Despite our lip service to valuing diversity, I find that one group continues to be held up to ridicule. People with a higher education often can be identified through their speech and writing. For some reason, responses to them are not infrequently derogatory, negative. Even the names by which they’re labeled are belittling: egghead, four-eyes (based on the stereotype appearance with glasses), effete intellectuals according to one American vice president, bookworm, geek, know-it-all.
Why is that? We don’t call down talented athletes. Outstanding actors, musicians, artists are praised and mentioned as good role models. Business leaders are quoted, courted and rewarded. Can you imagine the reaction if you called a basketball star “spider legs” or a top model “mask face?”
Yet folks feel perfectly free to scoff at an individual who makes use of an unusual word. Do I sound overly sensitive? Well, I am. During a recent meeting, I said another member of the group could elucidate* the content of a paper we were reading. Whoops of laughter greeted my word choice.
I’m old enough now to shake off that reaction, but I remember times growing up when I’d hide not only my vocabulary but also my obsession with reading and the positive reactions of teachers to my academic efforts. I never thought of myself as particularly bright or skilled, but I slowly and painfully learned to do nothing to draw attention to my brain.
Was it because I was a girl? Maybe in those far-away days. Things have changed somewhat. Now little boys know without being told that reading and academics are more a girl’s province than theirs. They are much more likely to be reluctant readers, and by the time they hit high school, then college, they’re opting out of education. (See http://www.readingrockets.org/blog/55245/ for one point of view on the issue.)
But regardless of sex, brainiacs shouldn’t have to struggle to be proud of themselves and their talents. Hide their lights under a bushel. Disguise their true selves.
Sages of the world, would one of you elucidate? Elucidate! Just how did this state of affairs come to be and how can we change it?
*Elucidate: clarify, explain, to make clear especially through explanation