Search Box

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

No curiosity

Yesterday, a young man told me, "There is no group of people in the entire world who are less intellectually curious than American college girls."

He continued, "Seriously -- 80-year-old black churchwomen, 30-year-old Mexican day laborers, they all have more intellectual curiosity than your typical college girl. Maybe some of these girls are smart and get good grades, but I've never spoken to a single one who expresses any sort of awe or wonderment about the world around her. And they just never have anything interesting to say. Worse, if I tell them about anything interesting that I've learned recently, the only responses I can expect are, 'Oh,' or, 'You're weird'."

"I thought people were supposed to go to college because they're actually interested in learning."

I had to laugh.


Anonymous said...

It's worse than that. Being intellectually curious is SCARY to them.

John Craig said...

Anon --
True enough, most people's biggest fear is venturing outside the norm.

Anonymous said...

Very astute observation by your friend. I'm reading a book (the Culture Code) that pretty much explains why this is the case. Bottom line, American culture is hard wired to walk the straight and narrow, have big work ethic, express violence openly and with pride, but suppress and repress emotions that some other cultures do not. And no one seems to be aware of this. Brian

John Craig said...

Brian --
Thank you. Yes, modern day Americans are no less susceptible to brainwashing than any other group. Yet we laugh at other cultures' "sacred cows," as if we do not have our own.

I actually remember when I was around eight or nine, and first heard of India's sacred cows, and I remember thinking, wow, they're so silly. Had I only known…..

Quartermain said...

The college chicks were like that in the 1980's. College was a huuuuuge disappointment. I hear more interesting conversation at the break of a factory or the waiting room of the VA hospital.

If I had it to do over again, I would have skipped college and got a skill or trade.

John Craig said...

Allan --
The worst part is, most people -- if they have any common sense -- have to spend some time Unlearning what they've been taught in college. The professorial leans way left, and once you get out in the real world, you realize the propaganda they teach has little to do with reality.

And yes, I agree, learning a trade is much more useful. I doubt there's been a four year period in my life since college where I haven't learned more useful stuff than I did in college.

Anonymous said...

Given the thoroughness of your blog, I assume this young man has an unbiased sampling of college girls. Not, say, the type of girls who'd go out an get incoherently drunk. Or, those who might not be prone to listening to him. Like for instance, his sister.

Anonymous said...

What an astute guy. Wish I could have an older brother like that. -Buck

John Craig said...

Anon --
Ha! Good point.

(Do I know you?)

John Craig said...

Buck --
Were you not the one who told me once that most of the females at your college were only interested in gossiping?

Anonymous said...

Not an American, so I can't comment on American college students/girls. But I must say my experience at Canadian institutions have varied greatly, by institution, field, and lastly by gender (I am very leery of the last qualifier).

Generally, I found less intellectual curiosity in students at the "high tier" (this university makes the world's top twenty list) institution, because they were all obsessed with getting good grades and therefore had neither the time nor inclination for personal intellectual pursuits. This was true for both males and females, with the students who were on the lower end of the GPA curve (by which I mean, below 80%) having more diverse interests and intellectual curiosity (I had my best conversations with this group, regardless of gender).

Students at the other institution (rank: nowhere near as high as the first institution I mentioned) tended to have lower grades on average, but a wider range of interests, and were more prone to going out of their way to do their own little mini-experiments and side projects (one guy I knew actually spent his summer making a documentary, which is now being published into a book). So it may be more of a time-management/value set difference, rather than a lack of genuine curiosity.

I also find students in science-oriented fields to be more curious of the world around them; humanities majors tend to fixate on rehashing old works (I say this as an English/Human biology double major - I have experience as to what passes as critical thinking in both fields). In a nutshell, science students tend to fixate on improving methodologies and answering questions, whereas the English majors focus on looking at old things in a new way. But yeah, the science students tend to win hands-down on the "explore new worlds" territory.

Finally, my experience with gender has been the opposite of your friend. I have had my most intellectual conversations with my female peers, while conversations with my male peers were often frustrating and less intellectually stimulating, because rather than a conversation, it often was just a one-way lecture on topics they were clearly clueless about.

Not all male peers, mind you, but I do find a general trend where intellectual conversations were difficult (with men) because they constantly interrupted me/spoke over me/asserted opinions as facts/claimed illogical comments were logical, and often grew verbally hostile when they couldn't "win".

With that said, however, I do think the fact that I am an attractive female does have something to do with this dynamic - a lot of college men who approach me do so with the intention to *impress* me with their brains, and are generally embarrassed/angry when it doesn't work. I have observed that they do not behave that way towards their male peers (even the initial approach is different, and there is less hostility when a disagreement occurs). Some of my female friends don't even bother engaging with male strangers/peers in an intellectual way, because they don't see it as worth the potential aggravation.

My point is, your friend could be mired in a certain gendered interaction without knowing it.

Overall though, I would have to say that any observed lack of curiosity in college students is less due to gender and more due to being in college. Institutions generally do not appear to reward curiosity so much as focus, so if you happen to be obsessively curious towards a single topic, you will succeed (GPA-wise), but if you have diverse interests, your GPA may suffer. This could also explain the gender split (if we assume that the observation is unbiased and true), as girls tend to get higher GPAs in university than boys - perhaps they are merely more focused on GPA excellence than intellectual pursuits for the sake of curiosity.

Apologies for length and choppiness. I cut as much as I could while still making sense. Also, I substituted "friend" for "young man" because the former happens to be faster to type.

John Craig said...

Anon --
You make a lot of good points, but I think you're taking the post more seriously than it was meant. Yes, intellect varies by institution (and IQ). Yes, colleges reward focus rather than a free-ranging curiosity. Yes, male-female interactions tend to be governed by usual rules of sexual politics, and males do tend to be more forceful/obnoxious.

All that said, what I think the young man was referring to was just casual conversational style, where if he said something like, "Hey, did you know that our sun only orbits around the center of the Milky Way galaxy once every two hundred and fifty million years?" -- or some other surprising fact, the average guy of his acquaintance is likely to say, "Wow, that's amazing" or some such, whereas the average college age female is less likely to express any sort of wonderment or awe.

(How's that for a run-on sentence?)