Academia And The Tragedy of The Smart Kids

There are a lot of very bright people ensconced in academia, and that’s a tragic thing, for them and for us all. Academia, you see, abuses and limits their talents.

To put it simply and directly, academia has sequestered and drained many of the best minds of our era. Academics know this and complain about it among themselves, they just don’t see any alternative. (The 21st century status quo rests upon people seeing no alternative.)

For every famous academic there are hundreds of others, laboring for unimpressive rewards and a very narrow slice of recognition.

I know this because I’ve been skating around the edges of academia for a long time. I’ve never been a member of the club, but I’ve known and loved people on the inside, over multiple decades.

Smart kids are drawn to academia because it promises them a life of the mind, while being properly supported and respected. That appeals to them and especially to those who were abused for being smart.

What happens then, however, is that they are made to work stupidly hard and long to find a slot in some academic structure. It’s abuse, in my view.

Entry into the precious slot, however, isn’t really based upon ability or hard work: it’s based upon servicing the lord of that structure. Academia, you see, is feudal. Most academics, certainly the young ones, are little more than serfs. And if they want to get ahead, they must be very careful to serve the theories and whims of their lords.

The young academic who espouses a contrasting idea with that of his or her lord is pushed out. Sometimes they’re even pushed out for their lifestyle. (You wont find many moms with tenure in the social sciences.) And I can promise you that thousands of academics have, with pain and anger, called their position a prison.

The big thing, though, is that these fine minds are never given free reign. In practice, it all goes rather like this:

  • They are slaves to their programs, slaves to their institutions, slaves to grant money, and slaves to donors.
  • Making a public mistake is verboten. If you make an error inside a canonical theory, that’s okay, but if it’s your own maverick idea, you are “discredited,” and will be shown either to the door, or to a small, windowless office. (Great minds must be free to make errors and learn from them. Without that, they don’t become great minds.)
  • Every step up is either given or forbidden by some older academic who defines him or herself by their pet theory. If you hope to rise, you must champion that theory. And the lord of that fief must also believe that you’ll continue championing it after they’re gone. The old joke about science proceeding “one funeral at a time” is true.

What academia has created over the past half century, then, is a field full of rigid silos, each filled with formerly wonderful minds, now bound like the feet of ancient Chinese women.

Now, to round this about a bit, here’s a passage from Albert Einstein (in Autobiographische Skizze, April 18, 1955):

The work on satisfactory formulation of technical patents was a true blessing for me. It compelled me to be many-sided in thought, and also offered important stimulation for thought about physics. Following a practical profession is a blessing for people of my type. Because the academic career puts a young person in a sort of compulsory situation to produce scientific papers in impressive quantity, a temptation to superficiality arises that only strong characters are able to resist.

The great thinker, you see, should not be a disembodied spirit. That’s an imbalance, and it warps characters over time. Einstein took side jobs through most of his career, and I think this is why.

After enough time playing the feudal game, smart kids end up with with rigid souls, and very often with nasty little souls.

But the real tragedy is what might have been. If the smart kids had been free to became what they were, not what the institution, program and grant writers demanded they be, our world would be massively better off.

What we need from our best minds is development. They must be free to struggle with the real world, to make their mistakes, to follow unexpected trails of evidence, and to try new things. That is, they must become, as G.K. Chesterton put it, “vigorous organisms.” That would benefit the world, and them.

As for academia, it is unfit for continuance. Certainly its present feudal lords will fight to keep it going, and, of course, their overlords in the state apparatus will want to keep academia going. Ultimately, however,it will end, as Mary Wollstonecraft noted in The French Revolution:

The endeavor to keep alive any hoary establishment beyond its natural date is often pernicious and always useless.

For all our sakes, but especially for the sake of the smart kids, the feudal reign of academia must end.


Paul Rosenberg

5 thoughts on “Academia And The Tragedy of The Smart Kids”

  1. Paul,
    As you are well aware, the problem starts MUCH earlier. I have a grandson who just turned four and a half this week, and he is very bright and curious. On his own, he has already memorized his squares up to 15×15, as well as the Greek and Russian alphabets, of course in addition to ours in English. He already understands the concept of decimals. And he thus far has no experience with malice, put downs, or other such social control mechanisms that the bigger but less intelligent use to dominate children like him.
    We very much want him to continue to love learning and feel free to explore whatever his curiosity triggers. A regular school setting would be a disaster for him, and he would probably hate school in short order. My son and his wife are strongly considering home-schooling him, but are also looking into private schools, of which there are a wide variety here in Ecuador. Oh, did I mention that he is also growing up bi-lingual English/Spanish? He speaks more English thus far, but understands both at a level appropriate to his age.
    The standard school setting is a disaster for such children. I was blessed to have teachers that would leave me alone to read when I was bored with whatever they were teaching to the others, but many are not so fortunate, or are too energetic to be left to themselves. We put a lot of resources into special ed on the low end, but much less to help those who are far above average. Most eventually figure out some way to get along, but are still scarred and performing at far less then their potential. Our current educational system, from kindergarten to academia, is seriously inappropriate for the world we are in, and much less for that which is coming, or could/should be.

  2. Government run education and most private educational institutions not only ruin the people who work for them; they also ruin the “clientele” – the kids. Is it a coincidence that so many geniuses (genii?) over the decades are people who had to reject their school learning and rebel in order to succeed? No person in their right mind would put their kids anywhere near academia these days. May the whole rotten edifice come crashing down soon!

  3. surely by now many understand that schooling has nothing to do with education… schools are bootcamp dragged out over 10 – 12 years… enclosed in the four walls of a classroom, windows so high the kids cant be distracted by the World Outside, the young are trained to sit still for long hours, keep their mouths shut – unless spoken to – and listen to an adult drone on about topics that have no relation to the kids lives/futures… They are the training camps for obedient, spirit-broken, citizens / voters of tomorrow…
    People still send kids to school believing ‘education’ will help them get work once they’re released – jobs like working in a fast food outlet (until automation replaces those workers too)… They hold onto the dream that
    schooling gives the young a passport to A Better Tomorrow (disappointment is the cause of many heart attacks).

  4. This is a powerful, very well articulated article covering the collapse of academia.
    I loved the quotes referenced too!

    I found this article through IlluminatiMindControl and then FreedomsPhoenix
    led me here and they both categorized it as Unschooling. Btw, your link at the
    end of your article is incorrect.

    I am sharing this on Unschooling!

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