Some years ago, I had a conversation with a friend regarding global warming. After many attempts to convince her to read the literature, she said to me, “It’s no secret the educated elite have their own agenda. It’s no secret that they all believe in global warming.”
My jaw hit the floor.
After shaking my head to regain my balance, I replied with: “So, let me get this straight. You’re saying that the greatest minds in our society have reached a consensus on a major ecological issue and you’re not going to listen to them?”
I wanted to do an entry about anti-intellectualism, about the tendency to see educated people as a cabal of lunatics and misfits who eagerly rub their hands together while they plot the downfall of the democratic state. I wanted to write about this because I think rampant paranoia and childish arguments should be discouraged at every opportunity.
So I went searching for data and research on anti-intellectualism and it’s effects on society in general. One of my rules for this blog is “no ranting.” My goal is to provide you with food for thought and I can’t really to that by just blathering on about my opinions. If you want people to consider the issues, you have to present them with some verifiable data. Sadly, there’s not a lot of data out there on the issue of anti-intellectualism.
I found a lot of bitter ranting by left-wing demagogues, a few chest thumping nut-jobs who swore up and down that the Ivy Leaguers were out to get them and some articles that were just… weird. I found a few studies regarding American perceptions of intellectuals but most of those are from the forties and fifties, and I’m fairly certain they’re out of date. But while I was searching, I came across this.
This video is pretty much a textbook case of anti-intellectualism. John Tyson voices many of the common stereotypes about intellectuals, calling them all bookish loners with no understanding of “the real world.” He’s not alone in his sentiments; in fact, this attitude has permeated our culture to point where the image of the absent-minded professor is now safely nestled in the back of everyone’s head. Fortunately, that’s exactly the kind of issue that I like to tackle.
Tyson makes the claim that intellectuals – which he defines as teachers, professors, research assistants and scientists – are compensated for their work regardless of whether or not they produce “results” and this shields them from the consequences of failure. Let’s examine that hypothesis.
Teachers are paid regardless of whether students learn anything.
I’m not going to dispute this fact because he’s right; teachers are paid regardless of whether or not their students learn. As they should be. This is one of the cultural biases that creep up when people start to view everything through the lens of market economics. General Motors produces cars, and if they want to keep our business, they should make good cars. Producing defective cars will result in customer dissatisfaction and a loss of business. This is a natural consequence of the market. It therefore follows that if teachers want to retain their livelihood – if they want to be paid for their work – they should produce students who score well on standardized tests.
The unspoken assumption here is that teachers are mass producing students and that the process of education can be reduced to a series of steps that, if followed correctly, will produce students with a working knowledge of the subject matter and the test scores to prove it. They aren’t, and it can’t. Every car that rolls off the GM assembly line will be produced in precisely the same way. The machines will follow the same steps, by rote, over and over again with comparable results each time.
This approach cannot be employed in education. A teacher cannot simply follow a series of steps that are guaranteed to produce competent students because, unlike a fuel injection system, a student has a mind of his own. Each student will respond to the classroom setting in his own way, requiring the teacher to change her approach with almost every lesson. Results cannot be guaranteed because this is not a mechanistic practice. A teacher can grant her students access to knowledge, but she cannot force them to learn.
If you’re a parent, then really think about this. Let’s assume that John Tyson’s assumption is true, that if teachers were doing their jobs correctly, every student would walk out of the classroom with an A- or higher. Well, if teachers are to be held accountable for student failures, they must also be credited for student successes, and that means your child’s achievements are not his own. Moreover, if every student comes out of high school with exemplary grades, how will that affect competitive environments such as university admissions?
Market economics cannot be applied to education. Teachers are not producing students; they are providing an essential service, one that should be divorced from monetary incentives. For instance, here’s what happens when schools are granted funding based on the results of standardized tests.
And here’s some more.
Teachers cheat to inflate the results of standardized tests. This isn’t to say that teacher’s have free reign to do whatever they want; quite the opposite, actually. Education is one of the most heavily regulated professions in existence. There are rigorous standards of practice that teachers are required to uphold at all times. Here’s an example for the province of Ontario.
People are quick to say that teachers should be subject to market discipline, but applying this philosophy almost always makes things worse. Just because ideas are popular doesn’t mean they’re correct.
Hey, looking for some great fiction? Check out Symbiosis, the book reviewers have called the illegitimate love child of Star Trek and Buffy.
Now available on Kindle
It’s had some great reviews!