July 24, 2024

In Praise of Elitism?

elitesThere has been much talk among the “EduWeb 2.0” community questioning the value of formal schooling, particularly higher education. Will Richardson has written several blog posts on the subject.

While the democratization of knowledge and unlimited access to information are laudable goals, and perhaps approaching reality, I wonder about the role of expertise, specifically that resulting from “paying dues” in the learning process. Will culture contine to survive and civilization progress if everybody is equal and education is reduced to “looking stuff up” online?

Information access is no substitute for education.

Is this an educator endorsed expansion of anti-intellectualism?

Time Magazine’s columnist, Joel Stein, challenged some of these assumptions in a very witty article, Bring on The Elites. (I’ve waited a week for the entire column to appear online so I can share it with you). Here is a taste of Stein’s column.

Magazine editors and network executives make writers cut references and words they think most people won’t know — even though everybody has Wikipedia. We are becoming a country that believes the rich have earned their money but the well educated have not earned their intellectual superiority. This leads to a nation that idolizes Kardashians.

Antielitism is a cancer waiting to metastasize in any democracy and one that Alexis de Tocqueville worried about for the U.S.

I always get a bit queasy when I hear educators argue against education, including college opportunity, for all students. What do you think?

5 thoughts on “In Praise of Elitism?

  1. You know I’m not arguing against education, Gary. You’re weaving that interpretation to fit your argument. C’mon.

    I’m asking what I think are legitimate questions about what changes in light of an increasingly connected world of people and information, and to what extent traditional forms of education need to be rethought. And, how relevant and or effective can non-traditional structures become from an education standpoint because of what these technologies afford. Are those questions not worth considering? You’re right, access to information is no substitute for education. But the “EduWeb 2.0” community isn’t just talking about information access. You’ve educated me a great deal over the years, not just by sharing information but by engaging in the conversations around these ideas. Is that part of my education less valid than what I learned in the college classrooms I attended? I might argue it’s more relevant, in fact.

    To suggest that I don’t want people to be educated or to strive to be intellectual is just ridiculous.

  2. Will,

    I didn’t mean to offend. I was speaking in generalities and didn’t accuse you of anything.

    You do raise the issues about higher-ed frequently and others equate info access with school transformation.

    What do you think about expertise and dues paying?

  3. Gary,

    I find that I have never learned as much as I have the last few years from having a network on Twitter and via the blogs, and it has energized my thinking and teaching.

    On the other hand, it’s made me even more keenly aware of things I need to know and can primarily gain through a more formal education model.

    So my own answer lies somewhere in the middle I think.

    I wrote a blog post yesterday riffing off of a blog post by Jon Becker about the formal distribution channels of academia and about an article that Will picked up from the NYTimes a few days ago about peer reviewed journal processes becoming more open. Both of those articles/posts emphasize to me the continued need for more give and take between those of us in informal networks and those in academic networks. I applaud you and others who participate in both and as Will said, have discussions around the issues that concern all of us.

  4. I think expertise is something to which we should aspire.I think expertise is hard work. I think expertise requires paying dues. I hope my own kids pursue that path. I just wonder if there is a different path, as Carolyn suggests, one that may be a hybrid of traditional and non-traditional, one that may not be accredited in the same way yet delivers the same level of intelligence and effectiveness.

  5. The point is not that education shouldn’t take place in formal settings like schools, it is rather than education should not be defined by them. That the more narrowly we define education as schooling, the more narrow that very education becomes. That narrowing of education is actually anti-democratic because democracy requires a free and equal education for everyone, that is rarely what everyone gets through formal schooling.

    No one is arguing to devalue a Harvard education or an education at one of the great K-12 districts across this nation. But rather that improving formal schooling will do less to improve education than will improving education by moving beyond the formal bounds of the “school”.

    The very idea of “intellectual superiority” runs counter to the democratic ideals of one person, one vote. Intellectual superiority runs counter to the notion of the public intellectual; one who seeks to share and build on what he/she knows vs. demonstrate his/her knowledge (as if that knowledge is a permanent state that one can achieve).

    Does anyone care that some writer at Time tells us that they are told to write down to the audience? Do you think one of the many blogs out there written by public intellectuals on any topic under the sun is written down to the readers perceived level?

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