Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Deep Thought

"O Deep Thought computer," he said, "the task we have designed you to perform is this. We want you to tell us...." he paused, "The Answer."
"The Answer?" said Deep Thought. "The Answer to what?"
"Life!" urged Fook. "The Universe!" said Lunkwill. "Everything!" they said in chorus.
Deep Thought paused for a moment's reflection. "Tricky," he said finally.
"But can you do it?"
Again, a significant pause. "Yes," said Deep Thought, "I can do it. ... But, I'll have to think about it."
Ford glanced impatiently at his watch. "How long?" he said.
"Seven and a half million years."
- Douglas Adams, The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Over at Instapundit, Glenn Reynolds has adopted (coined?) the phrase, "Credentialed, Not Educated" to describe our nation's Ivy League leaders that see themselves as uber-intelligent from the best schools but in reality are clueless on the real world. He points to an editorial in the Washington Post, Our superficial scholars, that makes a similar point about today's top students.
"For most of the past 20 years I have served on selection committees for the Rhodes Scholarship. ... We interview the best graduates of U.S. universities for one of the most prestigious honors that can be bestowed on young scholars. ... I have, however, become increasingly concerned in recent years ... high-achieving students seem less able to grapple with issues that require them to think across disciplines or reflect on difficult questions about what matters and why."
The editorial gives some examples of students with very narrow focus who have never considered alternative points of view or the consequences of their goals:
"An outstanding biochemistry major wants to be a doctor and supports the president's health-care bill but doesn't really know why. A student who started a chapter of Global Zero at his university hasn't really thought about whether a world in which great powers have divested themselves of nuclear weapons would be more stable or less so, or whether nuclear deterrence can ever be moral. A young service academy cadet who is likely to be serving in a war zone within the year believes there are things worth dying for but doesn't seem to have thought much about what is worth killing for. A student who wants to study comparative government doesn't seem to know much about the important features and limitations of America's Constitution."
Bottom Line

Again from the editorial,
"I wish I could say that this is a single, anomalous group of students, but the trend is unmistakable. Our great universities seem to have redefined what it means to be an exceptional student. They are producing top students who have given very little thought to matters beyond their impressive grasp of an intense area of study. This narrowing has resulted in a curiously unprepared and superficial pre-professionalism. ... [The students] seem so surprised when asked simple direct questions that they have never considered."
Although I belong to a church that is traditionally very conservative, locally we have several very liberal families in positions of leadership. One night after Cub Scouts in the church building, I enjoyed a conversion with several young teens from these families. They were discussing the evils of the world. "War and McDonalds should be outlawed," one said. [McDonalds?!!!, that caught my attention.] "Well then," I replied, what will you do to countries that break the law and start an illegal war? They had not thought of that.

Another replied, "If I were in charge of the universe, I'd make war impossible."  "How would you do that," I asked, "without destroying the agency of man?" The freedom to choose (right or wrong) is a keystone of our faith. It is very tempting (but wrong) to destroy personal agency for the greater good.

A third said, "I wish everyone were Intelligent. Intelligent people would not kill." To which I observed she had not yet read, Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, in which a young man murders an "evil person" for the "good of society" just to prove how intelligent and superior he is.

I encouraged the youth to keep thinking. The topic of war and violence is deadly serious (pun intended) with no easy solutions. You can't just wish it away or or eliminate it with "proper education" or ban it with legislation. But is definitely worth Deep Thought.

Sadly, today's schools are not teaching and not requiring deep thought.

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