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David Lyle Jeffrey

The Groves of Academe

The Beginning of Wisdom

There are people for whom news that evangelicals are reading The Chronicle of Higher Education might well be taken as a bona fide sign of the end times. For reasons of charitable deference therefore, some of us sneak our peek after hours at the online version. In June there appeared an article by Robert J. Sternberg, director of Yale's Center for the Psychology of Abilities, Competencies and Expertise, entitled "Teaching for Wisdom." Unaccustomed to that particular noun in the Chronicle, I read on. All too soon, alas, I began to recognize the familiar and usually well-intended confusion which results when a sermon embraces too warmly the character of the folly it presumes to denounce. As anyone routinely subjected to rhetorical sabbaths can attest, the "rousements" which attend such enthusiasm tend less to resemble those of the biblical Dame Wisdom (Proverbs) than those of another Dame (same book).

The necessity which appears to have mothered invention in Prof. Sternberg's case is a sharp decline in the authority of "Abilities, Competencies and Expertise" as he and others have been peddling it. Since market value tends to rise and fall with credibility in these matters also, the crisis occasioned for such a curriculum by the felonious demise of Enron (et al.) is as real as that which attacks the professorial pension plan. Perhaps considering this entailment, Sternberg's observation is tart: "traditional education, and the intellectual and academic skills it provides, furnishes little protection against evil-doing, or, for that matter, plain foolishness."

Pressed as we evangelicals are to overcome our well-earned reputation for anti-intellectualism, carrion comfort like this is hard to pass up. Here, it seems, is an Ivy League professor offering pronouncements more or less equivalent with those of a red-neck rural preacher of the 1950s. To be sure, the preacher might have said it more colorfully (e.g., "show me an educated Baptist and I'll show you a backslider"), but ...

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