Conservatives' Rational Contempt for Academics

Time's Joe Klein is on a road trip across America, filing stories from various locations as he goes. Yesterday he filed one from East Lansing, MI in which he sat down with a group of academics from Michigan State University.

The discussion starts out exactly as you'd expect it to if you've ever read any of Joe Klein's columns. His concern is what to do about American's waning respect for academia. There's the obligatory attack on Republicans, whose views on science are "indefensible." But to Klein's credit, he allows the discussion to range in a direction he may not have anticipated:

Tom Bird, a retired member of the MSU Education faculty made the best point of all: “...There were a lot of very smart people in the College of Education who thought about things in a certain way–many of them were very left. They were dismayed by the sort of people we had as students. We got a lot of kids from the suburbs, and many of them have a Republican sensibility. Some of the teachers actually had contempt for the people they taught–and the students, of course, sensed it.

“The students would hear a pretty strident left-Democratic message from their professors and they’d cover up. They’d give the teachers what they wanted to hear in order to survive,” he said, instead of challenging them, starting a real conversation and actually learning something. And then the students grew up, went out and became citizens. “I think,” said Bird, who was, by the way, a strong Obama supporter, “that a lot of Americans are showing the intellectuals the same contempt that they were shown as students.”

There was a moment of silent reflection around the table. These academics were, clearly, rigorous rather than reflexive–and they had just heard an argument that rang a little bit too true for comfort.

I would just add that it's not just the disrespect they were shown as students but the ongoing disrespect they are shown, as adults, as the earlier portion of Klein's piece demonstrates. This MSU professor is really on to something, but after the moment of silence passes I suspect Klein and most of his readers will go right back to bashing those damn, irrational right-wingers. Inter-partisan enlightenment is a fleeting thing in an election year.


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