Epidemic of Anti-Intellectualism?

I’m a bit nervous treading into these waters, because what I am going to say is a bit controversial. However, it needs to be said and hopefully there will be some people listening out there. Like everything I say, feel free to take a grain of salt with my words. J

Some of you may wonder why I do not fully immerse myself in the Deaf culture. I grew up in it and my Deaf friends have given me the wonderful gift of perspective. In the Deaf culture, I can meet people from all backgrounds – deafness truly cuts across traditional dividers such as religion, race and socioeconomic classes.

Deaf culture can be wonderful; yet, I choose to only partake in the “Deafhood” occasionally. The reason for this seeming ambiguity is that I just cannot tolerate the rampant anti-intellectualism. You may ask, what is this anti-intellectualism she speaks of? The anti-intellectualism that I’ve seen is the rejection of academic achievement as “hearing-minded” (all of you signers will know what I mean) and the lack of motivation to attain good writing skills. In the Deaf culture, hearing-minded is anything but a compliment. The phrase, “hearing-minded” doesn’t just mean that one wants to be hearing, but also that one has adopted an superior stance, a “snootiness” prevalent in hearing people.

Hopefully my personal anecdote will illustrate the backwardness of the anti-intellectual trend. I remember when I was in my early years of high school, Even though I wasn’t the most diligent student, but I did well and I took honors classes. Whenever my Deaf friends saw me do my homework or reading, they would immediately start mocking me, calling me “hearing-minded.” Luckily, I’m not the sort to give into peer pressure, but if I was, my academic achievements could have crumbled – just to fit in.

Of course, this is not universal. However, I’ve met enough people with similar attitudes for me to see that this anti-intellectualism is pervasive. This trend is deeply troubling. First, it alienates our best and brightest to a point where they might submit to peer pressure and dumb themselves down. Deaf people need more representatives that succeed in the hearing world, not less.  Second, even if our brightest children resist the anti-intellectual culture, it only breeds animosity towards Deaf culture, which is exacerbated by the fact that they are our sterling ambassadors to the “smarty-pants” elite.

I do understand that not everyone is able to achieve academic success. However, this is not a license to belittle your more-successful peers. I’m of the mind that everyone has their own contribution to the world, and everyone must respect each other’s place in the world. Every life choice has its own inherent value.

Now, can we hold hands and let’s all get along? (Ha, I wish it could be that easy!)


8 responses to “Epidemic of Anti-Intellectualism?

  1. Sorry, you’re perpetuating a false stereotype.

  2. I quite agree with Brian. This is a fasle stereotype.

    Besides, who’s to say that hearing people or even hearign impaired [oral deafies] are better at being intellectual?

    I’ve seen too many hearies and oral deafies who think they are intellectual, but really are slumming it!

  3. What triggered you to write a blog on those deaf who are supposedly ” anti-intellectual”? Unfortunately, I agree with other commenters that you are perpetuating false stereotype.

  4. Well, I have come across some deaf people who were considered by others to be “think-hearing”. They are called that only if they have a superior attitude.

    There are “intellectual” deaf people out there who aren’t considered “think-hearing” because they accept deaf people for who they are even if their written English isn’t perfect.

    The way I see it, the deaf people who don’t have perfect written English are fluent in ASL and English is their second language. Just like a foreigner who is fluent in his own language but has “broken English”. Should we look down on those foreigners because of that? No. Same with deaf people.

    BTW, I am deaf myself. And somehow happen to be fluent in both ASL and English.

  5. Seems to me that this is a trend in other minority communities. Achievement problems in inner city schools have been attributed to peer pressure not to study well and “act white.”

    I grew up in a fairly small midwestern town — there was equally a strong strand of anti-intellectualism as a sign of East Coast falseness. When I moved East to go to college, everyone from guidance counselors on down told me that I wouldn’t fit in out here and that I should just stick with my own kind.

    I have seen the trend toward beauty of brains and the exaltation of style of form in the gay community as well. Our intellectual leaders are diminishing in our great urban communities.

    I don’t have enough experience with the Deaf community other than through blogs — which amplify every debate and partisanship to abnormal levels — to know about your general take.

    Although, I do think you were writing from a point of personal experience and that it is important to acknowledge those perceptions. So while the commenters above might not see the point, the fact that you do is still valid as it reflects your experiences as a Deafie.

    As for the second language argument? Well there are people for whom English is a second language that write beautiful and wonderfully in English, including more than a handful well thought of authors writing in the English language. We ask that foreign students pass ESL tests in order to attend grad and undergrad in the U.S. And the same requirements for U.S. ESL students.

    Perhaps this underscores the point here, that if groups constantly see higher goals unattainable – whether from either peer pressure or failed educational systems or general prejudice — it’s easier to write off non-achievement as an empowering choice.

    In other words, not performing well in school as a minority student isn’t about not performing well becomes a way to show some form of cultural pride. Like I will not be forced to conform with the majority. It’s anti-intellectualism as social movement and ignores those that had both intellectual success and kept their cultural integrity that have come before.

    Maybe we — and by we I mean all people — just need better heroes.

  6. I don’t know if the anti-intellectualism can be truly considered part of Deaf culture. The mainstream culture is already pretty anti-intellectual as it is. If this anti-intellectualism in Deaf culture actually exists, it isn’t exclusive to Deaf but is part of the mainstream culture’s problem as well.

  7. Good for you, dude. I’m a low student also, that’s how I came across your blog. You have to do what’s right for you, and you HAVE to be who you are. When you speak the truth, those who are uncomfortable with that truth will tell you that you are wrong. I’ve seen anti-intellectualism at a far more insidious level: inner city schools. Unfortunately I am white, so when I go to schools to mentor my assignees, they are teased about wanting to be white because they meet with me and pretty much do what I tell them. Their teachers tell me that doing well in an inner city school tends to make a child an outcast.

    So do what you have to do, write what you have to write and be who you are.

  8. P.S. “Unfortunately” means for the children…if I was African American I could be a role model for them, but being that I am not, their taking my tutoring makes it more difficult for them. I am pleased with who I am, so the “unfortunate” was just in that one specific role.

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