Icosian Reflections

…a tendency to systematize and a keen sense

that we live in a broken world.

Interlude: More Links on the Ivies

This is part 3 of a 4-part series addressed to the author's brother, discussing the author's perspective on "elite education".

[ | | ]

Sorry, friends; my jet lag (from returning from Hong Kong on Saturday), seems to have finally caught up with me. Part 3 proper is probably going to have to wait a day, since I went to sleep last night instead of writing it. To tide you over, here are a few excerpts from around the internet:

I'm a Laborer's Son. I Went to Yale. I Am Not "Trapped in a Bubble of Privilege." by Andrew Giambrone, Yale grad now writing for The Atlantic, on the New Republic:

First, his argument effaces important economic, social, and personal differences among students, conveniently neglecting the fact that elite colleges allow athletes and engineers to sit around the same seminar tables as sons of farmers and daughters of CEOs. Second, his turgid derision of elite schools risks dissuading lower- and middle-class kids like myself from applying to those very same institutions.

The Ivy League Is Not the Problem by Osita Nwanevu, U. Chicago student, on Slate:

Deresiewicz says that a campus environment is a rare venue where people from different social strata can interact “on an equal footing.” But having them eat the same processed cafeteria foods and doze off in the same introductory lectures will not put the privileged and the underprivileged on an equal footing. Whether they’re under a publicly financed roof or not, these sorts of interactions are shaped by our past experiences. There will always be a divide between the upper-middle-class student who chooses to attend a public college and the poor student who must. There will always be a chasm between the students who have been raised to believe they are destined for careers up and away from those of average Americans—at Goldman Sachs or on the English faculty at Yale—and those who haven’t been brought up with such expectations. And the implicit notion that underprivileged individuals exist as resources that well-off kids can mine for social awareness and self-satisfaction is also—to use a popular euphemism at elite colleges—problematic.

Nationalize the Ivy League by Chris Lehman, University of Wisconsin-Madison and lifelong educator:

As such small-bore counsel piles up across the pages of Excellent Sheep, you realize that, for all his declamations, Deresiewicz remains obsessed with the fine-tuning of elite experience. Even as he pronounces the need “not simply to reform [the meritocratic university] system root and branch, but to begin to plot our exit to another form of leadership, another kind of society altogether,” Deresiewicz is unable to wean himself from the care and feeding of our self-anointed intellectual elite, nor from the bedrock conviction that all schemes of social improvement must be about them. Hence Deresiewicz informs us that “another kind of society altogether” will be born from ultra-meritocratic measures like weighting SAT scores to the socioeconomic backgrounds of test takers and capping the number of extracurricular activities students can list on college applications. As social revolutions go, this is not Aux barricades, fonctionnaires!

Snobs vs. the Ivy League (or, The Question of Bill Deresiewicz's Character) (not actually as ad hominem as the title indicates) by Jim Marino, Harvard grad and Cleveland State professor, on his own blog:

I said yes to Harvard for a simple reason: I could not afford not to. I grew up comfortably middle-class. But we certainly weren't the upper middle class. (One of my parents was a high school teacher, the other police lieutenant.) I could not turn down a break like getting into Harvard. I could not count on getting another break like that again. Anyone who tells a kid like me to turn down Harvard is doing that kid wrong.

Any 18-year-old who gets a chance to go to school with people smarter than she or he is should take that opportunity. Knowing that nearly all of your classmates know interesting things that you don't is a gift that only a fool would refuse. I am grateful that I was given that opportunity; there is no stronger expression of entitlement than ingratitude...

Let me confess here that this is personal. In an earlier article on this theme, Deresiewicz claimed that students were better off going to the university where I teach than they are going to Yale. He named us specifically and repeatedly. We have wonderful students and I am proud of them, but telling people to turn down Yale for us is insane. But still more insane was Deresiewicz's reason: you see, when Yale students struggle, they have enormous resources to help them: a small but well-trained army tutors and counselors. My students don't have that. We have some tutors and some counselors but when our students hit trouble (and my students as a group have far, far more troubles than Yale students), they are mostly on their own. Deresiewicz feels that this is a great thing. You see, it builds character. Isn't it better to be at a poor school, struggling?

The last two links came recommended from Harry Lewis (who had his own response), and came along with two recommended reviews of Deresiewicz's new book Excellent Sheep. Instead of excerpting them (this "interlude" has gone on for far too long), I'll just give the links here and here. Happy reading!

Tomorrow, I really do plan to share the best -- and the worst -- things I found out about my classmates when I arrived here.

This is part 3 of a 4-part series addressed to the author's brother, discussing the author's perspective on "elite education".

[ | | ]