Sunday, June 26, 2011

An Elite Education

This article by William Deresiewicz is so thorough and consistent with my own experience that to quote a couple of high points does not do it justice. Nevertheless, here are some blurbs:

"Elite schools pride themselves on their diversity, but that diversity is almost entirely a matter of ethnicity and race. With respect to class, these schools are largely—indeed increasingly—homogeneous."

"I learned to give that little nod of understanding, that slightly sympathetic “Oh,” when people told me they went to a less prestigious college. (If I’d gone to Harvard, I would have learned to say “in Boston” when I was asked where I went to school—the Cambridge version of noblesse oblige.) I never learned that there are smart people who don’t go to elite colleges, often precisely for reasons of class. I never learned that there are smart people who don’t go to college at all."

"I began comparing my experience, and even more, my students’ experience, with the experience of a friend of mine who went to Cleveland State. There are due dates and attendance requirements at places like Yale, but no one takes them very seriously."

And now the most perceptive. I've often wondered if I am the only one who noticed this.

"Being an intellectual begins with thinking your way outside of your assumptions and the system that enforces them. But students who get into elite schools are precisely the ones who have best learned to work within the system, so it’s almost impossible for them to see outside it, to see that it’s even there. Long before they got to college, they turned themselves into world-class hoop-jumpers and teacher-pleasers, getting A’s in every class no matter how boring they found the teacher or how pointless the subject, racking up eight or 10 extracurricular activities no matter what else they wanted to do with their time. "

This passage reminds of the opportunistic Tiger Mom (what ever happened to her?), the self-professed non thinker. I also reminds me of not all but so many people I see entering law teaching. Many are poorly educated in any sense that allows them to think or talk about ideas.

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