Gen Y: "cognitively sharp but intellectually immune"

in today's chronicle of higher education was a review of:

The First Year Out: Understanding American Teens after High School (Tim Clydesdale)

it was extremely depressing, but confirmed my suspicions -- anti-intellectualism, always a trend in america, has now become the norm for Gen Y. An excerpt from Lang's review:

"In other words, freshmen spend most of their time and intellectual energy figuring out how to handle life without parental restraints and support: how to deal with money (or lack thereof); negotiate newfound freedoms with sex, drugs, and alcohol; and determine how much time to devote to studying, working, and playing.

But what freshmen don't do during their first year of college comes as more of a (perhaps depressing) surprise: "Most American teens keep core identities in an 'identity lockbox' during their first year out and actively resist efforts to examine their self-understandings through classes or to engage their humanity through institutional efforts such as public lectures, the arts, or social activism."

Put more succinctly: "Contemporary teens are practical men and women. They . . . manage their daily lives fairly well. But they are not, by and large, thinking men and women."

You might react to that thesis as I did initially -- with skepticism. After all, the story of your first year might be, like mine, of the liberation and enlightenment variety. And indeed, Clydesdale did find students whose narratives fit the culturally established pattern. But he came to view those students not only as the exception to the rule, but also as the very students who went on to perpetuate the myth of first-year enlightenment.

"Only a handful of students on each campus find a liberal-arts education to be deeply meaningful and important," he writes, "and most of those end up becoming college professors themselves. . . . And so the liberal-arts paradigm perpetuates itself, while remaining out of sync with the vast majority of college students."

i was one of that handful of students, as were most of the people in my class at college. long after we'd graduated from Wossamatta U., professors would talk about us wistfully. papers and in-class essays of mine, as well as a couple of other classmates, were kept by a couple of my professors and used as examples of scholarship and writing; inflicted on hapless undergrads for easily a decade after taking the courses. were we just an aberration?

probably most generations feel like this about the younger ones. shaking canes and muttering "kids today," isn't a new trend -- richard hofstadter wrote about it in 1966, when Anti-Intellectualism in American Life was published. it's something i've been noticing more lately in the people i spend time with, and it's disappointing.

the students i run into here at Saltmine U. could care less about a life of the mind; they just want to know what they've got to do to get an A. they find a gimmick and stick with it; they don't take classes outside their major, or go to many of the campus cultural events. i'm often one of the youngest people at them, when i go. so many opportunities are being wasted.

and it's a shame to find that attitude in people i know. folks, it's not cool to:

  • pronounce you just don't care about the news
  • be proud of being uneducated
  • be dismissive of knowledge
  • refuse to engage with your world
  • shut down your natural curiosity
  • change the subject whenever it becomes intellectual, because you're uncomfortable
  • regurgitate the punditry you hear on television or talk radio
  • use a lack of education as a crutch for not learning about the world

seriously. instead of making you look cool and above it all, it just makes you look like an insecure git. there's no shame in not knowing something -- hell, it's not possible to know everything anymore. but go out and learn. engage. be curious. use your brain.

try it; you might just like it.

Technorati Tags: