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Wednesday, January 29, 2020
Home Opinion Op-Ed Columns Enough of intellectual bashing

Enough of intellectual bashing

 

ANTONIO P. CONTRERAS

AT the outset, and any self-reflecting academic would admit this, scholars and professors in universities and other academic institutions have their own failings. Foremost among these is our seeming fixation on academic citations and university rankings. It appears that we count our successes not by the actual changes we have made on people’s lives, but by our google scholar metrics. We communicate in academic journals which are read only by our peers, thereby turning our academic enterprise into one big echo chamber. Thus, even as we conjure ideas that we thought would help society, we publish them in platforms which are inaccessible to ordinary citizens.

We are accused, and rightly so for many of us, as living in ivory towers, where we crunch numbers and theorize on data and actual human experiences to produce publications that will lead us to climb up the academic ladder, gain tenure, and be accorded academic recognition of being outstanding scientists, academicians, and national artists and scientists. Yet, the people whom we want to help, whom we articulate in our proposals for funding in the section “significance of the study” so that we can publish in reputable journals and present papers in conferences both here and abroad, eventually face the risk of just becoming forgotten memories.

We are constantly being asked what we have done to help society. Many of us who end up being critical of government policies, because this is what our theoretical understanding leads us to — or it is because it is what our research findings indicate — are now being ignored, or worse, derisively dismissed, simply because of the fact that people allege that we are clueless, detached academics.

This anti-intellectual tenor has been further heightened in the age of social media, where academics have lost monopoly over being an authoritative source. The ease with which one can google information, when juxtaposed with the accessibility of social media technology, has engendered a generation of instant experts outside academe. Armed with simple skills to use search engines, and with the audacity, and perhaps with the psychological baggage of being frustrated experts, we now see ordinary people without academic training and credentials in the relevant disciplines projecting themselves as better than professional academics and scientists. Armed with the fundamental right to free expression, a dermatologist instantly becomes an expert in international relations, someone who simply owns a private business becomes an expert in global finance and trade, and a college drop-out becomes an instant expert on vaccines. In this world, bloggers now have the audacity to claim as being better than professional journalists, even as they easily dismiss academics as irrelevant.


And yet, one of the interesting things is the preponderance of social media sites that peddle alleged news items to refer to the social media bloggers they feature using their academic professions, or if not, that they are alumni of universities abroad. Hence, someone who obtained a degree from New York University or Harvard, even if without the appropriate academic credentials on a particular topic, is projected as having credibility by simply being graduates of these universities. Thus, the same platform that diminishes the role of actual academics who are based in universities and research institutions, are the very same platforms that make use of the alma mater of those who peddle their preferred narratives. What is even interesting is that while social media bloggers diminish the voices of actual medical scientists with unimpeachable records in being experts in epidemiology on one hand, they label as expertise the opinions of a Filipino doctor or nurse working abroad, one of many, and project these as the opinions of international experts.

Thus, much as social media bloggers would like to diminish the role of academia and academic expertise, in the end the final layer of credibility to a claim to truth will eventually repose in the possession of some kind of an academic degree, whether real or imagined, actual or contrived.

It should be pointed out that anti-intellectualism in social media is largely based on a traditional understanding of a detached scholar living in an ivory tower. But that ship has already sailed when outcomes-based education became the mantra of modern-day educational systems, where technology becomes a powerful mediator of learning. Professors are now encouraged to become more relevant, even as we have to innovate in the realm of our pedagogies to turn our teaching into authentic learning environments. Technology innovations are now deployed to enhance a generation of learners that will be more useful to society, not just as workers in the industrial sectors, but as creative generators of gadgets and techniques, and as critical interrogators of social, political, economic and cultural practices. This is now the era of blended learning where both face-to-face encounters and online sessions are used. Classrooms are also flipped where learning of content is done outside classrooms, and where classroom encounters are now turned into venues for practical and critical processing of this content.

In this new paradigm, professors are no longer sages on the stage, but are guides on the side. We become resources for society through the kind of expertise we produce in our students who will become active citizens and critical thinkers. We are also encouraged to engage in socially relevant research activities, and engage society through public intellectual work. We achieve the latter when we become resource persons and analysts for media and policy makers, or when we run our own blogs or posts in social media where we popularize our theories and research findings.

It’s about time we end this anti-intellectualism that festers in social media, when bloggers diminish the relevance of expertise. The advantage of us academics when we criticize government is that you can rest assured that it is based on solid research, and not because we crave social media engagements, or that we are just being paid to push the interest of our clients.

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Today’s Front Page January 29, 2020

Today’s Front Page January 28, 2020