Anti-Intellectualism in America Essay
“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” – Isaac Asimov
The COVID-19 pandemic is considered as the most crucial global health calamity of the century and the greatest challenge that the humankind faced since the 2nd World War. (1) Until today, 13.4 million people have been infected and 580 thousand people have lost their lives in as many as 213 countries and territories.
The highly infectious respiratory pandemic has impacted all segments from economy to politics to the modern society. With schools and factories have been shut down while workplaces and public spaces remains closed, Covid-19 outbreak is changing and affecting most people’s lives on this planet.
Under such urgent situation, experts, along with CDC, are making great efforts to keep covid-19 from spreading. Specialists contend that wearing mask and washing hands is the best way to protect yourself from being infected. However, a huge group of people not only claim that wearing mask is not helping at all, but also allege that Dr.Fauci and Bill Gates are the culprit of the virus and they should take responsibility for it.
More than that, President Donald Trump even comes up with speech that suggest people injecting disinfectant as treatment. “And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning?”, and he continues, “So it’d be interesting to check that.”
(3) It is interesting that hundreds of people really believe in such absurd and ridiculous claims, instead of following expert’s instructions. “During January – March 2020 poison centers received 45,550 exposure calls related to cleaners (28,158) and disinfectants (17,392) representing overall increases of 20.4 % and 16.4% from the same time period January -March 2019,” the AAPCC said in a statement. (4)
It can be concluded that anti-intellectualism is a popular doctrine in the America, and the history of it can be traced back to 1950’s. Why does the anti-intellectualism prevail in America? I believe that the anti-intellectualism is strongly associated with education, politics and religion.
First of all, the abnormal education system plays an important role in the growing of the anti-intellectualism. The education system in America has been with the fame and reputation all the time due to its strong ability of scientific research. Millions of students come to America to receive high-level education. However, based on the statistics, the bottom and fundamental education in America is not as legit as its high-level education.
The education system in America is highly differentiated. Good students tend to be better and normal kids tend to be normal. Most teenagers have attended public high school where most of it cannot be labeled as legit. Social science researchers, Piñata and Ansari, find that children with a history of enrollment in private schools did perform better on nearly all outcomes assessed in adolescence. (6) But only about 5.8 million, out of 56.6 million, high school students, are going to private high schools.
It is not saying that children who attend private school is necessarily better than students who go to public school, but it is convincible that private high schools are more academically strict. Then, only two third of American high school students will continue their academic career in colleges.
(5) The abnormal education system causes that a large amount of American actually lack basic science and arts knowledge and easily believe in conspiracy. Despite millions of people are not well-educated, they never hold back on commenting and doubting science. One interesting fact is that around 2 percent American still believe that the Earth is flat.
According to YouGov’s report, when asked, “Do you believe that the world is round or flat,” 2 percent of the 8,215 respondents chose “I have always believed the world is flat.”(7) Not only normal citizens, celebrities such as NBA all-star Kyrie Irving, Draymond Green, NFL player Bills Watkins are also loyal followers of the theory. Besides flat earth theory, Young Earth creationism is a burgeoning theory which is popular in the public.
Apparently, people rather believe in Bible, but not trust the scientific evidence. Research shows that people with high education are less likely than people with low education to believe in conspiracy and anti-intellectualism theories. (10) Thus, with a large population of low-educated citizens in America, it is not surprised that anti-intellectualism can develop rapidly.
The second major factor is also related to the education system. The high cost of tuition and rent are hindering students to pursue better education. According to the government data, the total student debt loan is up to 1.4 trillion dollars and the average student loan is 37,172 dollars in 2017.
(12) Thousands of students reject their first choice of university due to the financial reasons. A 50,000 participations survey reveals that 19% of respondents said their decision was made specifically because of the cost of attendance. (13) Compared with other top universities around the world, colleges in United States are extraordinary expensive and the average cost is only less than United Kingdom colleges.
Students have to pay schools 8,202 dollars per year, and it costs more if they study outside their states. Take UC Irvine as the example, a local resident has to make a payment of 11,442 dollars annually and for nonresident students, the cost boosts up to 45,375 dollars. After calculating the economic and opportunity cost, many students will either attend community college or directly go to work.
The high cost hinders originally not many students from continuing their academic career. Next, the attitude towards intellectuals and scholars in the school is worth pondering. In most schools, especially in high schools, cool kids are always be those elite athletes such as ranked QB or ranked point guard.
And the crowd glorifies them as heroes of the school, the community, and the city. In contrast, students who are not good at sport and study all the time would be taunted and teased by peers. No matter how excellent they did on the exam or SAT test, they are still called “nerds” and “eggheads” without any respect. In people’s mind, nerds are wearing thick glasses, and dressing in plaid shirts.
In the famous article why nerds are unpopular, the author reveals that the main reason nerds are unpopular is that they have other things to think about. Their attention is drawn to books or the natural world, not fashions and parties. (11) As a student, proper entertainment is necessary for their physical and mental health.
Nonetheless, spending and focusing too much time on it should not be advocated. And hating parties and socializing should never become the reason of bulling and insulting. Studying and living in such phenomena, students who may have interest in science and technology will be scared of doing it.
However, not only students, but also some parents also identify completely with the non-academic kids and the new-style education. When teachers complain about lowering standards in contemporary education, a parent responds with:
“But kindergarten teachers understand children. Theirs is a child-centered program. School days were one continuous joy of games and music and colors and friendliness. Life rolled merrily along through the first grade, the second grade, the third grade … then came arithmetic!” ……. “ I was interested in a whole life, a whole personality; the teacher, merely in arithmetical ability. I wished I had not come. I left uninformed and uncomforted”. The distrust from the parents significantly affects the children and schools.
The American politics has distained intellectuals almost since the day it was founded. Even the founding fathers were dragged into the political struggle. The most standard and common rhetorical weapon is claiming intellectuals are not fit for being president. The first victim of anti-intellectualism is Thomas Jefferson.
His wisdom and knowledge were mocked by his major political opponent, William Loughton Smith. William Smith described Thomas Jefferson’s skill as “impaling butterflies and insects, and contriving turn-about chairs”. (16) Dislike the founding fathers, who are great intellectuals, the former president, Dwight Eisenhower, attacked intellectuals during the campaign as calling him the ‘egghead’.
And after 2 years, the President officially sanctioned this disdainful opinion of intellectuals. As the highest leader of a country, it is disrespectful and improper of saying intellectuals are men who take more words than are necessary to tell more than he knows. (14) Moreover, even the Time magazine said:
“Discloses an alarming fact long suspected: there is a wide and unhealthy gap between the American intellectuals and the people.” In their article. Eisenhower’s biggest rival during campaign, also aimed at the new power; in his phase, intellectuals and their value have been overshowed and abandoned by the courthouse politicians of the Truman years. (15)
In fact, not only among teenagers, the society also shows spite to intellectuals. The kind of anti-intellectualism expressed in the society is basically same as the traditional businessman’s suspicion of experts working in any field outside his control, whether in academic laboratories facilities, universities, or diplomatic corps.
In the Pulitzer Prize winning book, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, Richard Hofstadter stated: “Far more acute and sweeping was the hostility to intellectuals expressed on the far-right wing, a categorical folkish dislike of the educated classes and of anything respectable, established, pedigreed, or cultivated.”
(9) Ralph Waldo Emerson and other Transcendentalist philosophers thought schooling and rigorous book learning put unnatural restraints on children: “We are shut up in schools and college recitation rooms for 10 or 15 years and come out at last with a bellyful of words and do not know a thing.”