Thursday, May 07, 2009

[chavs rule] rise of the new ignorance

Paul Trout, in Student AntiIntellectualism and the Dumbing Down of the University, wrote, in 1996:

Students demonstrate the anti-intellectual mindset in a number of ways: by not reading the assigned works; by not contributing to class discussions; by complaining about course workloads and lobbying for fewer assignments; by skipping class; by giving low evaluations to instructors with high standards or tough requirements; by neglecting to prepare for class and tests and not bothering to do extra-credit work or take make-up exams; by not consulting material placed on reserve or picking up class handouts; by refusing to learn any more than is necessary to get a good grade; by boasting about how little time is spent studying; by ridiculing high achievers; by being impatient with deliberative analysis; by condemning intellectual endeavors as "boring"; by resenting academic requirements as an intrusion on free time, etc., etc., etc.

There are a number of comments and questions:

1. Has it got any better or worse since 1996? The truth is, the problem has always been present in the student, in his/her self-actualizing tendency and one has only to read Evelyn Waugh, Douglas Adams, Pink Floyd and others for anecdotal evidence that it is a ‘base instinct’ of students to be that way.

The question then is whether the universities and staff are any better or worse these days. Trout:

Faced with growing numbers of high-school graduates who resent and resist the rigors, demands, and pleasures of higher education, colleges and universities have lowered standards to keep students happy and enrollments up. The reason, of course, is obvious: body count equals money. As long as larger enrollments mean larger budgets, and larger budgets mean administrative success, enrolling and retaining as many students as possible, regardless of their attitudes or aptitudes, is more important than making sure students achieve, learn, and produce. This explains why administrators monitor credit hours and student evaluation ratings, but not how much students actually learn. There is no economic incentive to do so. So, over the long haul, enrollment-driven funding weakens commitment to high academic standards (Stone 20-21).

Faculty, of course, are complicit in the dumbing down. Few ever question the recruitment, enrollment, or grading policies that ultimately bring money to their departments. Most department heads and chairs champion educationally fraudulent policies and practices, even when they are ultimately ruinous to staff morale, as long as they believe such policies and practices strengthen the department and protect it from being cannibalized. So, as long as administrators control the purse strings, "there is a great incentive for faculty collectively to support the administrative emphasis on growth" regardless of its negative impact on academic quality and standards (Stone 15).

This explains, in part, the phenomenon of grade inflation, for which faculty must bear most of the blame. "The incentive for institutions to emphasize rigorous grading standards is minuscule" because grade inflation--higher grades for lower achievement--keeps more students on campus, and more students on campus means larger budgets for all (Stone 10). "In essence, there is a substantial body of informed opinion suggesting that grade inflation has come about mainly because enrollment-driven funding has made grade inflation bureaucratically profitable" (Stone 9).

Lower standards and grade inflation make campuses safe for students who have little hunger for knowledge, little love of learning, and almost no appetite for hard work. Although students have many reasons for going to college, a very large number--71.3 percent of the entering class of 1995--do so not to enrich their minds but their pocketbooks. "The only reason most of us are going to school is society says, 'this is your meal ticket'" (Sacks 139).

You can read the rest of these excerpts here. So my answer would be yes, it is worse now and my post not so long ago looked at it from the research perspective. The combination of the students’ base instincts, the commericalization of higher education to a degree not seen before, the socialist hijacking of the curriculum and the accompanying social dislocation of young people and there is the recipe for disaster for the next generation or two.

2. Is it any different in, say, Russia? Well no, in fact it might be worse. Russia is a country of extremes and when I arrived, they were still in the throes of authoritarian soviet education, which nevertheless produced the goods in terms of intellectualism. I’ve mentioned one Russian student who was below average over there, she came to our school in 1996 and swept the board.

Yet the process had already begun, it seems, in some parts of the country, as early as 1993 [all attribution in the Trout addendum]:

Andrei Toom, an adjunct math instructor from Russia, reports his dismal experiences trying to teach anti-intellectual undergraduates consumed by the consumer mindset. "As soon as I started to explain to them something which was a little bit beyond the standard course, they asked suspiciously: 'Will this be on the test?' If I said, 'no,' they did not listen any more and showed clearly that I was doing something inappropriate" (Toom 125). When asked by students why he gave math problems unlike those in the textbook, Toom responded: "Because I want you to know elementary mathematics." Immediately an imposing train of students "stood up and tramped out" (Toom 127). A colleague of Toom's was also criticized for asking his students to learn more than students in another section (Toom 127). Students viewed this not as better teaching but as an iniquity.

I can’t say I found this in the early years but it certainly was so in the later stages.

A broader view

Swinging away from education itself to the broader picture, Trout asks:

Sad to say, the problem of anti-intellectual students is … the result not only of misguided educational policies and practices K through 16, but of vast social and cultural forces well beyond the classroom. These forces include family dysfunction and divorce, disengaged and permissive parenting, peer pressure to regard education derisively, youth-culture activities that militate against serious and sustained intellectual engagement, a widespread deligitimation of reading and print culture, and, an ambient popular culture that glorifies triviality, coarseness and mindlessness. How is it possible to overhaul the entire system--from popular culture and family life to the educational establishment--simultaneously?

That puts it succinctly. Many argue that things are no better nor worse than in previous generations and in previous eras. Some have this cyclical view of society which holds water to a point.

However, we’ve never before had the rampant prostituting of under 18s across all western nations and many eastern ones, down to such young ages, we’ve never had the nightclubbing culture where youth goes out en masse, without parental strictures to be bathed in dark, primaeval entrancement [I should know because I’ve listened to enough of it], supported by drugs, we’ve never had the level of alienation, we’ve not seen the gaming culture completely supplant the officially transmitted mores to this extent.

In ASDA recently, I overheard three girls of around fourteen discussing a fourth and how she’d just got pregnant recently. They were laughing about which boy it might have been. I wasn’t privy to the rest of the discussion as we were passing by at the time but I caught the tone and it was along the lines that it was par for the course for their entire sub-group to be doing it, the only demarcator being whether the girl got pregnant or by some miracle, didn’t.

It’s a question of percentages – there was always a proportion into this but not to this extent. Some say that with the advent of the internet, we simply know more of what’s going on now than before and in fact it went on just as much earlier.

I have to disagree. In a previous post, the point was made that the age of the girls and the much harder nature of the acts they’re expected to do in pornography is completely different today than in previous years. Again, the percentages doing those shoots is small but that doesn’t mean it’s not going on in real life.

I call this process evil. It’s a debatable point whether we can sheet this home to Them or not, to the socialists or not or to whomever but the fact is - it’s wrong. Some point out that Polynesian societies have relations at very low ages and there’s the example of Mohammed of course but I challenge that it was accompanied, in those societies, with the breakdown of the whole infrastructure and dark values driving this dystopia on, as it is here.


  1. Fine post James.

    It's interesting debate. My feeling is you have to remove the state from education. And allow for parental competition to drive up standards.

    Also part of the problem though is that a lot of people are not being taught the right things.

    There is too much focus on the academic education. Rather than skills. A lot of young people have gone through the academic process and come out the end with nothing of use to them. So is it any surprise that kids are turned off by education?

    Most kids need just the basics and then some skills they can sell when they are older.

  2. Your last sentence in particular hits the nail on the head.

  3. Whatever happened to being put on academic probation and being bounced out if they did not meet minimal grades?

    Flog the little ungrateful bastards, I say!

  4. There is a similar malaise in business too, management are deeply suspicious of "intellectual" staff. Not good if you work in Credit Risk.


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