Upon first meeting someone and after exchanging monikers, his question turns to my occupation. When I say “mathematician” the response is invariably either, “wow, that must be hard” or “I’ve always hated math.” Not surprisingly this was also the case when I was studying English and my friends in the fields of physics and chemistry have confirmed similar experiences. This effect drops off towards the fields that are perceived as less intellectual (Sociology major? Don’t hurt yourself now . . .) which is to be expected; however, I would like to delve a little deeper into why the reaction is so strong, in particular, so strongly negative.
We begin with a related phenomenon, that of educated people who admit they don’t like to read. Actually, they won’t admit it outright; they try to phrase it as not having time to read. It would be easy to say that most people are lazy and reading requires mental activity as opposed to watching television or playing video games. This is simply not true, especially as video games become increasingly involved and are not less intellectually challenging and engaging than books. Couple these facts with the backlash against science and academics and the pattern emerges that it is not thinking folks are averse to–it is learning. Especially the kind of learning that seems like school. Blame rests entirely with our current education system.
Preschool and kindergarten are intended to engender a desire for education, but they clearly fail. The why of their failure rests on two foundations of the current system: patronization and boring instruction. How can learning be boring when humans are naturally curious? To avoid children ever feeling disappointed for not understanding immediately, the curriculum has all challenging material removed to be replaced with repetition so that we are left with a single cause: patronization. Even young children can tell when they are being talked down to and the condescension continues through to high school where it is met with resentment and hostility. This is aggravated by the policy of promoting self-esteem over achievement leaving students emotionally unable to deal with criticism or failure and disgruntled because they feel they have been short-changed. Condescension would be accepted if the teachers demonstrated an expertize in their subject which deserved respect. Unfortunately even when the teacher is well-qualified, the material and its presentation earn contempt for banality, irrelevance, and unnecessary complications caused by dumbing-down the truth. Unlike a fit, disciplined drill instructor who can motivate through abusive language, ill-informed teachers delivering repetitious lessons in their best intoned Mr. Mackey mmm-kay? cannot hope to succeed with condescension.
We may now conclude that people avoid scholars and academic pursuits because they have an emotional memory of being patronized instead of informed. Or, in other words, schools have killed any interest in reading.