Yes it’s a very pretentious title, but a student of mine has been asking me to write a blog on this topic, so I enlisted my friends – undisputed intellectuals – to help me come up with a list of steps, so here they are:
1. Read: Richard Nixon, when asked how to succeed, said “Read, read, read.” I wouldn’t suggest taking all of his advice but this is a good one.
2. Read seminal texts: Reading alone won’t help if what you’re reading is 50 Shades of Grey. Many reading lists are available including mine and depending on your goals they can add structure to what could be an overwhelming task.
3. In the movie The Squid and the Whale, Jeff Daniels’s character calls his wife’s boyfriend a “philistine.” His son asks what that is, and Daniels responds, pretentiously, “You know, someone who doesn’t read good books and watch great films.” Use other media to force feed knowledge into your brain: classics comics, audio books (you can’t read and drive), blinkist, documentaries, Alain de Botton’s School of Life and of course art films are all fun ways to build your knowledge base.
4. Recognize that you will never master this – it’s an ongoing process and your education is a work in progress.
5. Focus on six areas to be a general intellectual: Philosophy is first, then literature, and then in no particular order, history, art and art history, science (a cliff notes level understanding at least), and current events.
6. Mid-Pacific history teacher, former archaeologist and Low Brow Salon member Serge Avery had this to say:
students today could use a primer in how to be a thinker/critic/intellectual. My contribution is that I try (as do you) to model that in the classroom and push the students to push past their comfort zones and wade into the heavy stuff. The moment we history teachers go for the sound byte for the sake of speaking the millennial language -we’ve shortchanged them. [Prestigious American prep school Phillips] Exeter is not moving to tweeting about history-they still have Harkness discussions https://www.exeter.edu/exeter-difference/how-you’ll-learn.I like the idea of writing some sort of “thinking manifesto” for students in the 21st century-something you give to students upon entering your class or school.
Chris Lydon discussed this very topic with a Stanford proffesor who basically has a radio show salon for intellectuals called Entitled Opinions.Listen to this episode http://radioopensource.org/rene-girard/Then check out Entitled Opinions https://entitledopinions.stanford.edu/Or listen on Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJB4nD4NqxE