Michael S. Roth's article, "Young Minds in Critical Condition," made me recall my college years.
A professor like Roth really is a rarity. Most hound their students to analyze, which in turn usually means overcomplicate. In literary classes, I heard two completely differing perspectives on Kipling's "The White Man's Burden"; it was impossible that both were right.
In campus cultures where being smart means being a critical unmasker, students may become too good at showing how things can’t possibly make sense. They may close themselves off from their potential to find or create meaning and direction from the books, music and experiments they encounter in the classroom.
Once outside the university, these students may try to score points by displaying the critical prowess for which they were rewarded in school, but those points often come at their own expense. As debunkers, they contribute to a cultural climate that has little tolerance for finding or making meaning — a culture whose intellectuals and cultural commentators get “liked” by showing that somebody else just can’t be believed. But this cynicism is no achievement.
The dates that have to shred every comment to triumphantly reveal what I "actually" think: Dude, I told you what I believe. I'm not going to defend my point all night. I have work in the morning.
Of course critical reflection is fundamental to teaching and scholarship, but fetishizing disbelief as a sign of intelligence has contributed to depleting our cultural resources. Creative work, in whatever field, depends upon commitment, the energy of participation and the ability to become absorbed in works of literature, art and science. That type of absorption is becoming an endangered species of cultural life, as our nonstop, increasingly fractured technological existence wears down our receptive capacities.
As a Bais Yaakov student, I can appreciate a good analyzation of the texts. But at some point, if one doesn't stop delving, one forgets the message—one fails to see the forest for the trees.
Sometimes, a couch is not a reflection of the main character's need for psychological evaluation. Sometimes a couch is just . . . a couch.
I have a niece, the Wise One, who really enjoys a good yentitz. You could never really tell, though.
At the Shabbos table, her face is a blank. Her eyes appear sleepy, the gaze vague, as she slowly, carelessly dissects her gefilte fish and shnitzel. Because she doesn't seem to be paying attention, the adults go at it. After all, she's not listening, right?
But as my little actress cackles, "I know sooooo much."
She is a sponge, indiscriminately soaking up material; whether it is useful, intelligent, or plain stupid—well, we'll figure that out later. In the meantime, she absorbs any sort of knowledge, without judgment or critique.
That is a great quality.