There is a terrifying trend in this country right now of attacking academia, specifically, and free thought and intellectualism, generally. Free thought is painted as subversive, dangerous, elitist, and (strangely) conspiratorial. (That word… I do not think it means what you think it means.) Universities are accused of inefficiency and professors of becoming deadwood after tenure or of somehow “subverting the youth”. (Socrates’s accusers made a similar claim before they poisoned one of the great thinkers of the human race.) Politicians attack science to score points with religious fundamentalists and corporate sponsors.
Some elements of these feelings have always floated through the United States psyche, but in recent years it has risen to the level of a festering, suppurating, gangrenous wound in the zeitgeist of the country. Perhaps those who sling accusations at education have forgotten that the US reshaped millennia of social and economic inequity by leading the way in creating public education in the nineteenth century? Or that education has underlaid the majority of the things that have made this country great — fields in which we have led the world? Art, music, literature, political philosophy, architecture, engineering, science, mathematics, medicine, and many others? That the largest economy in the world rests on (educated) innovation, and that the most powerful military in human history is enabled by technological and engineering fruits of the educational system? That the very bones of the United States — the constitution we claim to hold so dear — was crafted by highly educated political idealists of the Enlightenment, who firmly believed that freedom and a more just society are possible only through the actions of an enlightened and educated population of voters?
From an exellent blog post by the University of New Mexico’s Terran Lane explaining why he is leaving academia for the private sector. I’ve quoted the best excerpt, but really, the whole thing is worth reading.
(HT: Andreas Ortmann, via Facebook.)