Friday, September 26, 2008

Does an Elite Education Produce Anti Intellectuals

In my previous post I quoted the initial two paragraphs of The Disadvantages of an Elite Education by William Deresiewicz. Maybe the most important passage of that article for those in legal education comes near the end.

"But if you’re afraid to fail, you’re afraid to take risks, which begins to explain the final and most damning disadvantage of an elite education: that it is profoundly anti-intellectual. This will seem counterintuitive. Aren’t kids at elite schools the smartest ones around, at least in the narrow academic sense? Don’t they work harder than anyone else—indeed, harder than any previous generation? They are. They do. But being an intellectual is not the same as being smart. Being an intellectual means more than doing your homework."

Deresiewicz follows this paragraph with a description of elite school students as roughly the equivalent of grade grubbing drones. My sense is that this is a relatively recent thing. At some point in time, attending an elite school could contribute to the development of real intellectual curiosity and a love for ideas. I am sure that still holds for many graduates of elite schools but that is more a testament to their resistance to the elite education than anything else. From my perspective, and it is an admittedly narrow one, I am surprised at how anti intellectual newer elite grads are, especially the double elites. In fact, in many instances they seem to have little or no knowledge of history, philosophy, art, etc. Nor do they find much that is interesting outside of their personal niche.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Re: Academia and "anti-intellectuals"

Is it possible that elite institutions are not alone in creating anti-intellectuals? From my own observations of higher learning and the broader world, hyper-specialization is the norm in all walks of life today.

The Renaissance Man qualities that you attribute to intellectuals does exist in academia today under the rubric "interdisciplinary". Note that the existence of a distinction between "interdisciplinary" studies and studies that are not interdisciplinary implies that norm is for scholars to remain within their niches.