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    “A little fish in a big, big ocean”

    In a comment to this post, John of Toilet Paper with Page Numbers directed me to a post of his from a few weeks ago. At first glance, it seems only tangentially related to the topic of political affiliation. In reality, though, it gets to the heart of what I was talking about. John reproduces a letter he wanted to posts for his chemistry students when he was a TA, and this is part of it:

    Do you realize why you are in this class in the first place? I’ll give you a hint. It’s because the peckerwoods in the admissions office are too spineless to use your transcripts and SATs to tell you straight up that you are not qualified (now hold on, I didn’t say too stupid…yet) to enter college, much less a pre-med program. This is a weed-out course. And I have a big Black and Decker logo on my red pen. No, I’m not being judgmental. I’m telling you the cold, hard truth no one has bothered to rub your nose in yet. Believe me, I’m kinder than your first boss will be.

    Concealing people’s ignorance from them–indeed, going so far as to keep them ignorant by pretending to teach them math and science without actually doing so–is fine if you think it perfectly natural that they’ll grow up to have their lives run by caretakers anyway. If, however, you think adults should be independent, then it follows that children need to be equipped to take care of their own business without interference. That involves a basic, systematically-presented, stringently-tested foundation in the usual liberal arts subjects. It means a frank recognition–without namby-pamby self-esteem-building bromides–that we all have our own individual mix of talents and that not everyone is equally capable in all fields. And, conversely, it means a frank recognition that the donnish kind of intelligence is not the only one that matters.

    2 Responses to ““A little fish in a big, big ocean””

    1. John says:

      Sean, thanks for the link. I wondered where the spike in hits came from.

      I’m not against elitism per se, but I’m not all that convinced that the highly educated, with all the personality caveats that come with that process, are well suited to govern. Advise, yes, govern…not so much. At least not the majority of them. Which is why I’m still leery of the Dr. Rice for President campaign.

      Elitism (defined by me as rigid standards of competence) needs to be tempered with wisdom, and there’s the rub for Academics.

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      That’s always an interesting part of the dilemma: every elite educational system I know of rewards being a kiss-ass. Maybe not openly, and maybe despite the best intentions of those running it–but ultimately, people succeed by learning to go along to get along. (Is that what you’re talking about as far as “personality caveats” go?) The Condi Rice thing strikes me as dubitable, too. She was willing to stick to her guns on some unpopular reforms at Stanford, but that doesn’t mean she’s ready to strike the balance an elected official needs.

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