Phil Niekro is a Hall of Fame baseball player who was active from 1964 to 1987; he was quite popular in his day. If you’re at least semi-conscious, you will immediately understand how flat a reference to him would fall with a group of today’s undergraduate students. And let’s be honest: is this the kind of history you’d prefer these students to spend their time becoming more knowledgeable about? I thought not… but if it is, I think you may suffer from Niekrophilia.
Niekrophilia is the love of dead cultural references and of information that ought to be left for dead when compared to the more important information today’s students lack. Unfortunately, many of today’s professors don’t understand the difference between what is really significant and what is not. And it goes without saying that many students, when given a choice between an intellectual corpse (such as “Critical Analysis of Baseball Personae”) and a living, breathing body (such as Judicial Philosophy and Constitutional Analysis), choose the corpse when both appear in a course catalog. Students love corpses; the way some students behave, it’s as though they want to become corpses sooner rather than later. The problem with corpses is that they aren’t very useful or enlightening, unless of course you’re stranded on a desert island and light one up on the campfire for dinner.
But I digress.
The love of corpses has taken over the American academy. If it were simply aging professors who forget that today’s students aren’t into their old favorites, it would be less of a problem. Dead cultural references aren’t dangerous when they’re thrown around in passing. But instead, some professors are obsessed with these corpses and they haven’t quite realized that corpses don’t reproduce knowledge very well. Knowledge is, and has always been, the professor’s baby. Unfortunately, babies aren’t being made any more and many professors seem fine with that.
Postscript: My apologies go out to Phil Niekro, who is still very much alive. This post was not meant to reflect badly on him in any way.