I haven’t had time to read those, either, and definitely feel that I’m falling down in my obligation to stay informed. And this was in the days before i Pods and laptops, when professors were still suggesting their students “word process” their papers, when I assumed anyone with a cell phone was a doctor or a drug dealer.
Nevertheless, I want to forge ahead and just mention some things that struck me about . I’ve written before that I’m a sucker for any hypothesis about the world going to hell in a handcart since whatever bad thing happened: Eve eating the apple, Caesar destroying the Republic, Luther destroying Christendom, European settlers killing indigenous Americans, Yankees defeating the Confederacy, Hitler killing everyone in sight, or the latest tragedy–the advent of the “digital age.” I always have a suspicion that the historical period I’m living in is the worst one except for all the historical periods that have preceded it. Let’s also consider just ordinary people out in the world when we start thinking about the kind of intellectual curiosity and engagement with ideas and culture–or lack thereof–that some people complain about. Or that most people are already dumb, and that more of them are going to college as standards lower?
He asks his students to sit down with their friends at dinner and and as an experiment use some big words to see what happens.
They balk at this, thinking their friends will avoid them, or more likely think them pretentious jerks.
If we take a look at the most popular television shows, movies, games, magazines, websites, etc. Most people don’t even go to college, so I have no idea what the ordinary person is like.
for every age category, are we intellectual snobs going to find much to impress us? Just about every adult I know has at least a master’s degree, and often two or more or a Ph D. Have we always been in decline because most people have never heard of Shostakovitch or can’t explain the Monroe Doctrine?
“Compare this attitude,” Bauerlein suggests, “with that of young Frederick Douglass.” “Or that of John Stuart Mill.” Comparing the intellectual engagement of the majority of college students or even American citizens with brilliant and eloquent men like Douglass or Mill hardly seems relevant.
What do we learn by saying that most people don’t have the intellect of such men?
Some quibbles aren’t with the premise, but with some of the arguments in the book itself, though.
For example: “Even if we grant the point that on some measures today’s teenagers and 20-year-olds perform no worse than yesterday’s, the implication critics make seems like a concession to inferiority. When you’re a teenager, if you can play the blues on a Strat, what difference does it make to you who’s on the Supreme Court?