The Public Intellectual: The Series

The purpose of the public intellectual series is to shine light on the unspoken intellectuals of the academy and the unspoken intellectuals outside the academy whose ideas contribute to the intelligentsia and whose presence make them direct public servants to the world. This series has personal resonance with me as a student and advocate of, and for, public education at the University level. The Public Intellectual series will focus on academics who work in the state-University public school systems or on the ground in grassroots activism. The Public Intellectual is: 1) An intellectual whose work and presence affects people from poorer backgrounds directly, on the daily and not the families of elites. 2) An intellectual who writes, speaks, or teaches in order to say something about the world and contribute to a conversation about the world at large. 3) They are in the Humanities, Arts, or Media Studies, primarily, and only occasionally outside of these, if and only if, their ideas, research and/or outside work contributes to attempting to change something about Humans and/or Non-Humans. The idea for this series arose after contemplation on three rather inconsistent ideas and encounters, all of which solidified my idea of what a public intellectual is not, and what a public intellectual is.

The first contradicting encounter was the realization that a majority of people considered, “public intellectuals,” work at private schools that have a historic and contemporaneous interest in exclusivity and an oppressive interest in raising profits for administrators, donors, and stock-holders under the “non-profit” label. This contradicted the notion of the public intellectual since the public intellectual was so far removed from the public. They were more affiliated with institutions that tended to serve only the wealthy, elite and “promising.” For me, the public intellectual works in the public institutions or in public life. They are public servants of the people. They teach three-to-four courses a semester to students who come from poor backgrounds, students who are the first to attend college, students who were told they wouldn’t ever be able to attend college for either mental ineptitude or financial instability. They educate as much as they publish and they deserve to be admonished for their uncanny ability to juggle both sides of what it really means to be a public intellectual.

The second contradicting idea was the fact that a majority of people working in the public institutions are considered to be “lesser-than-intellectuals,” whose research interest is deemed meaningless, and this kind of ideology makes its way into their students making their students feel like, “lesser than students.” It goes without saying that students who attend public schools and Universities are consistently reminded that they “only go to a public school,” or that, “they aren’t at Harvard.” However, occasionally it takes a true public intellectual to step in and assure their students that they “can receive an Ivy-School Level education right here,” that I was motivated to pursue this series further. A Public Intellectual is an intellectual regardless of their institution. A Public Intellectual incessantly reminds their students, and the public that the intellectual strives to give intellect and ideas to the world beyond the confines of elitist institutions with histories’ born out of exclusion and oppression.

The third contradicting idea was the idea that the liberal arts and humanities did not and could do add anything to the world. A Public Intellectual gives language to a world that has lost it. The Public Intellectuals works to share ideas in a world that has commercialized the intellectual and scientized the academy. They are anthropologist, sociologist, political scientist, philosophers, cultural historians and studiers, and occasionally, they are scientist who have something to say about the implications of their science and of science for the world. The Public Intellectuals I am after are intellectuals who have dedicated themselves to the people and to the world and to changing it every day. They are not elitist educators (and I struggle to give even that word to them) who care more about writing essays for academic journals for only academics to decipher and comprehend, traveling the world with world leaders and famous persons, and ascending to the upper-echelons of the Academic world only to serve the children of the wealthy. They are Public Intellectuals because they don’t only speak of the people, they speak to the people, teach the people, and work with the people.