The Cookie Cutter in Academia

These posts here on the subjective nature of grades make good points and remind me of something I read in my English translation of Sartre’s “On Being and Nothingness” which makes one realize that a great mind might be graded low in a typical academic setting. Hazel E. Barnes of the University of Colorado, is the translator. She writes in her introduction: “It has been interesting to run through what William James called ‘the classic stage of a theory’s career.’ Any new theory, said James, first ‘is attacked as absurd; then it is admitted to be true, but obvious and insignificant; finally it is seen to be so important that its adversaries claim that they themselves discovered it.” [Footnote: William James. Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking. New York: Longmans, Green, and Co. 1949. p. 198] … I imagine that many great minds would be outsiders in school. An instructor often has some paradigm in mind and those students with memorization skills can parrot back what is expected and earn high grades. But anyone who sees things through a different and novel paradigm may be seen as a failure or misfit and receive low or failing grades. I read with amusement that the Wright brothers approached the American government with the proposal that the newly invented airplane might serve as a tool for spying over enemy territory, and of course they were laughed to scorn. I think it was General MacArthur who began his military career with a few cavalry horses under his command and ended his career with fighter jets under his command. My own grandfather graduated from Yale Sheffield school of science in 1899 with a degree in chemistry. He had a choice of three jobs. One was with a new fangled company which was surely only a passing fad by the name of Polaroid so he rejected that immediately. The others were a railroad and Winchester firearms. Had he gone with Polaroid he would have become a very wealthy man. I guess what I am trying to say is that academic environments which force people to match up with cookie-cutter measurements of ability or intelligence may encourage conformity, emulation and obedience but do not encourage innovative diversity or imagination or creativity. By the way, I had to use my WordPress blog to dig out the quote from the Sartre translation so that I would not have to redo it from scratch. WordPress is handy because if you log into your account and go to your dashboard then in the upper right is a search field and if you key in a word (e.g. Sartre) you find all the posts. Also you can back up your blog as often as you like (same is true for blogspot.) There is no point in writing for years and then losing it and there is no point in reading and thinking and discussing for years but not write about it.

I notice that my Facebook posts and notes go back several years but Facebook offers no easy way to search or reference something written a year or two ago other than to spend hours slowly paging back.


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