Be Generous. Speak to the Smartest.

When I was teaching, I generally geared my lectures towards the smartest students and beyond. Indeed, I was often accused of speaking over the heads of my students. This, alas, was thoroughly intentional and stems from my ethics of generosity: contribute the best possible discourse to the world. Speak to the smartest and most interested. Speak to the vitality of spirit and thought.

This may sound obvious but, needless to say, many in the pedagogic community believe just the opposite: aim for the lowest common denominator, for the stupid and least interested. This, alas, is what guides so many of the precious few dollars we have for public education. We don’t use these dollars to spur the smartest and brightest; we use these dollars to hand hold the dumbest.

I’m not saying we should leave the stupid behind. Not exactly. I’m saying we should emphasize the smart, the critical, creative thinking, lively thinking — and make everyone follow.

I was in a client meeting today with a very large, very well known software company. We were presenting concepts and language. Much of the language was sophisticated, clever, challenging — not like Kant is challenging but challenging for this world. To which the client responded, “Well, I like these. But I have to think about all those people out there.”

This, alas, is our prejudice, our assumption: the people out there are stupid and — and! — we should cater to them. Those are two disastrous assumptions that lead directly to the endless parade of dreck that passes for movies, television, and literature — not to mention politics and newspapers — in today’s world.

People often say to me: “It’s great, Coffeen, that you and maybe three other people get what you’re talking about. But who else?” This drives me insane. Because I’m more generous than that. I speak to the smartest inpeople and, frankly, to the smartest people. If the dummies don’t get it, fuck ’em. It’s not the job of smart people to cater to dumb people. It’s the job of dumb people either to shut the fuck up or try and be smarter.

And the fact is: I actually think people can be smarter than many assume (did I just say that?). Hear me out…this may seem odd.

I recently watched the first season of a television show called Friday Night Lights. And I am impressed with the complexity and ambivalence it manages to maintain throughout the entire season. Unlike the television shows I remember, this one seems to have no real tonic note per se. It shifts perspectives and sympathies, often relishing the multiplicity of said perspectives and sympathies. There are no clear good guys, no clear bad guys. People in the show are complex human beings. There’s some schmaltz, sure, but it’s rarely egregious.

I have enjoyed television shows before but they’ve usually been on HBO — The Wire, of course, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. And the fact that those shows were not only made, not only broadcast, but that people seemed to like them made me wonder if people, perhaps, are smarter than I gave them credit for. But then I assumed, well, it’s HBO and maybe only a few thousand people have HBO.

But this other program — and I’m not comparing Friday Night Lights to The Wire — was on network TV (I think). So maybe there is an appetite out there for multivalence, for multiplicity, for things that are not just straightforwardly stupid. And maybe, just maybe, there is no such thing as the lowest common denominator, not when it comes to people.

But perhaps that’s irrelevant. Because the fact is I will continue to speak to the smartest and the brightest — not necessarily the most learned, by any means, but the most intellectually creative and lively. And I do that out of an ethical obligation I feel to be generous to the world, to spur its collective intellect on. TC mark

image – Betsian

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  • Maradod

    Wow. I could not disagree more, especially in the realm of sales and persuasion. How in heaven's name do you expect to sell anything if you don't consider your reader at every step of the process? If you reader isn't “the smartest,” you need to be even MORE generous and write/speak according to their viewpoint, not yours.

    • celinaborromeo

      Speak to the smartest and let everyone follow. Speak to the dumb, and you make everyone sub par. I work as a creative in an ad agency and we set our standards high in every single piece of work we do. We study the market but we are not confined by their present tastes and adherences. That has not only made us one of the top agencies in this country, it also showed other agencies who are too focused on selling and adapting to the market that there IS a way to influence people through creative advertising. Teachers, leaders, advertisers have the power to effect change, to affect behavior. Why limit your communication when you can push it to its potential?

      This article does not say “speak to the smartest, who cares about the rest?”. It says speak to the brightest and let the rest realize how much better they can be.

      • http://www.facebook.com/Khaligula Khalil Pineda

        “fuck 'em” was a pretty clear. To pretend that the addition of things like “let them follow” are even practical but not more so added to the essay to hide its elitist notions is silly.

      • celinaborromeo

        I don't think the author has anything to hide. I think you, and all the other obviously narrow-minded, are insisting on an idea (elitism, disregard for the masses, etc.) which was not expressed in this essay AT ALL. Delve deeper. Just because the author mentions a disparity in terms of intellect, you immediately say OH! WOAH! OPPRESSION! And, really, are we going to pretend that this disparity doesn't exist? A teacher's job is not to cater to dumb people. A teacher's job is to enlighten his students.

        Why is everyone so into being oppressed? Just get the fuck over it and stop settling for whatever inadequacies you supposedly have.

        And yes. “Fuck 'em” was pretty clear. It's pretty clear that if you are below standards, you have to pull yourself the fuck up. He's not whispering to the smartest so the dumb ones don't hear. He's speaking to them in the way that they understand, in the way that EVERYBODY should (ideally, in order to have more progressive society) understand. 'Dumb' people aren't excluded in the conversation. It's just up to them to keep up with it. Because who the hell wants a mediocre society?

      • http://www.facebook.com/Khaligula Khalil Pineda

        “Because I’m more generous than that. I speak to the smartest inpeople and, frankly, to the smartest people. If the dummies don’t get it, fuck ‘em. It’s not the job of smart people to cater to dumb people. It’s the job of dumb people either to shut the fuck up or try and be smarter.”

        I ask only for a bit of sobriety instead of this romantic mumbo jumbo about the “stupid” learning to “be smart” so that we don't have a mediocre society. The actual outcome of a professor, someone whose duty is to teach so that everyone attains knowledge and is ultimately not mediocre, alienating a large part of the class in favour of the smartest ones will be people dropping the course or failing. That, in turn, would result in a “mediocre society” where a few nerds are the only ones getting anything from class. No, it doesn't work out quite the way you want to present it.

      • celinaborromeo

        1. The author isn't getting all the smart people in one corner and conducting his lessons quietly only for them to hear. He's teaching everybody. His communication method or manner of speaking is what is smart or directed to the smart ones.

        2. As a professor, he doesn't believe in holding the hands of those who are “dumb”. As a student, AS A HUMAN BEING, you can't be all “Hey teacher, teach me something. I'm going to sit on my ass and you better make sure I learn”. The author wants to empower people to get off their asses.

        3. intellect is contagious. and there exists a collective thirst for excellence. The author wants to ignite that through the ones who are most capable of affecting excellence.

        4. if your idea of “smart” and “dumb” are NERDS and EVERYONE ELSE, the absolute most shallow interpretation of this essay.. Then you have completely wasted my time. You've defined “smart” in the most idiotic way and I cannot believe that you based your flood of comments on that insubstantial premise. You have not only inadvertently placed yourself (and about 6 billion other undeserving people) in the stupid side of the class, you have also proven that you clearly belong there. And with that, I agree.

      • celinaborromeo

        Sorry. Was that mean? Heat of the moment. Haha.

      • http://www.facebook.com/Khaligula Khalil Pineda

        1. The author doesn't need to round them in a corner and conduct his lessons quietly. If the “dumbies” haven't caught up and don't know what he's talking about, he might as well. Teaching to a part of the class that has a level of familiarity with the material above everyone else in the class is alienating to that “everyone else” in a any way you present it.

        2. As a student you can expect your short attention span to be accommodated, you can expect that your teacher will cater to the needs of most students in his class (what does it say if the entire class is lost in oblivion?), you can expect your teacher to be understandable, you can expect your teacher not to be alienating to you. Do we have lazy students? Sure. Do we have smart dedicated students? Yeah. In between them, there's an entire classroom full of so so students that aren't as passionate about this class as the teacher's pets and would like the teacher to actually TRY to teach them the way that he is supposed to.

        3. Intellect is contagious? A collective thirst for excellence? Have you been in a college classroom, ever? The people that strive for excellence in classes tend to be looked down upon as openly annoying, if not useful for doing your homework.

        4. My definition of smart and dumb are nerds and everyone else because this is what this topic is talking about and, make no mistake, I stand by that. It's a professor, he's imparting recycled knowledge, he might insist all he wants that this is about some organic definition of intelligence, it isn't. People who are dedicated are going to be the ones that bother listening, that bother taking notes, that bother doing all their homework, this is about dedication, and that's what makes a nerd a nerd- dedication. Unsubstantial is a word better used to define the superfluous ad hominem you ended and filled your overly emotional rant with. Stupid side of the class? I'll take that. You were probably in the front row, as hormonal, personal, and awkward as your post, dying to say something that would impress your teacher. Most of us just aren't that sad.

        Cheers.

      • celinaborromeo

        Oooooh. Real mature. A girl is throwing a bitch-fit, must be her hormones. In that case, I'm not sorry for being mean.

        ACTUALLY. I graduated a year ago. So yes, I've been to a college classroom. And teachers HATED me. I never took notes, I was always at least 10 minutes late, and I would avoid going to class as much as I could. I had 4 subjects. I barely passed and I had to repeat 1 class, a class everybody in my family aced and had a standing reputation in. Until I broke that streak. I went to at least 20% of all my college classes still wearing the clothes I wore the night before. No, I never sat in the front row because I didn't want the teacher to call on me. So before you box me into a stereotype, as you have done for yourself, you should know that I'm saying all these things because I was the teacher's pet or because I was the exact type of “smart” person the author was talking about.

        Yes, there is a collective thirst for excellence. If you haven't felt the need to do something worth anything, than you aren't just useless, you've become a burden.

        If you think it's cool being a slacker, then by all fucking means go ahead. But don't insist that people pay attention to you. And don't insist that everybody believe that that's how life is and we should cater to your needs. The number one thing I learned the moment I stepped out of college and into the real world (yes, there is such a thing. I didn't believe it at first.) is that if you don't get off your ass and do something, you're going to be left behind. If you slack off and wait for people to notice you, all you are and will ever be is in their way.

        Cheers. And good luck! Seriously.

      • celinaborromeo

        So before you box me into a stereotype, as you have done for yourself, you should know that I'm saying all these things *NOT because I was the teacher's pet or because I was the exact type of “smart” person the author was talking about.

      • http://www.facebook.com/Khaligula Khalil Pineda

        Nice piece of besides-the-point autobiographical anecdote.

        There is no collective thirst for excellence. Most people do the things they do out of self interest, if there was a “collective thirst for excellence” that dictated people to be the best they can be, there'd be a lot more people taking excellent hard jobs today. The things that motivate people, I am afraid, have shit to do with that. Sure, everyone wants to be better. That, however, doesn't make “being better” some strong instinctual drive in people that we should base our pedagogy on because plenty of times people have no interest in being excellent in something. No, my boring calculus teacher trying to make the class competitive wont make me strive for excellence in something I do NOT care about.

        I don't feel the need to do something worth anything out of excellence. I feel the need to do something worth something out of greed. If I am getting money for it, it means that someone, somewhere, does find my duty useful.

        Who is talking about slacking here? Where do you even get that from? I acknowledged in my previous post there are lazy people as a negative but I implied that it wasn't a black or white issue, there is a big ass shade of grey called “most people” in between the slackers and the overachievers. You, however, ignored that point for another irrelevant rant. No one is saying “people” should cater to my needs because I am the way I am, but if your job IS to cater to the NEEDS of your students to LEARN and most of them are a certain way then, yes, I fully fucking expect you to cater to my needs as a student. The way I want a massager to rub my back if I like getting my back rubbed, that's her goddamn job. If she considers that me getting in her way, then she should get fired.

        Good luck to you too.

      • celinaborromeo

        Hahaha how can you keep saying that I'm using this space to rant and release whatever frustration I have? How can you say that my “autobiographical anecdote” was beside the point when I shared that to prove that I'm NOT coming from a subjective point of view like you say I am?

        Did you seriously think that when i talk of excellence I mean excellence in a particular subject like calculus? I didn't think I had to stress that I OBVIOUSLY meant being an excellent citizen, an excellent member of society, excellent human being, excellent in doing what you care about. Unless of course what YOU care about is irrationally self-serving and the fact that you're doing something “useful” for “someone out there” is merely collateral damage. I'm not even going to bother explaining what I mean by excellent.

        The grey area you're talking about is what's besides the point. The point isn't even Coffin emphasizing a divide between the smart people and the dumb people! The point his means of communication. The point his means of communication. The point his means of communication. The point his means of communication. The point is it is ideal to “speak to the smart” because that, in turn, raises a bar. If you're going to argue that the bar need not be raised and if you're going to argue that teachers shouldn't “focus” on smart people because they already know this shit and that they should shift their attention to those who don't know because they need it more, then you have entirely missed the message.

        It's hypocritical of you to call out how I'm sharing useless things about myself and how I'm hormonal and that this is nothing but an avenue for me to rant because everything you just said reeked of parochialism because everything is based on your selfish personal viewpoint. AND REALLY. What kind of dumbass argument is “The way I want a massager to rub my back if I like getting my back rubbed, that's her goddamn job. If she considers that me getting in her way, then she should get fired.” Are you telling me that you're going to sit there and wait for a masseuse (not massager) to notice you when you get out of college and pursue your career? That's what you got?

        This is turning out to be some sort of disgusting display of, for the lack of a better term, brain power and that isn't what discourse should be about. I replied this time only because you're bordering on offensive. So, you know what, let's just agree to disagree. A discourse is beyond pointless right now. Honestly, I don't think we're on opposite sides. I think your worldview is just incredibly callow. I've already gone way past my immaturity quota. Felt nice to guzzle up every last bit of it though.

        But, sincerely, I hope to engage in another debate with you again, somewhere.

      • http://www.facebook.com/Khaligula Khalil Pineda

        You've been overtly emotional in this argument, that you had to excuse yourself for being “mean” after a torrent of ad hominem showed that already. My description of you was merely a response to your “you belong on the stupid side of the class” that contrasted my cool and detached disinterested against your blind and clingy need for approval. Indeed, I can't see it as anything else but need for approval since you've even taken to distort the argument in order to defend it. I wasn't inferring about your actual time in college, something I couldn't give a rat's ass about, but about the way you're behaving now.

        You continue making this some “larger than life” thing. Get a grip. We're talking about professors and students, not your little existential definition of excellence or whatever whimsical notion you want to project on this essay to justify it. Don't bother explaining it because it obviously has shit to do with the topic at hand.

        After lol'ing three times at ” The point his means of communication. The point his means of communication. The point his means of communication. (sic) ” to then get a dry “u dun get it” I can only SMH. “It’s great, Coffeen, that you and maybe three other people get what you’re talking about. But who else?” There. People tell him only three people get the class, you know what the other kids are doing? Being lost and losing interest in the class, probably dropping it, not trying to reach the nerd bar because they have a drive to excellence as you wish to put it in your idealistic little company world. This topic I hit a long time ago and you try to rebate it with your little philosophy on general human behaviour. Look, that's cute, college environment? Doesn't work that way.

        Most social sciences make the assumption that people behave in selfish ways. I am not “basing” things on my selfish viewpoints, I'm simply stating that people tend to look for their own benefit and projecting little moral notions on them like a “drive for excellence” in order to justify things seems unfair. If you don't believe that people are selfish, I'll guess economy 101 was among your failed subjects. This isn't about life after college, doofus, for the 50th time, GET ON THE TOPIC. This is about a professor, yes, if I go to a fucking massager (http://wordnetweb.princeton.ed… after I get out of college, I expect her to massage me the way I want. Similarly, if I pay for a professor, I expect him to teach me the material he's supposed to, not just blab on to his favorite students (of course, with some consideration for the fact that I am not the only person consuming his services). This is about people that have to lend people a service, not our bosses, not “the world out there”, not whatever it is you're talking about.

        I don't look at this as a “disgusting display of brain power.” I look at this as an argument, that lack of personal involvement is what makes me not repeat the same points without proper (or further) argumentation in all of my posts. I can't excuse myself if anything I have said is offensive as we are all slaves to our perceptions and what I say here is what I have seen. I call a spade a spade. “Callow” world-views is what people in the “real world” apply in order to get efficient things, like pedagogy where people actually learn, not adolescent idealism about the motivations of human beings.

        I'd end this in the same regards but, as much as I appreciate you as a random and anonymous person that I wish the best for like everyone else in the world I have no enmity with, I am frankly not that fond of running in circles.

        xoxo

    • eric

      “the realm of sales and persuasion”

    • Daniel Coffeen

      Point out to me where I ever mentioned point of view. Literacy, alas (ha!), is not your strong suit. Just because I never simplified the complexity of the material doesn't mean I didn't try to explain it in a way that would make sense to my audience.

  • http://kumquatparadise.tumblr.com aaron nicholas

    Great stuff. I can only hope there are many more professors out there who share your sentiments. My college experience involved finding teachers that inspired me and taking every class they offered and avoiding the others. As a customer/student i wanted to be tackling topics like Kant's transcendental idealism head-on and be engaged as an intelligent adult, not as an ignorant child.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Khaligula Khalil Pineda

      this essay attracts lames like flies to a turd, all their ass kissing and dependence on authoritative figures to find a modicum of self value will make them cling to this essay like a bible, a drop of self esteem in the desert.

      • http://kumquatparadise.tumblr.com aaron nicholas

        if you'd like to get to know me i'm usually available on gchat: ansteely@gmail.com

        i think you are assuming a lot about who i am based on a a comment i made, i feel robbed of my dynamic human spirit.

        i don't harbor any ill will towards you khalil, and i don't know if i understand your reasoning for implying that i am any of these things you have mentioned.

      • http://www.facebook.com/Khaligula Khalil Pineda

        “engaged as an intelligent adult, not as an ignorant child.”

        The belief that you should have teachers “engaging” you and the want not to feel like a certain thing by the way that you're imparted knowledge reeks of someone that feels he must have some sort of personal relationship with his teacher. The teacher has material to deliver and to teach you it, only in the sake of some material being left out can I understand your point and respect it, but that need for your teacher to make you feel a certain way, to validate your perception of yourself in a certain way, it just sounded pathetic.

      • http://kumquatparadise.tumblr.com aaron nicholas

        preferably i would have some personal relationship with all my teachers. i don't see this as problematic or a symbol of my neediness. i can get by from having information presented to me, memorizing, and regurgitating it, but i learn by interacting, thinking critically, and discussing. if a master of a discipline is available for discourse, why not engage? hardly is this a self-interested action to “validate your perception of yourself in a certain way” nor is it pathetic to want for a teacher to engage the class in the subject matter.

        the learning process shouldn't be like a cafeteria line, with the teacher merely having “material to deliver”. learning is a constant and dynamic process. don't overlook the value of personal interaction and being “engaged” by a professor, it is extremely valuable.

        i think we have differing experiences and perceptions of what the learning process involves.

      • http://kumquatparadise.tumblr.com aaron nicholas

        to re-iterate, i don't want a teacher making lists on boards and pumping out the same information i could read in a book. i want to be engaged, meaning i want my mind to be taken a hold of and become curious; to wonder about the topic, to think it out, and perhaps come to conclusions on my own by combining my wonder and imagination with critical thinking. a good teacher can drive discussion and be the facilitator of this process. a good teacher will inspire this in their students.

      • http://www.facebook.com/Khaligula Khalil Pineda

        the things we feel passionate about are whimsical and idiosyncratic, if a teacher is making us feel passionate during a lecture, he's doing it wrong. Ideal education should be neutral, boring… critical thinking isn't a heated discussion, it's tedious reading and analysis. I believe in a world of scientists, not two bit philosophers gathering information to soothe preconceived notions that they feel good about. There's nothing wrong with making material interesting, but personal interaction? Dynamism? Your conclusions? For what? Why is it valuable if it isn't an exploitation of your own neediness for the approval of others?

      • http://kumquatparadise.tumblr.com aaron nicholas

        i disagree. the things we feel passionate about are the most authentic parts of who we are. passion should not be confused with lust or irrationality. passion is an evolved function. passion is something that occurs when our entire being is thrust into an activity.

        i think i understand where you are coming from, and i can agree that tedious reading and analysis is necessary for critical thinking. however, as i see it, “two-bit philosophers” and their like have been the innovators and inventors for most of the history of the western world. this is because i believe philosophical inquiry is the basis of a scientific mind – imagination, wonder, and questioning spawns our pure desire to know. look at the great thinkers, inventors, mathematicians, scientists, and writers of our past. philosophy and 'philosopher' have only become a negative buzz word as of late by misunderstanding it as purely a language/study for thinkers who offer no concrete answers.

        as far as interesting material vs personal interaction goes. yes. i do enjoy the personal interaction. if you have a master of a subject, trade, or craft, a lecture can only take you so far, even with interesting material. you can learn a lot from this, but to be able to directly consult brain to brain and work any questions you have out with a master, that is as good as it gets for learning.

        i don't feel as i'm needy, and i am fully in favor of working problems out on your own given your intellectual faculties and imagination.

  • Kablaamee

    I really, really like this.

  • Floppycrow

    You are right! And a little wrong… mostly I want you to be right. People continue to surprise in every direction, but we can't expect to move them unless we offer discourse worth moving toward.

  • http://www.madisonmooreonline.com Madison Moore

    Dude, you're so legit. Finally somebody says what I've been thinking all along. The following is my mantra: “I speak to the smartest inpeople and, frankly, to the smartest people. If the dummies don’t get it, fuck ‘em. It’s not the job of smart people to cater to dumb people. It’s the job of dumb people either to shut the fuck up or try and be smarter.”

    WORD IS BOND.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Khaligula Khalil Pineda

      If you're a teacher, yes, your job is to cater to the dumb people.

  • DSTRYA

    you're like the Tiger Mom of teaching

  • nnnnnnnnnn

    ME NO UNDERSTAND

  • Bobby Hill

    I wish I'd had teachers growing up who felt that they had permission to teach to the top of the class. However, I cringe a little at the “fuck dumb people” stuff. You're not morally superior for being smart, remember. Nor morally less-than for being dumb. It's sort of something you luck into, isn't it? I mean, genetics, upbringing and the resources at your and your parents' disposal…at some point, of course, your character enters into it–are you hardworking enough to make something out of yourself, to use your intelligence, or are you weak-willed and lazy?–but to take a “fuck you” attitude towards people less smart than yourself is to be pretty miserly and stingy of spirit.

    • eric

      I think you're trivializing the plasticity of intelligence.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Khaligula Khalil Pineda

      I think the author just has read too much Nietzsche and got stuck in saying things that made him feel like a noble heroic rugged individual against the idiotic masses in order to placate the miseries of his life. Which is fine with me, but he shouldn't let that influence his teaching.

  • http://www.facebook.com/leckybang Becky Lang

    when you talk to people like they're smart, they are flattered and will usually respond by acting about 30% smarter than they thought they were. this also tends to work well with kids, people will mental illness or people with learning disabilities. people are used to being talked down to and they've learned how to take advantage of that.

  • Nan

    I am no angelllll, love it when you do that stuff to me I am no angellll, love the way you talk talk dirty way you talk talk

  • Charlotte

    Shouldn't it be the job of our teachers to engage everyone in their classes, not just those they feel are on the their intellectual plane? This argument is not only pompous, it represents the opposite (and equally dangerous) extreme of teachers who feel that they are somehow above the job of teaching. I was always at the top of my class throughout high school, university, even at the Masters level, so there were of course occasions when I felt annoyed or bored if an instructor had to take a minute to explain something that may have seemed obvious to a student who didn't quite get it. But, if that minute of boredom meant that the other student could begin to appreciate something on the same level and not simply be left behind to 'shut the fuck up and try and be smarter' (try TO be smarter?), then it was certainly something I could live with.

    • Maradod

      Furthermore, aren't the people we consider the most smart the ones that can get their material across to EVERYONE and not just the other “smart” people? I suggest the writer rethink this blog post after counting to ten and then resubmit.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Khaligula Khalil Pineda

      beautiful posts, to charlotte and maradod

  • Nmazz

    Mr. Coffeen, you sound arrogant, hypocritical, and, it must be said, not very intelligent. Based on your screed here, I'm also willing to bet that you are a horribly ineffective teacher. Oh, and also? Using 'alas' so often makes you sound pretentious and silly.

    • Martinella

      Coffeen taught me a lot. Just saying.

  • Tabi

    I agree with everything you said, though I will always readily admit I can, sometimes, by really quite precocious.

    • Sam.S

      Lol, are you 3 and just learning to write?

  • http://twitter.com/atfreedom Andrew Freeman

    Please, don't consider returning to teaching. What a disservice that would be to young people.

  • http://twitter.com/Cackles Mitch

    I'm an Arrogant Bastard (who drinks the same) and proud of it. I'm not necessarily more intelligent than those around me, but I am more open and proud of it. I refuse to hide behind a facade of false modesty, and I encourage others to do the same. People are usually only too happy to live down to one's expectations of them, but the inverse is true as well. Subject everyone to the whims of the willfully ignorant and you'll soon find yourself with a class full of apathetic underachievers. Challenge them to rise to their potential, however, and they'll often surprise you with the degree and extent of their intelligence.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Khaligula Khalil Pineda

      you're a teacher, your job is to make others learn, not recast yourself as mickey goldberg

  • LCD

    I really wanted to like this. And I like the concept of not catering to the lowest common denominator. But using TV shows to rank people's intelligence seems, well, obvious and ironic. That, and the many puntuation errors and use of awkward, obscure words kind of makes me think you are one of those people obsessed with coming off as smart instead of actually being smart. I have no idea, but thats just how it appears to me.

    • lcd

      example: People often say to me: “It’s great, Coffeen, that you and maybe three other people get what you’re talking about. But who else?”

      wow, thanks for the example of how you are much sooooo much smarter than everyone to the point that people comment on it all the time. I wasn't able to gather it from the several references already made in the first few paragraphs.

      I just think there was a good argument to be made here. And instead of using facts you chose to brag about yourself to back it up. gag me.

    • Sam.S

      Unfortunately there wasn't any obscure, awkward words or misused punctuation in this article. Fortunately, it wasn't written at all to the heights he's claiming to subscribe to…. Especially since he published this on thought catalogue. But that's what makes it so funny!

      • LCD

        “I have enjoyed television shows before but they’ve usually been on HBO — The Wire, of course, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. “

      • Sam.S

        It depends what standard you're judging on. In a casual article such as this, it makes logical sense. But you're right… academically it's incorrect. The over-use of dashes is frowned upon (unless you're Emily Dickinson) and I'm about 95% sure you're not allowed to use words like “but” to join two independent clauses. The rest is fine: the fact he's used “I have” and “they've” is grammatically correct; it's just unnecessarily wordy.

      • LCD

        Sam, I could actually give two sh*ts about grammar. (Case in point my comment above is sprinkled with mistakes). It was more to point out that someone who wants to publically claim his intellectual superiority should maybe have taken the time on this particular article to check it. I am sure the dude is a great, smart guy blah blah blah, but those mistakes amongst other things kind of made this article lose credibility to me. Oh well, c'est la vie! Guess all us here dumbies still have no hope.

  • Jan

    I can see how it is frustrating to work with students that don't necessarily want to work with you or have the motivation to care about what you have to say. However, I would like you to consider why the student doesn't care. Do they not care because they simply don't care? Is it possible that they don't care because the education system has failed them from the very beginning? Do they have unsupportive families? You may be right– working with the brightest students will probably make them more successful in the long run, but rejecting the dumbest might be perpetuating inequality, even at a University. I think the point of schools funneling money into lower performing students is to compensate for this. I think you need to seriously reconsider why you're teaching. This point of this job isn't to make you happier or challenge you intellectually. It's to teach and hand-hold.

  • Bri

    I loved this. I once had a professor who called my writing “trivial” and told me that my writing skills were behind most of the students in my class. Instead of sitting around attacking him with the rest of my classmates (he was pretty nasty to everyone) I took it as a challenge. I managed to pull off an A in the class. His superiority, which was extremely apparent to anyone in my class, did nothing but motivate me. I still see him at the bars from time to time and he always remembers me. :)

  • http://implicitid.wordpress.com Natalie

    Devil’s advocate: If we don’t speak in a language that everyone can understand, how are we to have a real democracy? How can we expect any kind of social progress if half of society has no idea what it is going on? Aren’t we taking advantage of our privilege in society?

  • Joe

    Do you actually have any passion to teach, or do you really just want to stand in front of a room and pontificate your own esoteric ideas in the hopes that some people end up actually agreeing with you?

    Does it not fill you with personal pride, when you realize the lightbulb has finally gone on in a student’s mind, that you are a great teacher?

    The smartest students are smart enough to seek their own mental fulfillment, and if they are stuck in a class with many other less inclined minds, they will be smart enough to go somewhere else.

    The purpose of teaching is to bestow knowledge and understanding on everyone. Those “dumb students” are there for a reason, and it is irresponsible of you to neglect them due to your own academic pretentiousness.

  • Guest666

    you are a fucking asshole.
    BUT OBVIOUSLY YOU'RE PROUD OF THIS SO KEEP ON TRUCKIN YO!!!
    …and tell those dumb kids off too! oh theyyyyyyyy'll learn.
    …or not, if you're their fucking teacher.
    alaslaslalsalslaslalslalslalsallsalslalslalsALAS

    • http://www.facebook.com/Khaligula Khalil Pineda

      i lol'd

  • Iam(not)Banksy

    I have conflicted feelings about this article. I won't come out and outright condemn the piece, but it leaves me with more questions than answers. I tend to agree with Mr. Coffeen that pandering to the lowest common denominator certainly stagnates the collective intellect of our culture, nor do I think that it is even a question whether our society does this. (As a journalism student, I am more than familiar with the old cliches of “clear, direct, and simple prose” and that “newspapers are written at a 5th grade reading level.”) Therefore, I can see the rational behind Coffeen's theory of directing his teaching towards his smartest students. My issue though is with his statement, “It’s the job of dumb people either to shut the fuck up or try and be smarter.” It's not that I disagree. I certainly think that there is an onus on not just those who are at the bottom, but also those at that peak of the intellectual pyramid to continually strive to be smarter than they are. My issue here though is that Coffeen hasn't defined his terms. What is sufficient action for someone to meet Coffeen's criteria of trying to be smarter. For instance, if a student in his class doesn't understand the material, and asks Coffeen to further explain the material so that he or she may better understand it, has this student met the criteria? It definitely seems like the student is trying to become smarter by making the request, but then this leads to the question of would Coffeen be undermining his own doctrine of teaching to the smartest students by answering the question? Would Coffeen now be pandering to the lowest common denominator? I mean, these questions seem to present a paradox. If a student tries to become smarter in this scenario than the professor panders to the lowest common denominator. Certainly the professor can dismiss the question, and say it's not sufficient for genuinely trying to become smarter, but if that's the case then what recourse does the student have to try and become smarter? One could argue, and perhaps Coffeen would, that the student can attempt to self-educate him-or-herself through independent reading and research on the material. Would this actually be an effective endeavor for trying to become smarter though? I mean presumably the student wouldn't need to ask the question if he or she already was capable of understanding the idea on his or her own. (This premise is also presuming that the student had the motivation to do the reading and other coursework, which is another argument entirely.) One could argue that all students have the potential of understanding any concept. By the nature of it's definition, all truly innovative ideas are thought without recourse to a teacher, and therefore self-taught. For instance, no one taught Darwin the theory of evolution, he came up with the concept on his own. However, even this argument has to be taken with a grain of salt because all innovators are building off of previous material that they have been taught. They in essence have a head start. They don't have to do all the research they just need to take the next step with it. Also, we don't know that all people have the potential to innovate in this way. It's a possibility, but by no means is it a fact. Perhaps, some will always need to be taught and will forever be unable to take that next step and innovate. I digress though. The point I am trying to make is that without more concrete definitions of what “aim for the lowest common denominator,” “try and be smarter,” and “speak to the smartest and most interested” mean, it's impossible, or at least it seems that way, to provide a valid judgement on the merits or demerits of the ideas expounded on in the article.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FQBOL3ZHPHDYFGRD53EVFREV4A El puto

    I love how quite a few of the posters who oppose the author's perspective choose to ridicule grammar. Albeit he is a journalist, may I ask what the connection is between intelligence and grammar? I don't see it. I'll bet some of the most intelligent people in world history didn't give two shits about proper grammar. The overall ideas and message is what is most important – you can buy 'proper' grammar. Stupid people can hide behind 'proper' grammar, you know.

    From observation, I can appreciate and understand quite a bit of the frustration that comes with having to socialize with those not so inclined intellectually, but more so those who show little to no interest in general. That being said, I'm not entirely agreeing with the author. The effectiveness of a teacher's methods depends quite a bit on the communication process. The best teachers (not necessarily the most 'intelligent') are those who can maximize the eventual outcome of every student [relevant to what is being taught of course]. IMHO, the brightest and best of communicators can make themselves heard and completely understood by anyone – be it a group of 3 year olds or a group of doctors – they hold their ground in any situation.

    Considering the fact that you are the instructor, it should be expected of you to have the ability to 'talk over' anyone in the classroom. While I understand that a demanding class does more for students in the long run, arrogantly talking over someone [showing off?] is kind of like a race car beating a ford pento in a race. It also might be a key to some deeply hidden insecurity. lol maybe

    • http://www.facebook.com/Khaligula Khalil Pineda

      their point is that it undermines your credibility when you make a pompous article implying how smart you are with moronic grammar.

      • http://twitter.com/cantudiaz Fernando Cantú

        …their?

  • http://sixmetamorphoses.blogspot.com/ The Other Jordan

    I liked this concept when it happened in classes that I was genuinely interested in, but I was always grateful for the “retard's touch” that my gen. ed. professors gave to some of their lectures.

  • Daniel Coffeen

    Oh, there are so many things to say that I am stymied. I will say, however, that I will never cease to be amazed at the variety of interpretations — Harold Bloom would call them misprisions — one article can foster. And I love them all, however stupid, inane, hate-filled, or off point. Truly.

    And rather than respond, I wrote another article making the same point in a different register. Call it an experiment in rhetoric.

    But, in the meantime, let me say a few things:

    -Y'all are so damn serious. Wow.

    -Just because I never reduced the material doesn't mean I didn't try to explain it to students. I thought that would be obvious.

    -In matters that I don't grasp well —say, calculus or car mechanics or investing — I hate when someone tries to reduce the material. I love — nay, relish — my confusion as I reach for comprehension.

    -Oh, and I love purple prose and what some may deem excessive punctuations — dashes, in particular. Thought — thought that's complex and qualified — begs for the internal tangent or refinement. I'd have it no other way. Don't dig it? Don't read it. Duh!

    • Lameass

      If you're going to write this kind of article, you better fucking own up to it, not hide behind some lame-ass excuse like not being serious. It's pretty obvious you wrote this and meant it. I didn't even care that you felt this way until you said that.

      • Daniel Coffeen

        I didn't say I wasn't serious. I believe what I wrote. I was speaking of tone. Jeez, you really are so serious.

      • Guest666

        you're an asshole, a hack, a hypocrite, delirious, self-absorbed, a fucking dork, and you have zero “realness”…you're the equivalent of the dude who talks shit and then gets his ass kicked.
        “oh oh oh but see i wasnt serious kekekeke god lighten up oh wait actually i meant what i said but you obviously dont get it and gosh lighten up kekekeke”
        fuck you. you're a piece of shit.

      • Guest666

        UH OH IM TAKING YOUR SERIOUS ARTICLE TOO SERIOUSLY…

        egg on MY face.

        =*(

      • Daniel Coffeen

        Wow. People are really full of hate. Or at least you are. From whence such bile?

      • Kelvin

        Great piece. They're serious because they fell into the category of the dummies who will never 'get it'. Tony Judt wrote a similar essay in the NYRB called 'Meritocrats'. Unfortunately modern parenting teaches kids that they have a right to do anything and that they're always 'right' (putting aside for the moment the idea of right) and kids these days will feel aggrieved when they are made to feel inferior.

    • A thinker

      Great article, I think the particulars in your arguments have galvanized peoples hate. Yet to every one out there spewing fetid vacuous malarky, YOU ARE MISSING THE OVERALL POINT AND LETTING YOUR MORALITY MIRE YOU RATIONALITY. Did Wittgenstein write the Tractatus with everyones capabilities in mind? Did Kurt Godel write the Incomplete Theorem with everyones capabilities in mind? Did Leibniz create calculus with everyones capability in mind? The answer is an emphatic NO! Were they assholes because they did not “lower” their standards to meet the populations capabilities? No, this is how you achieve new ideas, new methods, new worlds, new shapes, new forms, new thoughts, new emotions, if you extenuate arguments to their monads then this world will be quite monotone and dull. Don't let you emotions or you insipid morality guide your rationality. As a freshman college student I agree with the professor.

      • http://www.facebook.com/Khaligula Khalil Pineda

        except he's imparting preexisting knowledge, not achieving new things, doofus.

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