Sunday, September 6, 2015

A Great Labor Day Weekend Disussion

Krista Tippett interviews Mike Rose on

The Intelligence in All Kinds of Work, and the Human Core of All Education That Matters

While the cut broadcast is good, as is often the case, the longer, unedited interview contains valuable things that wouldn't fit into an hour long framework.  There is also the transcript.

I don't agree with one thing that is said, that today's too common anti-intellectualism that favors football over anything like learning is something that was common among our 19th century ancestors, the generations that established public education and who, quite often, even among those who left school early, had a great respect for knowledge.  Rufus Jones wrote about the high level of intellectual knowledge among farmers who left school at an early age but who read extensively.  While that was especially true of certain religious cultures such as the Congregationalists and the Quakers, it was no less true of many immigrant groups, many of whom read in more than one language.  I think what we have been led to believe is an American trait is, actually, the product of the presentation of condescending stereotypes which people have been suckered into buying, to their detriment as well as others.   Football was a game invented by the late 19th and early 20th century economic elites, many of whom saw education as a possession of their class, something which was too good for the great unwashed masses, the brain damage spread out from them to damage the entire culture.  It is a symptom of the degeneration of democracy from what it should have developed into, coming out of that 19th century idealist tradition into the wreck it is in 2015.*

I am also reminded of reading a book by Don Harlow in which he spoke about having the advantage of growing up with parents who were omnivorous readers of content high and low in the years before TV started to destroy that all but lost world.  TV is one of the forces most guilty for selling The People on the national myth and paranoia of anti-intellectualism and a disdain for thought over organized, violent mayhem.  That view of The People is largely brought to us by those acculturated into that degraded view of universal education and a Platonic disdain of democracy by their college educations.  That is when they aren't merely aping those attitudes for fear of not fitting into that clique.  There are few things more valued by those who have gotten onto even the lower rungs of that ladder than their faith that they are smarter and better than the ignorant masses who have no ability to aspire to anything higher and no right to even dream of that.

*  See also:  The Higher Learning in America : A memorandum on the conduct of universities by business men, by Thorstein Veblen, especially at about page 125


  1. Regarding the farmers, an anecdote: the very urbabn/suburban part of Houston I live in was farm land and a farming community far outside Houston (half-a days ride by horse, they tell me) in the early to mid-20th century. I knew people who grew up on those farms. One told me of her father, who was the first Superintendent of schools in the area. She remembered he always had a stack of books by his chair and would read at night after working the farm that day. He never failed to read something, she said; and he read a lot.

    Probably by lamplight. Electricity didn't become common in this area until after WWII.

    I've decided such people were always more rare than common; but the idea that we've always been anti-intellectual in America isn't true, either.

    1. Certainly it was variable in practice but I think even among those who didn't become intellectuals that they had more respect for education and hoped for it for their children and grandchildren than we are led to believe. They did, after all, establish public education. It's the elite of the "information age" who are doing their best to destroy that, led by such folk as Arne Duncan and Barack Obama, neither of whom set foot in a public school as a student and whose children never did, either.

      In New England we have a weird situation where our elites inevitably send their children to private universities and here, even in those states where you can't throw a rock without breaking a window in an elite private school, the ruling class that is the product of those elite universities have starved public education to the extent that our public universities haven't kept up with those in the Mid-West and other areas of the country. Yet those places are led to believe they are the centers of anti-intellectual activity. If they had been as proud of their educational aspirations as they have a right to be, I suspect a lot of things would be far different. And if New Englanders weren't so cowed by the Ivy League class elite, they'd demand more and, maybe, the region would lose its reputation for snobbery. But those are just speculations, who knows what would happen?

    2. I don't understand the desire to destroy public education, but other than football, there seems to be no interest in the work of public universities at all.

      Even though they are the sources of most of the scientific and technological research being done in America today.

      It's a mystery.....