When I jumped on here this morning to post a quick note of praise for Nicholas Kristof’s call for professors to share their knowledge and insights more publicly, validating blogs like this, I had no idea how many folks had decried his commentary. I understand the arguments being made against his suggestion that not enough professors share their knowledge with the general public. Tenured Radical, for example, offers a list of historians, social scientists, and others sharing intellectual insights via social media. I’m not quite convinced, however, by her argument that traditional college teaching is a form of public intellectualism – the audience seems a bit too narrow to qualify.
The Huffington Post has published at least four responses to Kristof’s work at the time of this writing. Marshall Duke, supports the call for more public displays of intellectual activity and suggests new channels for intellectual discourse beyond peer-reviewed and jargon-laden journal articles or mass media cameo appearances on CNN. He wrote: “Every professor worth his or her salt, however, also can write clearly, informatively and provocatively.” If only the first and last parts of this were true.
I have long harbored an interest in the idea of public intellectuals, particularly how artists fulfill this role. I even published a little something on the topic in a peer-reviewed journal a few years back following a conference presentation on the subject. This was before the age of TEDTalks, which Kristof points out, have made “lectures by non-scholars fun to watch.” Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were some of my favorite examples of such activity in the early aughts so I found recent news that Daily Show viewers were among the best informed on current events amusing.
While I would never call myself a public intellectual, I’m not that smart, I think it is a useful term to consider with regard to the sharing of our work as trained scholars and researchers with people outside our professional circles. When I started this blog, I yearned for a way to put my education to use, to make my voice heard. I wanted to share my informed observations with others. I sought to bridge my personal and professional lives and provoke thought in the minds of colleagues as well as friends and family. I longed for a place to do all that in a manner that felt creative and rewarding – reflexive for the jargon-lovers reading this. I’ll leave it to you all to tell me how I’m doing in achieving those goals.