Friday, February 24, 2006
I was. Ezra Klein has some spot-on observations about people skills behind the ivy:
I come from an academic community. I grew up in faculty housing. My father is a mathematician. And (warning: lighthearted generalities follow) many of his friends, as best I can tell, consciously operate from the Larry Summers Guide to Personal Interactions. Take the one who, back when my sister was going through a chunky phase, congratulated her on her rapidly expanding waistline and started guessing how much she weighed, much as you'd take a stab at height. He wasn't trying to offend, just stating a fact and offering various quantitative hypotheses about it. Replicate that a thousand times over and you have university parties.
The liberal arts faculty, however, are cut from a whole different cloth. Kisses on both cheeks, brie and wine on the table, ostentatious name dropping...to enter a lit professor's house is to see New York high society interpreted through the eyes of a star stuck honors student.
I hope not. It arrived much later in life.
Actually, I owe a great debt to having grown up in Iowa. My parents were New Yorkers but had moved to Iowa City where my father was professor of history. Iowa is not the kind of place where one gets on well putting on airs, so if I ever had the inclination, and I don't really think I did (although at least one of my old Iowa cronies reads this so he may chime in contra), it was beaten out of me. I'm sure I was still full of it by Iowa standards, Iowa perhaps being the most socially level state in the country, but I was a firebreathing populist by the time I got to the Lawrenceville School.
"Iowa perhaps being the most socially level state in the country
I have no empirical basis for saying "Amen" to that. However, I can tell you that it is just this quality that we found so striking upon moving here (to Davenport) from the Mid-Atlantic East Coast a decade ago. (Both of us our midwesterners--not Iowans--by birth and early years, but spent 25 years in Delaware.)
There really does appear to be a fundamental egalitarianism, a "none of us are all that" attitude here, generally speaking. I think a lot of people don't get that about this state, which is why some of the off-the-cuff statements I hear about Iowa in the national media or even some coast-based blogs are jarring, if amusing.
And I, too, am a university brat, born and bred. This is the first time I've ever lived somewhere that isn't a university town. (Yeah, yeah, there are colleges here in Davenport, but it's emphatically not a college town. Nor is Rock Island or Moline, for that matter.)
LOL over Ezra's description. So true!-- alhough I wouldn't include all liberal arts departments in the category, in this context.
My dad was a music professor (and my mother performing musician, also), and while that discipline is certainly a liberal art, the nature of the beast was such that blunt criticism and non-squishy standards made for a more rough-and-tumble environment, socially. You had the chops or you didn't, and my experience was that that attitude extended to the raising of my fellow department offspring and myself.
Things may certainly have changed now, but when I was a kid there was nothing touchy-feely or ostentatious about it. (Now, there was PLENTY of pretension about being a musician specifically or an Artiste generally, but that's a whole different thing.)
Interestingly, the kids of our department got along pretty well with the math/engineering types. (Perhaps this is due the whole "music is math" thing, and the non-squishy standards involved? This might not be true anymore.)