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I figured it was better to say that than to say “interlude” for the fortieth time.  So there’s your title.

I found this on Arts and Letters Daily this morning:


It’s from a magazine I generally dislike, and with reason.  All the partisan magazines and web sites and news outlets and books misrepresent and twist the truth, but unlike The American Spectator, most of them have not also been credibly accused of paying sources to lie.

On the other hand, it was just accused.  So let’s leave that up in the air for the moment.

This is an excellent article, and a very interesting one on several levels.

For one thing, it implicitly endorses my analysis of the how and why of Sarah Palin–the idea that elite Republicans “play stupid” because they think stupid is what the electorate wants.

Which says something about the way the upper reaches of the Republican Party view their fellow citizens.

But it’s hardly just about Republicans.  Which is the point.

It does stumble a bit here and there.  For one thing, to say that the “social sciences and humanities” “rule” the universities is ludicrous, at least as it pertains to the humanities.  If the humanities ruled the universities, half their departments wouldn’t be shriveling away into nothingness or being tossed out altogether. 

Besides, the authors could have made their same analysis of the universities without that particular nonsense, since the real “rulers” of academe are the administrators, and the administrators fit this article’s definition of “ruling class” far better than any professor ever will.

And it’s by no means true that the best US colleges require the least work.  In fact, quite the opposite.  I’ve seen a few kids transition from the community college system to the Ivies (and other top twenty schools…), and their first reaction is, invariably, shock at the workload.

But the idea that the “ruling class” “recruits and renews itself not through meritocracy but rather by taking into itself people whose most prominent feature is their commitment to fit in” is, at least for universities, right on the money.

And it’s what has always bothered me about the competition for highly selective schools.  There is a sense in which the top layer of US colleges and universities are all looking for the same student–ambitious, driven, willing to do whatever it takes to play the game and win it, “well rounded.”

In the real world, though, achievement is not to those who are “well rounded.”  Every once in a while you run into a Bill Gates, who can jump through all the hoops and still be lopsidedly passionate about one thing.  Most of the time, those people–the Spielbergs, the Wozniaks–couldn’t get into a top tier school to save their lives, and tend to flunk out of whatever school they do get into.

That’s because they’re focussed on one thing to the extent that they just don’t bother with much of anything else.

I’m making this sound as if it were an article about education, or universities, and it isn’t–those things come in only as examples and side issues of a different point.

At any rate, I could quibble with more of it, but the fact is that this is a very interesting article.

And I think it may be right.

Written by janeh

September 3rd, 2010 at 6:40 am

Posted in Uncategorized

6 Responses to 'Interruption'

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  1. Wow!


    3 Sep 10 at 8:38 am

  2. I’m more AFRAID it might be right, though it’s the sort of analysis that can’t be readily proven or disproven. For instance, is fuzzy science department rule disproven by falling enrollments, or confirmed by university policies pushed and given an intellectual gloss by those same departments? Neither answer is necessarily right. But if the overall analysis is sound, we’re doomed.

    I also don’t see distancing oneself from the Ivies as the same as “playing stupid”–the more so as we get to see the pick of the top 20 actually trying to run things. (I get conflicting stories on the academic burden at Harvard, by the way. Some others describe it more like top tier Japanese universties–very hard to enter, but relatively easy to pass.)

    But certainly a very interesting and well-done article.


    3 Sep 10 at 3:54 pm

  3. Well, for one thing–I didn’t say anything about the “fuzzy sciences.” I said the Humanities. And the issue isn’t “declining enrollments,” but departments that cease to exist. It’s hard to see how philosophy or classics is going to have power in a university when there are no philosophy or classics courses, no philosophy or classics departments, and no philosophy or classics professors.

    The Humanities are literally disappearing on most college campuses.

    And playing stupid is playing stupid–it’s acting ignorant and being proud of it.

    I don’t know what the vice president’s job is? Well, aren’t you something! Only an elitist would expect me to know! I’m not an elitist, I’m a REAL American (in other words, an American who never took a basic civics course).

    That was the very essence of Palin’s campaign–vote for me because I don’t know nothing about nothing.

    It’s the BECAUSE OF in that last sentence that always made me think the Republican heavyweights–who lean largely to the Fortune 500 and all its works–figured they could get the stupid little people to vote for their agenda if they just acted stupid themselves.

    And that’s part of what that article was saying, too.


    3 Sep 10 at 7:26 pm

  4. Okay, let me try again.

    That article did a lot to distance the writer from the Ivies and the other top 20.

    It was not stupid, in any sense. It was well argued, well reasoned, well researched, and well conceived. It was written in complete sentences. It required an ability to follow complex sequences of ideas and cause and effect to write and to understand.

    What Palin did was to make basic, ignorant mistakes and then GLORY in them–as if that, the ignorance itself, proved that she was a “real American.”


    3 Sep 10 at 7:33 pm

  5. I’ve been out of the US since 1971 and the Australian media has very limited coverage so I won’t try a detailed comment.

    But I did agree with what the author said about the Supreme Court.


    4 Sep 10 at 12:01 am

  6. I’d read the article a few days earlier, so I went back to be sure. The critical phrase was “just as the social science and humanities class that rules universities seldom associates with physicians and physicists.”

    That seems unexceptional to me. Note especially that “class”–not “classes” or “departments.” Unless our national polling, my personal experience and anecdotal evidence are all grossly off in the same direction, by and large our social/fuzzy sciences and humanities instructors and their favored students share a political agenda reflected in the university at large. Notice the current effort, not to bring hard science rigor to English Lit, but to impose Title IX quotas and relaxed standards on mathematics and hard science departments. Declining enrollments have not changed this, any more than they’ve brought changes in social science and humanities teaching methods and emphasis. (I also very much doubt many of the dreaded administrators hold degrees in chemistry or engineering.)

    So far as I can see, there is a “social science and humanities” class, it does rule the universities, and it holds itself apart from the rude mechanicals who deal in mere fact. As for declining enrollments, when I was in college, the last place a book-lover would go was to the English departments. My son’s experience sounded similar. Perhaps they ought to look into that.


    4 Sep 10 at 1:22 pm

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