Last Updated 26 Jan 2021

Anti-Intellectualism at College Universities

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Education once existed as something very valuable, and something that only the very wealthy obtained. You were considered lucky to have the opportunity of getting an education, and not many took it for granted. Today, nearly everybody receives an education of some degree, and things have definitely changed. Students simply get educations because they are expected to or are required to. As the years have progressed, less and less students actually enjoy their education. You get labeled by many other students as weird or a freak if you enjoy learning.

These kinds of ideas have led to and continue to lead to many problems relating to anti-intellectualism. Student’s anti-intellectualism has been increasing throughout the years, especially at college universities. This is a major problem because the trend is spreading around that it isn’t cool to put forth an effort or to enjoy your classes. Many college professors are very concerned that every year students have less and less motivation and are just attending college because they want a high paying salary after college.

One English professor from the East coast said "most students nowadays are reluctant to learn and to think and resent being awakened from their stupor. I shudder when I consider the future of this country” (Trout). It scares a lot of people that this enormous group of unmotivated students is to someday be in charge of the country. The future of American society is at risk because of anti-intellectual ideas that are passed onto students because of the idea of wanting to be “cool”, students just going to college to make more money later, and university expectations decreasing because money has became the main priority rather than education.

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Firstly, the understanding of what an intellectual is has to be clear. According to Richard Hofstadter, who is a very famous American historian, he considers an intellectual someone who lives for ideas instead of someone who lives off of ideas. His input is significant because anti-intellectualism is basically his thing, and he was one of the first Americans to write about it. He goes onto say that two basic traits that intellectuals comprise of are playfulness and piety. By playfulness, he is referring to an individual’s curiosity and what makes their mind active. Piety is similar o an individual’s intensity and how passionate they are about their ideas and beliefs.

All intellectuals should demonstrate these two traits according to him. (Hofstadter, 259-60) Using this definition, an anti-intellectual would be someone who isn’t curious or serious, so at colleges that would translate to students being uninterested in their classes/education. One important thing to look at is what education was like in the far past. Education was once valued very highly and you were considered lucky to have the opportunity to get an education. Mainly, only the rich and selected children received it.

It meant a good future, and most kids took it very seriously. In the beginning of the 19th century, a primary education was the end of schooling for the greater part of students. Towards the 1830s, there started to become a demand for all children to have an opportunity of having an education. The 1870s marked when the United States had started to create education for the general public (Bradbury, 10). Today, education is more valued as something you have to get and something that the majority of people obtain, at least in the United States. As you can see, the opportunities for education have greatly opened up as time has progressed.

This changing trend has caused students to take their educations for granted and develop a hatred towards school work. Overall, this growing trend is causing more and more students to avoid thinking for themselves and furthermore avoid having intellectual ideas because learning isn’t cool. Moving onto modern times, a survey taken at UCLA showed that a record high amount of high school students entering college were losing interest in their academic experiences. These same students surveyed also had committed less time to their homework/studying than before and had become bored with the idea of schooling.

If students aren’t interested in their education, then why are they going to college? College is designed to be a place to receive a post-education. There are a lot of students who attend college because their parents made them or they think you have to or for the “fun. ” Students who go to college without a desire to learn won’t get anything out of it. These kinds of students have a negative impact on students who actually value their education. They spread anti-intellectual ideas to students and give them the impression that they are unusual for aking pride in their education and cause them to become anti-intellectual because that is clearly the cool thing to do.

More and more kids than ever before are arriving at colleges (Trout). This is good in a way because it means that many more people are getting a post-secondary education, but not all students are at college for the right reasons. The kind of students who go to college just to party or for reasons besides obtaining further education spread their anti-intellectual ideas around. Paul M. Levitt, professor at Colorado University, plainly says "many college kids are a sorry lot.

Preoccupied with their hair, their clothes, their cars, they have never developed a critical turn of mind and have no interest in doing so. It does not bode well for higher education that many students entering college do not have anything resembling an intellectual life" (Trout). Students who don’t want a higher education shouldn’t go forth and attempt to get one if they aren’t serious about it. College should be a place that welcomes intellectuals and people who want to think for themselves rather than a place where you have to conform to thinking negatively about your classes.

What is to become of our country if our generation all conforms to the same ideas? Professor of English at the University of Virginia, Mark Edmundson, suggests that students try very hard to fit in and not stand apart from others. He further goes onto say that for some reason showing your emotions, doing something different, or doing anything different than the norm will cause you to be disliked (Edmundson, 290). Obviously this is a problem because students have a desire to be “cool” by being like everyone else.

Less and less students want to be different because they don’t want others to look down on them for not being like them. The idea of wanting to be cool has caused less intellectual ideas in a place where they should be booming. Another developing problem with anti-intellectualism at college universities is that kids are going to college solely so that they can make more money after college. Students think just because the majority of students go onto college that they should as well, which makes them anti-intellectual for just following others instead of doing what they wanted to do.

About sixty ercent of high school graduates are estimated to go onto college or some form of higher education (Trout). A lot of times students may not even want to go to college, but they feel like if you don’t go to college, you are at a disadvantage. This is partially true because a lot of occupations that a degree is required for offer more money, but a lot of people end up going to college and end up not even using their degree because they find another job they enjoy more. Some people end up getting jobs that make a lot of money anyways though and hate their jobs, so that is hardly an advantage.

Not everyone is meant to go to college, but for some reason the idea that you have to go to college to be successful has been portrayed. Also, President Obama has announced that he thinks every American should have at least one year of higher education, but on the contrary, high education experts agree that not everybody succeeds at college or belongs there (Olson). The president shouldn’t be saying things like this because it puts pressure on students to feel like they have to attend college.

This has caused more anti-intellectuals who don’t belong at college to go and influence others. The next huge contributing factor to anti-intellectualism developing at universities is the universities themselves. Because of the growing amount of students bringing anti-intellectual ideas to the classrooms, universities have responded by lowering their standards. The reason for this is simply the more students the more money (Trout). Administrators have also been starting to create more interesting classes because of students disinterest in other courses (Bradbury, 14).

The administrators are starting to create things to attract anti-intellectuals and are serving them instead of the intellectuals. College universities have become more interested in the money that the individuals bring rather than the individuals educations. Universities are setting up their campuses to be ideal for anti-intellectuals to succeed at. The fact that colleges are conforming to how the students act is a serious problem, and it concerns many experts about what is to happen in our countries future.

Colleges have also started introducing a grade inflation to make it easier for students (Trout). College faculties are to blame mostly for that. The most likely reason for grade inflations would be because it keeps more students on campus. Students are earning higher grades for less work, which isn’t how it should be at all. Grade inflation and money are not related at all, so they shouldn’t have effects on each other. If this trend continues, the concept of a college degree is going to be lost because a college degree will become essentially something you can just buy.

Something else that should be very alarming to intellectuals is that studies show many teachers are either anti-intellectualist to begin with or their career turns them into one. Studies have proved that the majority of teachers do not even read very much, and if they do it is normally not scholarly. Reading is something that makes individuals think and come up with intellectual ideas and teachers are starting to turn toward students habits of not reading. Further studies show that teachers who start their careers as intellectuals lose their passion over the years.

These teachers either find a new job to avoid becoming an anti-intellectual or they continue teaching in a way that is unbeneficial to intellectuals. Also, many teachers do not encourage intellectualism because it teaches their students to question ideas and think things out thoroughly. Teachers see this as a threat to themselves if students start questioning them on their ideas. (Bradbury) If there aren’t any teachers to promote intellectualism, then more and more intellectuals will disappear. College universities are to blame the most for anti-intellectualism growing at their campuses.

I say this because they are the ones that are encouraging the conditions by dumbing down their universities for the sake of money. Also, if they kept their standards high, that would mean less anti-intellectuals overall. College should be a place for intellectuals to strive, but universities have made it a place where people who hate it can succeed just the same. Universities ultimately can control their campus and who they let in and as of now, many universities are letting in about anybody who has a high school diploma and money.

One of the first reforms that needs to be made at college universities is eliminating student evaluation of teachers. This whole concept of having the students evaluate a teacher’s ability is absurd. Seeing as how students today want a minimum amount of work, they will simply rate teachers who make it easy for them as excellent teachers. In reality, those teachers aren’t helping the students and rather are just obliging to what students want. The teacher then who gives students a lot of work and challenges them gets a worse rating from students.

If universities are so interested in how the teacher is doing, I see no problem in the heads of departments just observing the class. They can make their own judgment based off what they saw, and it would most likely take less time than it takes to review all of the student evaluations. Student evaluations end up promoting anti-intellectualism more than it promotes good teaching methods. An alternative opinion to this would be that students are to put at blame because they are after all responsible for their own education.

This is a valid argument because nobody can force a student to be an intellectual/anti-intellectual. The student is partially at fault if they attend a college for post education and then don’t even attempt to learn further. The flaw in this opinion is that most students coming into college are around the age of eighteen, so influences and their environment greatly affect them. If students show up to college, and the standards are set high and everybody knows that, then they are probably most likely going to try to put forth the same effort as everyone else.

However, if they come to college, and they see students partying all the time because standards are set low, then that makes them want to put forth the minimal effort to get by. Putting forth a minimal effort and not living for anything would be an anti-intellectual lifestyle, which is the environment of many colleges. If our country continues along this path of intellectuals dominating, there will be numerous effects considering what has already happened over the last few decades.

In 2002, it was recorded that sixty seven percent of college graduates read books for pleasure, while in 1982 it was eighty two percent. The decline of reading books is related closely to the incline of video games and the internet. The overall effects of anti-intellectualism are affecting more than just college students. Our country has changed a lot in a short period of time. From 1968 to 2000 the sound bites for presidential candidates has been dramatically reduced from 42. 3 seconds down to 7. 8 seconds. The public overall has lost a desire in obtaining knowledge.

An example of this would be that twenty percent of Americans believe the Sun revolves around the Earth. (Jacoby) As you can see, our country has a dangerous future if these kinds of standards continue to be acceptable. In summary, the number of anti-intellectual students at colleges has been increasing from year to year. Students need to quit conforming to the ways of other students because they think not caring is the cool thing to do, and more importantly, the colleges need to accept the right kind of students instead of just anyone who has the money for it.

The future of American society is at risk because of anti-intellectual ideas that are passed onto students because of the idea of wanting to be “cool”, students just going to college to make more money later, and university expectations decreasing because money has become the top priority rather than education, and ultimately the universities are required to incorporate intellectual ideas and challenges into their classrooms if anything is to change. If anti-intellectual ideas are continued to be brought to college by students and encouraged by universities, our country has a frightening future.

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