The bestselling Canadian author, social critic, and English professor, Laura Penny, has returned with an explosive little book entitled MORE MONEY THAN BRAINS. Just in case you miss the intent of her latest salvo, it’s subtitled ” Why School Sucks, College is Crap, and Idiots Think They’re Right.” It offers a ferocious defence of Humanities and the Arts against the contemporary onslaught of Business and Economics in higher education, popular culture, and everyday life. The Almighty Dollar and its many associated evils in our high-tech world, according to Penny, not only threaten liberal education, but are slowly “dumbing us down” in the early 21st century.
A fine book review by Douglas Bell in The Globe and Mail (April 23,2010) bore the title “Is we being educated right?” and captured well the gist of Laura Penny’s deadly funny message. See http://tgam.ca/MZl (via @globeandmail)
Today’s citizens and even university students show little respect for the very civilization from whence they are descended, Penny contends. “We often point to our magnificent technological achievements as evidence of our triumph over those benighted primitives who preceded us. I definitely get this vibe from my students. ‘Why do we need to read this old stuff?’ they grouse. It’s, like, old, from the back-in-the-day times when people shat in buckets and were too stupid to invent cool stuff like cell phones. The past is just one long smelly error …”
While Penny is a Canadian, she ventures freely into American politics and culture. In doing so, she sees the American Right as the source of much of the evil for worshipping markets/materialism and fanning the flames of “anti-intellectualism.” George Bush, Sr. and George W., the Younger, are easy targets and she has no trouble trotting out examples of famous “Bushisms” such as “Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?” She is particularly scathing when it comes to the rise of Sarah Palin (“a gun-totin’, SUV-swervin’ ignoramus”) and the spread of the TEA (Taxed Enough Already) Party Movement, the voice of the contemporary philistines. Only Barak Obama offers her any glimmer of hope.
Penny is at her best when she turns to assessing the state of our universities and colleges. “The conversion of our universities into job-training centres,” and “the increase in college enrolment”, she claims, is compounding “our ignorance and anti-intellectualism.” In a recent interview with Stephen Patrick Clare, Penny went even more sensational to make her point. If she were queen of the college for a day, she would “burn down all the business schools and salt all the ashes so no more MBA-lings could spring from the ruins.” With that done, she would “torch public relations, leisure studies, hotel management, and every other career training program”, until all that remained were “the truly academic disciplines.”
Many defenders of Liberal Education ( especially at Halifax’s University of Kings College) will secretly applaud this line: “If the university wants to survive as an intellectual institution it must slash and burn the professional suburbs to save the theoretical town.”
What’s wrong with today’s society? “Our society celebrates outrageous ignoramuses,” Penny says, “and it devalues intellectuals.”
Today’s educational system, according to Penny, is dominated too much by the “learn to earn” mentality and this is corrosive in its effect on genuine intellectual curiosity. “The more-money-than-brains mindset confuses two things. It treats money as an end in itself and knowledge as a mere means to an end.”
Laura Penny’s book is a great read and is already sparking controversy. It raises a Big Question for all of us: Is the whole concept of an “educated society” now threatened? What has caused the rise of “anti-intellectualism” in contemporary North America? Does money now matter more than brains? Is it “dumbing us all down”? That should incite some reaction!