Anti-Intellectualism, the Ivy League, and Obama’s Cabinet

During a summer job when I was in college, I was chatting with a fellow college student.  I asked her where she went to school.

“At a school in Connecticut,” she said.

“Where at?” I asked.

“New Haven,” she said, sort of blushing.

“Oh, you go to Yale!” I said, “How cool is that?”

I wonder how many other Ivy League students out there answer the question “where do you go to school?” with such an evasive response.  Perhaps she thought that others would think she was a snob, or that they would think that she was bragging, if she answered the question directly.  I, for one, certainly didn’t think less of her, quite the opposite.

But isn’t this a shame?  On the one hand, Americans admire Ivy League educations, and because of this, the names on their transcripts can open some doors.  On the other hand, there’s a powerful undercurrent of distrust of intellectualism in America.  Whether it’s high school students mocking the smart kids, or college girls playing down their intelligence in class, or Fox News accusing Barack Obama of being an “elite” because he went to Columbia and Harvard, people are a little distrustful of those who have brains, an education, and the desire to work hard in their studies. 

Here’s an interesting article in the New Yorker that makes a similar point. It seems that the incoming Obama administration, and Obama himself, are a highly educated bunch, and about 40 percent of them received a degree from an Ivy league institution.  Although many Americans are no doubt saying, “Wow!  How refreshing, after eight years of a president who bragged about his Cs,” others are suspicious of the team and are afraid they might promote an “elite agenda.”

In fact, when I was a professor, I almost never brought this up in conversation unless someone asked me, and if they did, I usually said something like, “I teach at CSU.”  I didn’t want them to think I was an elitist or “above” talking to them.

It’s troubling that we live in a culture where intellectualism is suspect.  We love Joe the Plumber, but we’re suspicious of Joe the Professor.  Kudos to Obama for putting together an educated cabinet to deal with the nation’s overwhelming problems, regardless of what anyone has to say.

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