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American anti-intellectualism

September 9, 2008

UPDATE: An interesting article by an associate professor, written for the Chronicle of Higher Education

I uprooted myself from my country and familiar surroundings, no longer a sprightly , naive child, to pursue higher education in the US of A because I believed in the higher education system of the country and the spirit of inquiry which are professed in the classrooms, even if recent reports in the media had lent a dispiriting outlook on the growing decline of this spirit of inquiry, inventiveness and curiosity. I had for so long fantasized about being that romantic scholar who would roam the halls of learning (cliche as it sounds) and add to the ever-deepening well of knowledge. However, the prevalence of bad science and the growing utilitarian ideology pervasive among the elite (note that I am not even addressing the masses) heralds the slow and steady decay of its institutions of learning, art and culture.

Perhaps I do not even have to venture far to pick an example. As a reader of trade journals in the humanities, I am well-aware of the issues facing academe and the growing questioning of its relevance to the rest of society. But this is not what I wish to highlight. Instead, I wish to highlight some disturbing facts about the GOP VP candidate, Sarah Palin, that would send more than goosebumps to any scholar, educator, cultural activist and even the the ordinary lover of learning and civilization.

  • When a mayor of Wasilla, she supported the increase of sales tax that went into building a sports complex while opposing a bigger library and reduced spending on the town museum. Media reported that the sports complex was “popular.” So does it mean that the library and museum were both unpopular? Is it another way of implying that the townsfolk of Wasila have no interest in their civilization and in a world beyond their own? Was Palin representative of the people who voted her in? <;
  • She wanted to ban some books from the library. What those books were, is not stated. Since they were in the public library, it is unlikely that they were crude, penny bildungsroman or pornography. <;
  • She fired a museum director (and there was no news of her replacing the vacancy with a better one) and nearly fired the librarian who she felt did not support her policies.

There is a lot more interesting things to be said about Palin and her embodiment of the current ideals of the “Average” American.  But, despite winning the title of Ms Congeniality, one would assume that this lady has a less than congenial relationship with books (and perhaps learning?), if one was to extrapolate from some of the decisions she made. This puts her in contrast with Hillary (who’s not going to be Obama’s running mate), and also the antithesis of some of the early Republicans, such as Abraham Lincoln.

One must remember that this person majored in journalism and communications, which would mean that she would have to spend quite a big amount of time with the written word (nevermind that she was a sportscaster in a former life). Since she took her degree in the eighties, I can’t help asking, how did she even graduate ? It is also interesting to trace the pattern of her post-high-school education, whereby she seemed to be doing a lot of college-hopping. Could it be telling a story of her relationship with education and learning? Perhaps someone more enlightened in the ins-and-outs of the American higher education system could provide the analysis.

I would like to write more but need to get on with my reading. This is just my raw thoughts.  I have spent the last two hours surfing the net on the latest juicy bits on Sarah Palin (and her daughter Bristol). Not a very intellectual pursuit, I know, but the craven in me takes over at times. 🙂

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