Strangled by the Ivy?

Monday, November 08, 2010

It's a couple of years old, but its author has clearly overcome many of the very limitations he describes about his educational background. Among these limitations are: a sense of entitlement, an inability to relate to ordinary people, a lack of passion, little persistence in the face of difficulty, intellectual docility, social conformity, and a grasp of the concept "solitude" that is tenuous at best (along with any appreciation of its merits).

No. We're not ripping the public schools again. We're ripping the Ivy league.

[T]he world that produced John Kerry and George Bush is indeed giving us our next generation of leaders. The kid who's loading up on AP courses junior year or editing three campus publications while double-majoring, the kid whom everyone wants at their college or law school but no one wants in their classroom, the kid who doesn't have a minute to breathe, let alone think, will soon be running a corporation or an institution or a government. She will have many achievements but little experience, great success but no vision. The disadvantage of an elite education is that it's given us the elite we have, and the elite we're going to have.
The article is very long, but makes many worthwhile points. My main criticism of it is that it overestimates the power of entrenched cultural institutions and underestimates the power of philosophical ideas. However, given the mutually reinforcing effects of these two things on one another, such errors are quite understandable.

That said, does it not make sense that the many limitations of an elite academic background would be most pronounced in the very places from which bad philosophical ideas have been transmitted to the culture? The great value of this article is that it provides an insider's perspective of the problem.

-- CAV


Vigilis said...

For at least the last two or so years, I have shared the same concerns, Gus.

Often the mainstream media reminds us that today's college grads are unusually consistent (compared with earlier generations) in their visions for the ideal. Unfortunately, the visions are often feel-good, scientifically impractical, superficial notions that parallel those corporate Human Resources leaders have held for decades.

How many HR types have been allowed to run industrial corporations, much less our country? (Admittedly, more and more of them are now law grads).

Absence of practical, concrete vision seems to have transferred from our political realm. There it has almost become permissable for America's presidential candidates never to share anything tangible for the country's future.

Both Bush and Obama come to mind in the last decade. This potential trend seems extraordinarily dangerous, although that is just my opinion.

Gus Van Horn said...

The trend is dangerous, and I considered mentioning Obama as yet another example. (If I had a nickel for every time I wondered of him, "Is this person actually real?" ...)

The fact that many of these individuals have degrees in law is related, but not causal. An increasingly egalitarian society will have many more bad laws on the books, and thus there will be a demand for more people with training in law, including and especially in branches of law that would be smaller (e.g., torts) or nonexistent (e.g., almost anything to do with government quotas and other laws that violate individual rights, which are misguided attempts at best to remedy unjust discrimination, real or imagined) in a truly free society.

RE said...

Great link and post!

I attended Brophy Prep high school in Phoenix. For any who have never heard of it, Brophy is essentially the most prestigious high school in Arizona. It's where the elite send their kids so they can go to college somewhere in New England.

I was at Brophy on an academic scholarship, of course, because my parents' collars were both sky-blue and we couldn't possibly afford the tuition. I don't consider it a coincidence that the guys who became my friends there hailed from similar backgrounds... son of a cop, son of a mechanic, to name two examples. We weren't "inside" with the blue-bloods. And they made sure we knew it. The whole Scottsdale/PV/Biltmore community of Gucci wallets and whose daddy makes more money was fully in force, and those individuals were expected to go on to the Ivies. Or something like that: Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, NYU, you get the idea. Plebes like my buddies and I would instead go on to Arizona State. (And in some respects I am better off for the experience.)

I'm Objectivist enough not to want to tar individuals with a tribal or group brush, but anecdotally I recall those elites being consistent with Deresiewicz's description in the article. They were basically being groomed to it. Hopefully, at least some of them managed to break out of the mold and advance as rational thinkers in their own right -- but I won't place any bets on it.

Gus Van Horn said...


Thanks. I'm a cop's son who went to a parochial high school. Didn't get the full dose of elitism by a long shot, but was exposed enough to it to develop a strong distaste for it -- although I did not know at the time that that is what the "elitism" of the Ivy League really amounted to.

There was recruiting of southerners and minorities by the Ivy League back then, and I am glad that I mostly escaped notice. The liberal arts school I landed at in Texas that gave me a very good education in most respects.


Michael said...

its quite sad isn't it though. when i think of elite i think of men of honour and men of reason. its a shame today's elite are of the wrong kind that we don't need.

Gus Van Horn said...

Indeed it is.