notes from the edge








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Whatís wrong with eggheads?

During the 1952 presidential campaign, in which Adlai Stevenson ran against Dwight Eisenhower, a new derogatory word for intellectualism entered the English patois: egghead.


Presumably the term found its derivation in the somewhat egg-shaped head of Stevenson, who was, in addition, quite bald. That, combined with Stevensonís erudition and intellect, led Republicans to brand Stevenson as an elitist and out of touch with ordinary mortals, most of whom were evidently short on brains and hence more attracted to the stammering, incoherent speech of Eisenhower.That, combined with the notion that military heroics always overcome peacenikky intellectualism gave Eisenhower an easy victory.


Once again this year, the eggheadedness of Barack Obama (though hardly bald) has become a hot topic. Again and again weíre told that Obama appeals to the young, to blacks and to those with a college education Ė more eggheads Ė as though this were some badge of dishonor. God forbid that we elect someone who appeals to those who have the educational wherewithal to think reasonably, understand historical contexts and come to rational conclusions.


God forbid even more that we elect someone who sailed through Harvard Law School, edited the Harvard Law Review and can speak in sentences that do not result in an utter embarrassment to the country and its leadership.††


No, better that we cook up yet another sort of pie and slice up the country into adversative units that pit those who are educated against middle class workers, mostly white, who apparently would vote for anyone but a black intellectual.


While someone like Jon Stewart can use his bully pulpit to proclaim that he would, for a change, like to have a president who is smarter than he, the fact is that anti-intellectualism is solidly rooted in this country. We evidently donít like people who are smarter than we are, and we certainly view with suspicion anyone who has received a doctorate in anything other than medicine.


Part of the problem lies with our contemporary public education system, which has radically dumbed down what constitutes real learning for the sake of standardized tests, whose results are so oblique as to be meaningless. Despite what test scores tell us, the vast majority of our educational products canít read or make other than literal sense out of great works of literature. They have no ability whatsoever to analyze plots or characterization. They wouldnít know what you meant by the structure of a work if it bit them on the nose.


As for history, or placing events or movements in an historical context, forget it. They have no idea who Woodrow Wilson was, and whatís more they donít care. Ever heard of Pericles or Pompey? Not on your life. Theyíre not on the test.


And the idea of rational thought patterns as evidenced by an ability to learn math or a foreign language is swill for the hogs. Hell, without a computer or a calculator, these kids canít add 11 and 17 and come up with 28.††


For students today, educators are the enemy. Theyíre people to be contended with, to poke fun at or to sass in class. Zeus help a teacher who dares to give homework and expects students to have it ready to go the next day in class. Itís just not going to happen.


Little wonder, then, that those few who have taken their educational opportunities seriously are viewed with suspicion, if not derision, by those who look upon required schooling as an imposition on their time. Letís face it, anti-intellectualism is built into our school systems, and, for the most part, busy parents could care less.


Add to that an administration that scoffs at expertise in any given field and fills its ranks with intellectual quacks, political cronies and religious nuts, as though to put the seal of approval on stupidity, and what can you expect from the public at large?


It seems to me that itís about time for an egghead in the White House. Itís time for someone to appear who will not only put to good use his own educational experience, but will also serve as a model for what hard work in the classroom can achieve.


Let us indeed have a president who is smarter than we are. And let us have a president who surrounds himself with experts well-educated in foreign policy, domestic policy, and, yes, education.


Economically we are fast approaching the status of a third world country. We produce virtually nothing anymore and rely on consumer spending to keep whatís left of our economy afloat.


Perhaps itís time to reject third world leadership and turn to someone who has at least a modicum of rationality and, yes, eggheadedness. He certainly couldnít be any worse than what we have now.†††





May 27, 2008









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