Shmoop's Guide to Writing the Perfect Essay
I’d like to tell you about Timmy. Timmy is a little frightened by the world around him. He has shaky language skills, and there’s Cheetos dust all over his face. He’s obsessed with a fantasy world no one else knows about—it has a secret language, heroes and villains, the whole shebang. Without some kind of reminder, he probably won’t make his bed or brush his teeth, and sometimes he shows up at school with his pants on backwards. If you assumed that Timmy is your average, semi-literate six-year-old, you’re mistaken. Timmy is actually Timmy Davenport, PhD, Lecturer in Physics at Durmstrang University. Dr. Timmy Davenport is representative of several of America’s so-called brightest who spend 8 to 10 years in the higher education system, but end up with less social intelligence and know-how than a child.
Six-year-olds, for all of their innocence and naiveté, are better suited for a productive and rewarding social life than the average academic with a PhD. A PhD spends most of his days slurping cold ramen out of a mug while gazing at some huge tome, the blinds drawn, with a cat crawling on him as though he were a rock or a piece of furniture or some other motionless object. He pauses only to bite a fingernail or tap out an “I’m so busy I don’t have time to use punctuation” email to some poor soul who is trying to make contact with him across the abyss of his personality. He spends so much time alone that it’s no wonder he’s awkward and will stare intently at your shoulder while you try to talk to him. A six-year-old, on the other hand, eats, plays, and learns with other kids. He may steal your sandwich if you’re not looking, but he’s pretty good at making up for it with a cookie when you catch him. And on the crazed battlefield that is the grade-school playground, the kid learns how to make friends, form alliances, charm, and intimidate. In short, the six-year-old has demonstrably better social skills. Just ask the next kid you see what she did today. She will look at you and tell you what she did. Ask a PhD the same question, and you will most likely hear: “What do you mean by today?”
While PhDs have the benefit of experience and education, they nonetheless make extremely poor choices when it comes to health. I have seen professors wait through two light changes before working up the courage to waddle across the street. By the time they reach the other side, they are panting—their beards soaked and sweater-vests all bunched up. They are so focused on having their brains constantly clicking that they pay no attention to their bodies. We’ve all seen the pale grad-student sucking cigarettes down outside the library at midnight before he heads back in for another round of dissertating. We’ve seen the brainy-looking young woman powering through family-sized packs of Skittles and jugs of Diet Coke in front of a laptop. Why do these smart people make these terrible decisions? It is a riddle without an answer.
Having a PhD signifies, above all, a high degree of knowledge. Ironically, these people are not in tune with practical, applicable knowledge that would help them to navigate the world around them. While most PhDs are travelling down some academic rabbit hole —”Uncovering the Un(re)coverable: John Barth’s Representation of Representations in The Floating Opera” or “Chemical Vapor Deposition for Titanium-Based Semiconductors “— they can barely remember the name of the town they live in or how exactly to use a can-opener. Because their knowledge is so deep and so specialized, everything useful in their minds gets crowded out. After all, PhDs are human, too, so their brains can hold only so much information, just like the rest of us. They choose to delve deep into their academic subjects, and therefore there’s no space in their gray cells for basic information like “Use deodorant.”
It is a tragedy that the absolute best educational resources of our society transform otherwise normal young adults into mole-like creatures that can barely keep up with six-year-olds on a good day. If aliens were to land on our planet, and they were to encounter a stumbling, stammering PhD and a cheerful, laughing six-year-old who loves to run and jump and make friends, I think they’d definitely pick the six-year-old as the superior life form.