Buying my theory that students might want to learn something requires buying a number of propositions that people appear disinclined to buy these days. One of these propositions might be that people want or desire to develop. I think it generally accepted that infants and children go through a pretty regular developmental sequence; and that one step in a sequence builds upon and around the one that came before. But these developments one might say, along with the developments of puberty are biologically driven. About 21—once the adolescent mind had gone through its hormonal changes—development stops. Adulthood appears, de facto, the end of development.
But not all developments are purely biologically driven; the opportunities for such development are dictated by the social sphere. Adolescence, as an emotional and moral state, has been significantly prolonged in the industrialized western world. People are living much longer and that in turn changes one’s perspective (or development view) of life’s stages.
I think that higher education—along with other “real life” situations—poses the possibility of a developmental at the level of cognition or, since I dislike that world, intellect. The mind, as LeRoi Jones put it, is a muscle. It can be worked out and further developed. This is the promise of higher education. But it remains largely a promise.
Students at Duke a while back sported a t-shirt that said, “You can lead a student to college but you can’t make him think.” One might be inclined to infer from this that students don’t want to think. But that’s not what the t-shirt says; what it says is true: you can’t make anybody think. Thinking requires that the individual take a step, make a leap, however dimly and unconsciously that step or leap might be felt.
Taking that step or even dimly wanting to take it can be psychological disturbing and unsettling. A lot goes into taking that step. In the current system of higher education this is what remains unstudied, and unrecognized. It takes a lot to develop the intellect, and institutions do absolutely nothing to support students in taking the step. They can hardly even begin to do so if they fail to acknowledge that taking the step can be unsettling and disturbing.
The institutions of higher education do their part, as I have indicated, to disturb and unsettle students by beating them upside the head with the misery, injustice, and ugliness of this world. No doubt the human race is pissing and shitting itself. The full recognition of this fact, however, is bound to be devastating, more indeed that any individual could truly bear. And with no support in trying to face it, with professors talking about the most horrendous things in detached and surgical tones, students repress and eventually numb themselves to the drums of despair, decay, and final destruction.
No wonder, as I have said, students become pre-mature cynics most especially about the realm of the intellect. Why think about these things? They are far too unsettling. Denial is a much better route, along with concluding that most of what the university teaches is bullshit.