Feb 162011
Authors: Joe Vajgrt

It took me six years after graduating high school to finally go to college. When I informed my conservative dad that I was going back to school, he had a very serious expression on his face. Perhaps your dad makes the same face. You know, it’s the one that says, “It is now my paternalistic duty to impart some of my vast accumulation of wisdom.”

He very sternly warned me that I was about to be brainwashed. The dangers of the information that my liberal professors were about to teach me were sure to destroy the core of my being. I had to remain vigilant to protect myself against the onslaught of the coming knowledge.

Perhaps his fear stems from the fact that more than 70 percent of U.S. college professors identify themselves as liberals. It’s even “worse” at Ivy League schools where the number of liberal professors rises to 87 percent.

These are the kinds of statistics that scare the intelligence right out of the extreme right’s most outspoken wingnuts. Ardently conservative pundits repeatedly echo the sentiments of the Club for Growth’s political ad that attacked Howard Dean during his presidential bid as a, “tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading … left-wing freak show.”

The favorite moniker so often bandied about by conservatives against their political foes is “liberal elitist.” This phrase implies that liberals ­–– those who are educated –– are somehow unpatriotic for their appreciation of Italian-style coffee, Japanese cuisine and Swedish cars.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that the Democrats bow to the characterization that they are somehow out of touch with “the real America.” After all, being cowed by the most acrimonious venom spewed from the collective mouth of the right’s talking heads has become the left’s modus operandi.
But let’s call the hatred and fear of “liberal elitism” what it really is –– anti-intellectualism.

Anti-intellectualism pervades our national debates and local elections. This stifling political atmosphere is troubling enough by itself, but even more frightening is that the sentiment has taken root in the minds of young people.

A recent study by sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa found that 45 percent of college students “show no significant improvement in the key measures of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing” after their first two years of college.

The findings, published in their book “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” show “almost half of those surveyed said they rarely if ever discuss politics or public affairs” with their peers.

On an anecdotal level, I see it all the time. I’ve seen students roll their eyes and get annoyed when finding out that their classmates are doing well academically. All the while the majority of students sit silently through lectures not participating in class discussions, afraid of how they’ll be perceived by their classmates.

The reasons why undergrads aren’t learning or are actively engaged in their studies are complex and can’t be blamed on any one aspect. It’s quite clear that students are succumbing to a general atmosphere of anti-intellectualism, though.

This is especially concerning because college is where you’re supposed to be challenging yourself intellectually, feeding off the collective intelligence of some of the best and brightest minds that we are capable of developing.

There’s a tendency for people to attack the acumen of their counterparts once their opinions diverge, but political affiliation clearly isn’t a good indicator of a person’s intelligence.

There are incredibly bright, capable people from all areas of the political spectrum. However, it’s unacceptable when a political party routinely attacks their opponents for having an intellect. Besides, have you tried a latte? Those things are freakin’ delicious.

_Joe Vajgrt is a tax-hiking, latte-sipping, sushi-eating, left-wing freak show majoring in journalism. His column appears Thursdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com. _

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