Elite[s] and elitists, Cooper and others

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Tue Nov 4 17:22:20 EST 2003

Robyn replied to me:

>>But....  Here's the crunch.  What if some people simply *are* better?  The
>>corps de ballet can do things I couldn't if I tried for fifty years; they
>>are simply better than I am, at that thing.  *I* can't light a candle by
>>thinking at it.  And so on.  Is it elitist for me to point out excellence,
>>any more than it is elitist to point out a lack of excellence, in someone
>The PC majority who believe in improving children's self-esteem rather than
>teaching them anything would say "yes". Like in Autumn Term by Antonia
>Forest, when the girls point out the ridiculousness of Keith's praise: "We
>all acted Edward beautifully..."

Maybe being constantly knocked off one's perch can be good for people:
DWJ's mother seems to have spent DWJ's childhood denigrating her every
effort, and she turned out rather splendid in sheer defiance of that
judgement of her.

At risk of being political (though I think this isn't political really,
it's a simple question of honesty -- and what hav that to do with politics.
as Moleworth might ask), what's the point of increasing someone's
self-esteem by giving him inaccurate data?  That strikes me as silly, and
certain sooner or later to get rumbled.  One can always find something
pleasant to say to a child, surely, it doesn't have to be something that
isn't really true.  Telling a kid he's done well if he *has* done well is
only fair, as would be finding something good in the essay ("This is
beautiful writing: it would be even better if it were spelt right too" or
some variation on that) but telling him he has done well when he hasn't is
just lying, and any kid worth his salt will know it -- and if he doesn't
know that he didn't really do well enough to deserve high praise, he
doesn't need his self-esteem boosting anyway, it's already over-inflated.

>The issue here is not saying someone is good at something (or range of
>things), but making the argument that because of his/her ability or
>intelligence, he/she is therefore a better *person*. That's where elitism
>garners criticism. It's like saying white people are better than black
>people: we recognise this as a problem (I hope). So saying smart people are
>better than stupid people is viewed similarly.

"Better than who?  the scores aren't in.
Let the gods of evolution say who'll win.
Better at what, in what way?
Let the gods of evolution have their say."

-- the chorus of a song by one Leslie Fish, who doesn't hold with being too
silly for too long.  I suppose in evolutionary terms the thing that got
humanity off the mat is meant to have been intelligence (oh yeah, and an
opposable thumb, but there are other species that have that) so it could
possibly be argued that greater intelligence might be a survival factor --
but some of the most intelligent people can be extremely stupid about
practical things, after all.

Most of those I'd feel to be "better people", whom I admire, don't seem to
be the super-intelligent or the extremely athletic, nor even superlative
and good-looking thespians or popular singers, so my judgement obviously
stems from criteria outside the norm anyhow.  Oh well.

>Since I am in trouble for calling my 4th year class a bunch of ignoramuses
>for not having heard of Stephen J Gould, I am currently in a bit of hot
>water for being an intellectual elitist, myself.

Throwing five syllablobble words at kids?  Oh shame on you....  :-)  You
could always try seeing what happened if you told them they weren't
sesquipedalian.  P'rob'ly get you run out of town on a rail.


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