Why we don’t revere our intellectuals
Posted by Hube on 2011/05/13
Insty had a brief blurb up linking to a Guardian (UK) article which asks “Why don’t we love our intellectuals?” In response, Insty also linked to articles by Christopher Hitchens and the inimitable James Taranto. The question is a good one; conventional wisdom, such that it is, posits that conservatives are the “anti-intellctual” crowd … you’ll see this conceit uttered frequently by folks like the usual suspects, and by those “big brains” in the mainstream media. As partial evidence, it’s conservatives who are frequently made fun of and derided. George W. Bush was a total buffoon — even though he had better college grades than Al Gore; Dan Quayle was a walking, talking gaffe machine — but our current veep actually makes Quayle look like a professional motivational speaker; Ronald Reagan was a “lovable dunce;” Sarah Palin is [insert demeaning comment],” etc. etc. etc.
Take Hitchens’ article next: He dissects the “intellectual” that is Noam Chomsky. Chomsky is sort of a radical leftist academic pop-culture icon (he got a nice gratuitous shout out in Matt Damon’s “Good Will Hunting,” for instance), who somehow has managed to evolve into this deeply heavy political and cultural thinker even though his area of expertise is … linguistics. He is greatly admired by a former big-time Delaware blogger many of you probably know, Dana Garrett. Let me state right up front that I love Dana to death — he’s an incredibly nice and personable fellow, who actually listens to conservative arguments and concedes good points when they’re made … a very rare trait for a progressive. (Notice that I did not put quotations around the word “progressive” this time like I normally do, for Dana is a true progressive.) Chomsky was one of the [many] items Dana and I argued about back in the day. It’s easy to understand why the noted linguist is endeared by progressives: the virtually constant tendency to side with the “underdog,” taking up the cause of the historically oppressed, fighting for minorities and the poor, etc. The problem is that Chomsky and his acolytes will overlook virtually every negative aspect about the causes they take up. Why? To be consistent? Because maintaining a contrarian view is of utmost importance? This leads to what historian Paul Johnson (noted in the Guardian article) stated about people like Chomsky — they are “moral cretins.” Hitchens’ article dissects much of this aspect, and is pretty much in line with how I feel about him. In this case, ‘ol Noam chimed in on the death of Osama bin Laden where he questioned the al Qaeda leader’s actual responsibility for 9/11, said bin Laden was no worse than George W. Bush, and claimed that, by our commando raid on bin Laden’s compound, we thus “would justify a contingency whereby ‘Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic.’” Chomsky also complained that bin Laden’s killing was a “planned assassination,” and that he “should have been accorded all the rights of criminal suspects.”
It should come as little surprise, then, that bin Laden was apparently a fan of the MIT professor:
The New York Times, reporting on the intelligence haul from Osama bin Laden’s house, paints a picture of the mass murderer’s politics: In 2007, he complained that Democratic control of Congress had not ended the war in Iraq, a fact he attributed to the pernicious influence of “big corporations.” In other messages he commented on the writings of Noam Chomsky, the leftist professor at M.I.T., and praised former President Jimmy Carter’s book supporting Palestinian rights.
In a brief side-note here, one of my favorite bloggers early on my blogging “career,” Benjamin Kerstein, in his [old] blog Diary of an Anti-Chomskyite dedicates virtually every post to shredding the “logic” that is the blog’s namesake. It’s a must read for those interested in dissecting the meanderings of Chomsky-thought, where Kerstein’s prose is both terse and quite delightfully sarcastic. (Currently, Kerstein has a new blog and has written for various online publications.)
So, are you still wondering why so many people do not revere our [so-called] intellectuals?
Chomsky and others of his ilk also dabble all the time in moral equivalence. International law (like the professor noted above) is of paramount import — unless, of course, some oppressed group is undertaking actions to support their “cause” — much like the Palestinians against Israel. Closer to home, our old friend Perry and New Zealand’s “Phoenician in a Time of Romans” (the moniker really says it all) over at Common Sense Political Thought predictably take up the Palestinian mantle whenever the subject is broached, and they’re supposedly intelligent individuals. They’ll scream about Israel violating UN Security Council Resolution 242 time and time again, for instance, but, of course, the constant threat of Palestinian (and other) terrorism — that breach of international law — is conveniently overlooked. Heck, if you’re such a proponent of UN resolutions, what about the very one that created the state of Israel and a state of Palestine in the first place? If you demand “legality” so vociferously, what about that action by the world body? Which group crapped all over that plan, and began a war of annihilation to subvert it? Hint: It was not the Jews. And check out Chomsky and Vietnam. I mean, c’mon — can anyone other than a hardcore far-leftist take such drivel even remotely seriously??
Supposed non-intellectuals can somehow — just “somehow” — manage to realize that, for example, Israel has absolutely NO obligation to return land gained in a defensive war of survival until and unless it gets guarantees from the other parties involved that they will refrain from terrorist activity, agree that Israel has a right to exist, and sign a peace treaty. Gee, after all, take a look at what happened when Egypt did just that in 1979: it got back the Sinai Peninsula which Israel had captured after the 1967 Six Day War. Regarding Vietnam, somehow non-intellectuals can accept that, yes, perhaps the US should not have even been there in the first place; however, somehow an authoritarian communist regime making use of a terrorist effort (Viet Cong) to infiltrate a neighboring government, not to mention next door’s Khmer Rouge in Cambodia murdering millions is … justified?
In the educational realm, so-called “intellectuals” are all over the place (and I am excluding higher education here for the nonce). Let’s just examine what has happened, and what is currently on, here in the First State. With all that Race to the Top cash that it won a couple years ago, here’s what the high-powered “intellectuals” have come up with and have proposed to evaluate individual non-core subject area teachers: They’ll be evaluated on their schools’ test scores in core subject areas. That’s right — if you’re a “specialist” — an art teacher, phys. ed. teacher, foreign language teacher, or chorus teacher — over half of your performance evaluation will be based on a certain number of students’ state test scores in core subjects (like math and English) … students that you “touch” (and yes, that is the exact terminology that these “intellectuals” came up with!) on a daily basis. [Supposedly] Very smart people actually came up with this. Of course, it doesn’t take someone with a very high IQ to then ponder, “How does that measure the teaching performance of a chorus teacher?” Or someone with a normal IQ might wonder, “If the chorus teacher is being evaluated on students’ English and math scores, why does she waste her time working on singing? Doesn’t it make sense that she tutor the subjects on which she’s being assessed?” This is the best idea the state higher-ups could come up with!
Let’s not forget the experience with judicial-enforced desegregation in northern Delaware. It was “intellectuals” who told us that all black children needed to succeed in school was to be sitting next to a white kid. And then that “super” intellect known as federal Judge Murray Schwartz rejected the state legislature’s proposal of a voluntary busing plan — y’know, putting the decision in the hands of the people — and instead implemented the infamous “9-3 Plan”: city students would attend suburban schools for nine years, and suburban students would attend city schools for three. (Schwartz, by the way, ended up sending his own children to private schools during the deseg imbroglio. Go figure, eh?) After nearly a quarter century, busing failed to increase student achievement, and now we see [minority] calls for … a return to a city school district. A city school district in Wilmington, just like the one that existed before 1978, the year the federal desegregation order was implemented. But — we were told (by supposed intellectuals) that minority children needed to be with white kids! That a predominately minority district should not exist! And people actually wonder why we don’t revere our “intellectuals?”
How many of you have ever managed to sit through a typical school district-level inservice? Intellectual “educationists” — usually Ed.Ds from within the district or professional “experts” — package and repackage ideas and theories over and over again but with different colorful names or acronyms, and we’re supposed to “oooh!” and “ahhh!” them as if they’re the latest and greatest scientific discovery. Of course, many of these same folks are responsible for “great” ideas like Whole Language Instruction, which the (year 2000) United States Reading Panel concluded has led to reduced reading abilities in children. And whattya know — there’s ‘ol Noam Chomsky’s moniker linked to Whole Language Instruction! But, at least, this is his area of expertise, but a particular focus area that ultimately proved not very well conceived.
In another example, one of my favorite edu-bloggers, Michael E. Lopez, notes how “intellectuals” did a study which concluded the following:
School safety depends far less on the poverty and crime surrounding the campus than on the academic achievement of its students and their relationships with adults in the building, according to a new study of Chicago public schools.
The report, released Tuesday by the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago, finds that while schools in high-poverty, high-crime neighborhoods tend to be less safe than other schools, students’ level of academic achievement actually plays a bigger role in school safety than a school’s neighborhood. Furthermore, even in high-poverty, high-crime neighborhoods, the quality of relationships among adults and students at a school can turn one school into a safe haven while another languishes as a center of violence.
As Lopez notes, though, this is hardly “some sort of X-causes-Y phenomenon”:
The “root cause” of school-wide (and even neighborhood-wide) suckage — safety, academics, attitudes towards authority, graduation and literacy rates, etc. — if some root cause there be, is actually likely to be extremely hard to identify because it’s probably something missing rather than something present.
Still, it’s an interesting read. I was especially caught by this sentence:
After a trio of 7th graders “borrowed” a parent’s car for a joyride over the weekend, Ms. Hightower was able to retrieve the keys quietly and have the students meet with a community police officer—without threatening them with an official arrest.
This to me suggests that you not only need an involved, attentive faculty and administration, but it helps if you have a dollop of common sense, too. Children are not going to feel safe if they’re living in a thoughtless zero-tolerance prison system.
The problem with this is, when you do get someone in charge of such a school in such an environment — someone like Joe Clark, the subject of the film “Lean on Me” — the so-called intellectuals flip out. For proof, just check out this Time magazine cover from 1988. “Is Getting Tough the Answer?” the cover asks. “School Principal Joe Clark says yes — and critics are up in arms” is the response. If you know the story of Clark, you know he was brought in to [hopefully] turn around the chaotic Eastside High School. He was a non-nonsense, no excuses kind of guy, with students and teachers alike. He “expurgated” (to use his words from the film) numerous chronic discipline-problem students, students who had repeated grades many times and “weren’t going to graduate anyway” (again, his words from the film) as a beginning in restoring the necessary order and discipline a school requires if education is to even take place. But make no mistake — Clark loved his students. He was the first to arrive at school, and the last to leave everyday. He told students to come see him in his office anytime about anything. In other words, he became like unto a father figure for many of the school’s kids.
But to his critics, Clark was a loud-mouthed, egotistical authoritarian whose worst “crime” was expelling the perpetual troublemakers. The so-called intellectuals believe in the absolute “right” of students to get an education — no matter what. And that “no matter what” includes countless — innumerable, even — discipline infractions, including countless violent offenses. It doesn’t matter that these miscreants’ behavior and attitude can disrupt not only individual classrooms but the entire building. The schools must “save” these kids — even if it’s at the cost of educating students who want to learn, and despite the fact that the vast majority of such kids can’t be saved. And the “best” part of this whole debate is that those who are most vociferous about denigrating a man like Joe Clark either have never taught or have been out of the classroom for years (usually now in a comfy office at the central district office). But hey — they’ve read theories on this stuff, don’tcha know!
In the arena of contemporary world politics, we’ve witnessed how our “intellectuals” have reacted to the killing of Osama bin Laden. Our president, long hailed as an “intellectual” by other “intellectuals” and so-called intellectuals in our media, campaigned on so many things that he has long since abandoned that it is hard to keep track. Among these are promising to close Guantánamo Bay prison, ceasing rendition of captured terror suspects, and promising civilian trials for terrorists. The instances of our intellectual class lecturing us common folk during the Bush years about the evils of all those things (and more) and endless. The biggest lecture, perhaps, was about the debauchery of waterboarding, and how it is not only depraved, but ultimately useless. But then lo and behold: It’s revealed that the trail to Osama bin Laden was at least partially obtained thanks to the use of … waterboarding the three al Qaeda bigwigs we captured in the early 2000s. B-b-b-b-but … I thought such a practice was useless! And that’s not the end of it: our “intellectual” class is also pulling out all the stops to justify shooting an unarmed, non-threatening man (bin Laden), while at the same time continuing either to claim that the waterboarding during the Bush years “didn’t really work,” or that there’s “a legal and moral difference” between putting a bullet in a man’s skull and subjecting him to simulated drowning (the former being legal and more moral, if you can fathom that; just take a quick look here for an example).
Is it any wonder why such “intellectuals” label President Obama an “intellectual?” Anyone who simultaneously claim that shooting an unarmed someone in the forehead is “legal” and “morally justified,” but that waterboarding is not; claims that waterboarding was no factor in locating bin Laden despite all the evidence to the contrary; lauds the Navy SEAL team that offed bin Laden while at the same time bringing other SEALs up on charges for punching a captured terrorist; uses information obtained through waterboarding to locate and kill bin Laden while at the same time continuing to investigate these very same practices utilized by the CIA under the previous administration … THAT, folks — THAT takes some “brains.”
But us “average folk” have very little difficulty seeing it for what it really is.
(Cross-posted at Colossus of Rhodey.)
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