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Williamson Evers on Anti-Intellectualism in America

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Williamson "Bill" Evers, a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and a conservative, expounds on why students in the U.S. don't perform as well in math and science as students do in some other countries. His views are published in a Q&A in the Stanford Review. (It's promoted on Evers' Ed Policy blog, which he infrequently updates.)

Textbooks in the United States lack depth, and teachers here aren't as well prepared as teachers in some countries, Evers contends.

In addition, Evers notes that U.S. culture has a current of anti-intellectualism, as Americans admire characters such as Huck Finn and Davy Crockett for not liking school. ("Scout" in the well-loved To Kill a Mockingbird, which I read for the first time this spring, is another famous fictional character who doesn't much care for formal education.)

Evers says that in countries such as Hungary and Israel and in East Asian countries, people place a "high value on book learning." (I'm thinking, too, of how a Russian-born friend of mine talks about how he and his classmates were required to read a long list of classics during school breaks in his home country.)

Readers, what do you think? Does a love of book learning or anti-intellectualism have the upper hand in our society?

2 Comments

I would also direct your readers to the important chapter on John Dewey and Progressive Education in Richard Hofstadter's Pulitzer-Prize-winning "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life" (1963).

What is frequently missed about Huck Finn is the critical eye it takes towards many American institutions--including both education and slavery. I think that Scout's eye-witness view of first grade is similarly critical, when she discovers that her teacher is not only ignorant of local culture, but in addition prefers that Scout not read at home with her father--who might be teaching her all wrong. I think in both cases the criticism (from books) bears examination.

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