For Bookworms Worldwide
I just finished reading a disturbing autobiography. Writer Walter Kirn discusses his traumatic educational experiences in Lost In The Meritocracy: The Undereducation Of An Overachiever. Describing his life through the prism of education, Kirn tells a story of incompetency and profound anti-intellectualism that nearly destroyed him. Kirn transfers to Princeton University where he is exposed to bad ideas that afflict the educational establishment and the Ivy League in particular. For instance, as an English major, Kirn had the misfortune of taking a course on post-modernism’s sacred cow, deconstruction. Unfortunately, Kirn had no clue as to what was going on in the class. He explains thus:
But real understanding was rare with theory. It couldn’t be depended on at all. Boldness of execution was what scored points……The need to finesse my ignorance through such trickery–honorable trickery to mind, but not to other minds, perhaps—left me feeling hollow and vaguely haunted. (Bold added)
I wasn’t one of theory’s true believers. I was a confused young opportunist trying to turn his confusion to his advantage by sucking up to scholars of confusion. The literary works they prized—the ones best suited to their project of refining and hallowing confusion—were, quite naturally, knotty and oblique.(Bold added)
I was fortunate enough to attend a Catholic university that respected the Western tradition. The core curriculum required a lot of literature, science, philosophy and history. No matter how good the university was, they were not immune to the wholesale destruction of knowledge. I had the misfortune of taking a course called Mass Media and Pop Culture. In hindsight, it was one of the worse classes I had taken. Not only was it seeped in post-modernism from Derrida, Michel Foucault, to all the other pseudo intellectuals; this professor had a serious hatred for the actor Michael Douglas and The Mall of America. It was bizarre to say the least; plus I was trapped. I couldn’t drop the course because I would be under the required hours for full time status. The textbooks were unintelligible, and cost a fortune. A couple of students I got to know didn’t buy a single textbook and managed an A in the class. I scraped by with a torturous B.
I can honestly say I came out unscathed from that chaotic course. But in the author’s case, it almost destroyed him. After reading this book I couldn’t help but think of Ayn Rand’s seminal essay, The Comprachicos, in the book Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution. Rand explains in this fantastic work that the American educational establishment from preschool through graduate school makes a concerted effort to negate the development of the students’ conceptual faculty, i.e. to deal with reality. Rand explains:
The Progressive nursery schools start a child’s education at the age of three. Their view of a child’s needs is militantly anti-cognitive and anti-conceptual. A child of that age, they claim, is too young for cognitive training….. The development of his conceptual faculty, they claim, is an unnatural burden that should not be imposed on him; he should be free to act on his spontaneous urges and feelings in order to express his subconscious desires, hostilities and fears. (Bold added)
Kirn describes rampant drug abuse on campus–of which he was an active participant. But this drug abuse does not surprise me at all. Addiction is the logical consequence of someone who cannot cope with life; and whose mind was a cluttered, chaotic mess. Kirn’s situation got so bad, he ended up having a nervous breakdown.
The bright spot in all this is Kirn was able to pull himself out of his breakdown. The simplest way he did this was by taking a library clerk position on campus. In his own words, he began his mental reconstruction. Stating:
When breaks were called, I opened whichever volume I happened to be holding at the moment and read until it was time to go to work again, picking up reams of miscellaneous knowledge about such topics as Zoroastrianism and the history of animal husbandry. And unlike the material from my classes and lectures, these fragments stuck with me–maybe because I’d collected them for their own sake, not as cards to be played at final-exam time and forgotten when a new hand was dealt. (Bold added)
I don’t think Kirn understands the fundamental principles at play when it comes to understanding the psychological torture his education put him through. If he did he would not have named his book Life In The Meritocracy. There was nothing meritorious about the disaster of John Dewey’s progressive education. Instead it should be called LOST IN THE MEDIOCRITY. This is the only outcome of this type education. The need to adjust himself to the group; to present himself to others in a disingenuous manner. This is nothing short than being a second hander. But that’s how his education trained him to be.
Bookish BabeTags: anti-intellectualism, Ayn Rand, drug abuse, education, Ivy League, John Dewey, Princeton University, Progressive Education, Walter Kirn | Posted in Autobiography, Philosophy