes reliable evidence, thus tending to use the most easily found sources uncritically.

  • Convinced that no opinion is worth more than another: All views are equal.

  • Uncertain about academic honesty and what constitutes plagiarism. (I recently had a student defend herself by claiming that her paper was more than 50 percent original, so she should receive that much credit, at least.)

  • Unable to follow or make a sustained argument.

  • Uncertain about spelling and punctuation (and skeptical that such skills matter).

  • Hostile to anything that is not directly relevant to their career goals, which are vaguely understood.

  • Increasingly interested in the social and athletic above the academic, while "needing" to receive very high grades.

  • Not really embarrassed at their lack of knowledge and skills.

  • Certain that any academic failure is the fault of the professor rather than the student."

With a list of provocative book and article titles (eg. "Is Google making us Stoopid?" , "The Anti-Intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric From George Washington to George W. Bush", "The Assault on Reason", etc) it all makes for a potentially depressing reading list, although the reviewer ends up a little more optimistic than you might imagine.

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