Saturday, August 06, 2016

On knowing others

A few weeks ago, the friend and I, while traveling around in this gorgeous part of the world, visited with a student of mine at the family farm where he has been working pretty much right from the day after the academic year ended.  A wonderful guy he is--both as a student and as a person--and is perhaps even more committed to his religious beliefs than are the frequent commenters here.

In addition to say hi to him, I love visiting such places because it gives me a real feel for the kinds of communities that has shaped the students with whom I get to interact in the classroom and, very rarely, outside the classroom too.  I have blogged about such things before--this here is one of my favorites. Once, a graduating student (and her boyfriend) invited me to the party that their family was hosting to celebrate her success.  I went there; it was a community of ranch homes with cattle in the back, and horses and saddles--very much unlike anything in my daily life.  Talking with her grandfather and answering his questions about India was one of the best experiences I have had as an ambassador for 1.3 billion people.

As much as I look different, and speak differently, and while I might live in my head, I love humanity and the everyday lives of people.  And, more importantly, getting to know their hometowns and backgrounds guides me in the way I end up presenting them with new ideas in the classroom. Over the years, I have come to understand that I need to go to where the student is and then try to have them look at the world differently, and not expect them to see it just because I said so.

Not connecting with the real people and their real problems is one atrocious mistake that intellectuals make.
The fact that we members of the intellectual professions are quite atypical of the societies in which we live tends to distort our judgment, when we forget that we belong to a tiny and rather bizarre minority. This is not a problem with the hard sciences.  But in the social sciences, intellectuals — be they professors, pundits, or policy wonks — tend to be both biased and unaware of their own bias.
Yes, most are blissfully unaware of how disconnected they are from their students and, of course, society itself.
The social isolation of intellectuals, I think, is worsened by their concentration in a few big metro areas close to individual and institutional donors like New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. (where I live) or in equally atypical college towns. ... it is possible for people to go from upper middle class suburbs to selective schools to big-city bohemias or campuses with only the vaguest idea of how the 70 percent of their fellow citizens whose education ends with high school actually live.
Exactly!  And then with their snooty attitudes complain all the time that they are not paid enough!

Even when I travel, I love connecting with the local cab drivers (like here) because I want to know how the vast majority live and think, and how they make meaning out of their lives.  I am sure all these also feed into my loud opinions that college education is highly overrated, and vocational education is highly marginalized.

I will end this anti-intellectual post with verse by Auden, which I have quoted before:
To the man-in-the-street, who, I'm sorry to say,
Is a keen observer of life,
The word 'Intellectual' suggests right away
A man who's untrue to his wife
Now, Auden was an intellectual who knew real people!

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