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Karen Allendoerfer ravena at cco.caltech.edu
Mon Nov 17 13:06:02 EST 1997

In article <a-schmi-1611972156110001 at vortex5.life.uiuc.edu>,
aloisia schmid <a-schmi at uiuc.edu> wrote:
>I am not sure what the answer is.  How do you instill a love of learning? 
>I don't know but I think that even in the last 10 years, we've gone a long
>way towards losing whatever instilled it in the first place. I'd love to
>hear from people as to how they think it might be possible to make it cool
>to be an intellectual again.  How do you make it cool to be well-read, to
>have a great vocabulary?  When did being well-eduacted and literate become
>intellectual snobbery?  And how do we turn that around?

Oh, Alice, I agree with your observations completely, but I think we need
to stop looking only at the students, and blaming them for it.  I think
there is a lot in the culture of the intellect that is pretty damn uncool.

I have tried to preserve my love of learning, and I think that for the
most part I have, but it has taken a real beating over the years, from
among other things:

--professors and/or teachers who make grades extremely public by
handing back tests in order of how you did (oh, please, let him hand
back mine, oh, he still hasn't, now he's down to the B's, now he's down
to the C's, now everyone can see that I got a C-), or who let the high
scorers on the hourly exam OUT of taking the final exam, and let the rest
of the class know that

--having been falsely accused of cheating when I didn't do it

--having been humiliated in front of a class for not knowing something

--various problems associated with being the only woman in a class

--having professors who arrived unprepared for lectures and tried to cover
it up by showing some slides, which were out of order and upside-down; 
this same professor threw pencils hostilely at students during the final

--computer "consultants" who think that if you don't know obscure unix
commands, you're an idiot

--the general smug tone of media "intellectuals" like William Safire and
Andy Rooney

--the competitive nature of academia, with its emphasis on grades,
prizes, awards, etc.

Maybe I'm naive, but when, in my TA-ing experiences, I've been clear to
my students about my expectations, supportive of their questions (no matter
how 'stupid'), friendly and approachable, and when the exams were perceived
as fair rather than nit-picky, I haven't really found much problem with
either attitude or cheating.  And the same is true out in the "real
world."  I have a large vocabulary, but I've never been slammed for using
"big words," only asked to explain them, and when I do, I've been thanked
for the information.  I don't let the person know that I think they
"should have known" the word, before explaining it.

I think that intellectuals could go a long way
towards defusing the hostility towards themselves if they would keep their
egos and competitiveness in check, and cultivate a more "we're in this together"
approach, rather than a "learning is a contest" approach.


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