Biases of Elite Education

From a thoughtful essay by William Deresiewicz:

An elite education … makes you incapable of talking to people who aren’t like you. 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.  … My education taught me to believe that people who didn’t go to an Ivy League or equivalent school weren’t worth talking to, regardless of their class. … Elite universities … select for and develop one form of intelligence: the analytic. … social intelligence and emotional intelligence and creative ability, to name just three other forms, are not distributed preferentially among the educational elite. … There are due dates and attendance requirements at places like Yale, but no one takes them very seriously. … Students … get an endless string of second chances. Not so at places like Cleveland State.  ..


An elite education gives you the chance to be rich – which is, after all, what we’re talking about – but it takes away the chance not to be. … [If they] pursue a riskier or less lucrative course after graduation … [elite students] tend to give up more quickly than others. .. a couple of graduate students … were talking about trying to write poetry, how friends of theirs from college called it quits within a year or two while people they know from less prestigious schools are still at it. …

The final and most damning disadvantage of an elite education: that it is profoundly anti-intellectual. … Being an intellectual is not the same as being smart. Being an intellectual means more than doing your homework. … They are products of a system that rarely asked them to think about something bigger than the next assignment. … Being an intellectual means, first of all, being passionate about ideas – and not just for the duration of a semester, for the sake of pleasing the teacher, or for getting a good grade. … Students at Yale and Columbia … have seemed content to color within the lines that their education had marked out for them. Only a small minority have seen their education as part of a larger intellectual journey, have approached the work of the mind with a pilgrim soul. …  Places like Yale are simply not set up to help students ask the big questions.

My experience confirms all of this.  The sort of risk-taking, soul-searching, and success-sacrifice that is required for (but hardly guarantees) truly great intellectual achievement is not much rewarded in our current elite education system.

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as:
Trackback URL:
  • Yves

    This is 100% stereotype, and in my experience, not very accurate at that. I went to Harvard College and B-school, did very well at both, had fancy jobs on Wall Street and in management consulting and now work as a professional.

    One of my best friends is a high school dropout. I had drinks last night with my former secretary, who did college at night and has turned herself into a headhunter. I would go to pubs in Australia and enjoyed hanging out with the regulars, who ranged from poets to former drug addicts now doing social work to guys doing data processing to manual laborers to someone with a managerial position in the state government to the CEO of a local company.

    Another friend is a graphic designer, also not college educated, technically an illegal immigrant (but here 15 years, has a Social Security number, and pays taxes). Another buddy is a dealer in estate jewelry. My friends also include computer developers (object oriented programming, so they are highly skilled developers, but still not Ivy league). Yes, I know some professionals as well. I do not consider myself unable to talk to people unlike me and can name many former classmates who are similarly quite capable of and more important interested in talking to folk from backgrounds unlike theirs.

    Of the people I knew from college, one is a professional theater director. An actor I worked with in college won an Emmy last year. My poet roommate is still a poet and has won awards. One good friend decided to become an architect rather than an MD (yes, being an architect also takes a good deal of eduction, but they are woefully underpaid relative to their training. It’s a romantic choice relative to the options available). Another roommate is an academic and sometimes labor organizer in Europe. A woman in my class I knew more distantly is a successful performance artist.

  • http://yudkowsky.net/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    The sort of risk-taking, soul-searching, and success-sacrifice that is required for (but hardly guarantees) truly great intellectual achievement is not much rewarded in our current elite education system.

    The closest anywhere comes to this, I would think, would be the startup culture of Silicon Valley; and it doesn’t come very close on the soul-searching part.

  • http://anittahpatrick.com Anittah Patrick

    Have read only the snip and not the original essay, but whether or not our current educational system rewards intellectual soul-searching will be borne out if my deeply mediocre grades at Yale ten years ago prevent me from being accepted by a PhD program in economics next fall. 😉

    Anti-intellectualism is not a product of the system but rather a product of the self; a cursory glance at the snip shows some inconsistencies. Students at Yale color within the lines … and yet … the lines (such as attendance requirements) don’t really exist? So, what lines, exactly, are being colored within? I’m sorry; that’s a cogent argument how, exactly?

    Enough with the blaming of external situations, I say. If an individual is going to be a grade-grubbing tool, they’re going to be a grade-grubbing tool regardless of where they’re going to school.

    Seems to me the essay writer is confusing cause and correlation.

    • Brian C.

      Are you strongly religious?

  • thinking small

    Deresiewicz should be careful in conflating “elite education” with “elite universities,” and he should try spending some time at a top-ranked liberal arts college. Intellectual passion and engagement with the big questions are alive and well in American higher-ed, if one knows where to look.

    Any undergrad who commits to attend a big research university (like Harvard or Yale) needs to know that the primary function of those schools is to generate grants, period. If you want to be challenged and grow intellectually, there are plenty of smaller places (e.g., the “little Ivies”) where that kind of education is the top priority.

    Anittah, you’re dead on about the over-emphasis on school as an influence on personality. A sense of entitlement begins long before university…

    Re: Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, are they really an better example of risk-taking, soul-searching, and success-sacrifice than someone in, say, the arts, music, writing, or theater?

  • Caio

    The intellectual pursuit is a very personal one, and Deresiewicz seems to agree. So I find it hard to see what a university could do about that in particular. But I still found, during my three years at Yale so far, that there have been professors who inspired and challenged those who would be inspired and challenged (not least of which was Deresiewicz himself). I’ve also had the opportunity of going to varied talks and lectures, taking great introductory courses outside my area of study, engaging in creative pursuits and perhaps most importantly, spend my days with people who are bright and inquisitive, who are passionate about a variety of things and are hardly the “grade-grubbing tools,” as Anittah put it (and I very much agree with her point). I can do all those things thanks to the university, and I don’t see how there’s much more the institution can do about it.

    Then there’s the bit about not being able to talk to people who aren’t like you, like that’s supposed to prove that the students are high class snobs. Why isn’t his plumber as much to blame for not being able to talk to him, as he is for not being able to talk to his plumber? See if a poor Latino kind from L.A. is going to get along with a farmer’s kid from Iowa. Put an upper class New York liberal in a room with a Southern aristocrat and see if they get along. It takes a special talent to converse outside your social sphere, whatever that may be.

  • Anonymous

    Would this then predict that “truly great intellectual achievement” is achieved less often by products of “elite education”?

  • Bill Gardner

    “The sort of risk-taking, soul-searching, and success-sacrifice that is required for (but hardly guarantees) truly great intellectual achievement is not much rewarded in our current elite education system.”

    Same question as Eliezer: ~where~ is this rewarded? NSF grants competition (I hope)? I make my living, more or less, competing for NIH extramural funds. Luckily for me, winning grants for clinical studies does not require great intellectual achievement. A simple, practical idea that will help a lot of people + demonstrated competence in research usually beats deep and beautiful ideas. Which may be as it should be.

  • http://econoblag.blogspot.com/ Daniel Reeves

    This is 100% stereotype, and in my experience, not very accurate at that. I went to Harvard College and B-school, did very well at both, had fancy jobs on Wall Street and in management consulting and now work as a professional.

    Well extroversion is a vital skill in business, so your experience should not surprise anybody.

  • WTF

    I can also be said that thinkers talk too much and do to little.

  • http://brokensymmetry.typepad.com Michael F. Martin

    Considering the guy teaches at Yale, that’s pretty refreshing. Grades are too much of a commodity. But it’s hard to figure out how to change that.

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    The reason to focus on elite universities as a place to encourage great intellectual achievements is that they gain from public prestige by being seen as a place which does this. From the comments, many appear to think it is not possible to encourage such achievements, or that they are not worth encouraging.

  • http://denisbider.blogspot.com denis bider

    The article is insightful on the one hand, but I fear that the author has had too much vulgar liberalism inculcated in him at the very same institutions that he’s criticizing. Example:

    “Graduates of elite schools are not more valuable than stupid people, or talentless people, or even lazy people. Their pain does not hurt more. Their souls do not weigh more. If I were religious, I would say, God does not love them more. The political implications should be clear.”

    Let me paraphrase:

    “Members of the species homo sapiens are not more valuable than gorillas, or cows, or even chicken. Their pain does not hurt more. Their souls do not weigh more. If I were religious, I would say, God does not love them more. The political implications should be clear.”

    Dwell on that for a while.

  • Bob Unwin

    An elite education … makes you incapable of talking to people who aren’t like you. Elite schools pride themselves on their diversity, but that diversity is almost entirely a matter of ethnicity and race.

    Elite schools tend to have larger proportions of international students. (Harvard College is about 10% and Columbia about the same. Many more students are international at graduate level). That is a huge source of diversity. (http://opendoors.iienetwork.org/?p=37673). Elite schools also source students from a wide range of US states. This presumably happens less for less elite private universities and state schools. The Ivies, Stanford, and Berkeley all have serious sports programs. A significant proportion of undergraduates are athletes. This increases diversity of a sort over (say) engineering schools or liberal arts colleges.

    With respect to class, these schools are largely – indeed increasingly – homogeneous. … My education taught me to believe that people who didn’t go to an Ivy League or equivalent school weren’t worth talking to, regardless of their class.

    13% of Harvard undergrads get Pell grants. (http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=523417). Percentage at Columbia is higher. Cornell also is high. Princeton is lower. Anyway, these numbers are hardly insignificant. (Number of non-Asian minorities is not much higher). The Ivies all just increased financial aid to low income students by a large amount.

    Another thing: The most elite schools have significant proportions of students from the America upper class / aristocracy. People whose New England mansions are lined with portraits of their ancestors. (Same goes for elite UK universities). No one talks about it, but this is a source of diversity. Upper-middle class and middle class kids benefit a lot from learning how a bit about how the aristocracy works, and these aristocrats are sometimes very cultured.

    … Elite universities … select for and develop one form of intelligence: the analytic. … social intelligence and emotional intelligence and creative ability, to name just three other forms, are not distributed preferentially among the educational elite

    Social intelligence? I don’t know what exactly this is. If it means “social skills” then the claim is dubious. Look how many politicians, judges and TV people come out of just one elite school (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Harvard_University_people). All these jobs require very strong social skills. My general experience is that people at elite schools tend to have very strong social skills.

    Creative ability? Look at lists of Ivy alums. (e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Harvard_University_people). There are large numbers of actors, musicians, writers, etc. Outside of art schools, I’d be shocked if other schools produced much higher proportions of people with great creative success. In terms of business creativity, look at how many tech startup people come from Stanford, MIT, Berkeley and the Ivies. (Yes, it might not be that these universities help to develop creativity, but they do have lots of creative students).

    a couple of graduate students … were talking about trying to write poetry, how friends of theirs from college called it quits within a year or two while people they know from less prestigious schools are still at it. …

    Whether they give up more quickly or not, elite schools continue to produce large numbers of top creative artists.


    The final and most damning disadvantage of an elite education: that it is profoundly anti-intellectual. … Being an intellectual is not the same as being smart. Being an intellectual means more than doing your homework. … They are products of a system that rarely asked them to think about something bigger than the next assignment. … Being an intellectual means, first of all, being passionate about ideas – and not just for the duration of a semester, for the sake of pleasing the teacher, or for getting a good grade. …Only a small minority have seen their education as part of a larger intellectual journey, have approached the work of the mind with a pilgrim soul. … Places like Yale are simply not set up to help students ask the big questions.

    Maybe the elite universities could do better in this regard. However, one should point out how many top intellectuals come out of these schools. Top scientists come out of these places to a very high degree. My guess is that any other group of intellectuals you come up with will have more people from elite schools than anywhere else. As Deresiewicz points out, you don’t need to do lots of work in an Ivy to stay in good standing. This gives people lots of time (if they want it) to read outside of their courses. Also, elite schools provide access to other smart and intellectually curious undergrads and grad students and to the best professors.

  • Sociology Graduate Student

    I take issue with parts of the excerpt Robin provides us, and I have greater problems with the rest of the essay. He makes many claims which are backed up by little evidence. I’m not sure my opinion has ever differed from Robin’s so much.

    “Elite education has disadvantages” um… compared to what? So, I might add, does being smart and beautiful, but the advantages far outweigh them.

    Robin is right that our current elite education system doesn’t sufficiently reward “The sort of risk-taking, soul-searching, and success-sacrifice that is required for (but hardly guarantees) truly great intellectual achievement…” What would the new system look like and how do we get there from here?

  • http://jamesdmiller.blogspot.com/ James Miller

    One solution would be for elite colleges to accept a few students who do exceptionally well on IQ tests but have poor grades. Another would be to admit genius non-neurotypical students (such as autistics) who lack the capacity to even appear normal. And a final solution would be to let some working class young adults live in school dorms.

  • http://denisbider.blogspot.com denis bider

    Having completed the rest of the article, my impression is that the author is severely confused.

    How in the Universe is an education system going to inculcate its students to think independently? This is an oxymoron in itself.

    Second, it appears to me that the author’s concept of independent is dangerously close to the social concept of loser. How in the Universe would it ever work for an elite school to go on manufacturing alumni who would undermine the school’s own reputation?

    Third, it appears to me that the author sees some special value in humanities that does not actually exist: “The college career office has little to say to students not interested in law, medicine, or business, …” That is, as if the United States needs yet more people in law, medicine, and business; as opposed to computer science, which the author used as an example!

    My overall conclusion is that this author has romantic delusions with how the world in general, and elite schools in particular, are supposed to work – delusions which are at odds with reality, and would result in failure.

    Unfortunately, I must say that I would not expect much better from a teacher of English, even if it is one that teaches at Yale.

    I have observed that it is a tendency of people who teach useless subjects such as this, not wanting to accept the unimportance of their subject, to escape into romanticism, let themselves be infused by idealism from the literature they study, and develop ideas of intellectual grandeur which have no rooting in reality.

    Or in other words – most English profs are quacks. And so is this one.

  • Paul Gowder

    Denis: if being other than a liberal means you accept the analogy graduates of elite schools:normal people::humans:barnyard animals, then thank goodness I’m a pinko.

  • Bill Gardner

    We are getting off track here, and I apologize. But… Denis presents this as an absurd conclusion to an egalitarian view: “Members of the species homo sapiens are not more valuable than gorillas, or cows, or even chicken. Their pain does not hurt more. Their souls do not weigh more. If I were religious, I would say, God does not love them more. The political implications should be clear.” That is more or less the view of Peter Singer. We need to consider the suffering of sentient non-humans in calculating the effects of our actions. I don’t think this position is absurd.

  • gutzperson

    I think there is some bias. Not everybody there has been educated to ignore the less educated. Having attended an Ivy League institution doesn’t have to become about class and status. I believe though that one might find a large group of Narcissistic people in these places. The ones with an iron will to control and assert power (Mrs. Thatcher studied in Oxford, Mr. Blair ditto – though Stalin did not — AM I JOKING?) – the ones who have always been treated and seen as special – for whatever reason, be it because they were Mummy’s or Daddy’s sunshines or on the way to become the “new Einsteins” in their families (and the world).

  • Shmuel

    “How in the Universe is an education system going to inculcate its students to think independently? This is an oxymoron in itself.”

    Well then, how can anyone then even teach somehow to think independently? Perhaps people should stop reading books too.

  • http://www.iphonefreak.com frelkins

    The author of the essay himself evinces that which he attempts to indict. The whole issue is that he feels like he can’t talk to his plumber.

    As a product of this elite educational system — which, as he describes it, babies its students & produces those who can’t really think or work hard, be able fail, or take personal responsibility — he then proceeds to blame the educational system that produced him and not himself, thus avoiding personal responsibility.

    Maybe if he just stopped being a snob? Why not try looking the plumber straight in the eye, offering him a coffee, and asking him, “Hey how about those Mets?”

    While he argues that Kerry, Gore & Bush show the defects of this system, he conveniently forgets to mention Clinton, who can famously talk to anyone about anything, become your best friend in 5 minutes, and was extremely competent in matters of government.

    Maybe the author should join the Peace Corps or go volunteer in Darfur to recover from his education. As George B. Shaw said when a young man asked if he should travel or go to Oxbridge, “Get an education first. You can always go to university later.”

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    Praising this sort of writing just encourages people who want an audience to lie, to make up stories to fill a social desire, in my opinion.

    Here I think the desire is to construct heirarchy within elites. I’d rather intra-elite heirarchy be constructed on the basis of who’s doing more to reduce our existential risk, than this fluffy stuff.

  • Floccina

    Sometimes I ask myself how can the elites in politics and media believe what they seem to believe. I ca only come up with one guess that is that they did not grow up hanging around with people like the people that I hung around with. They seem to be from a different planet, then I think well maybe they were that kid who always got all A’s and never did the things that the rest of us did. Like what thoughtful intelligent person in their right mind supports the war on drugs. Almost all the males that I new when I was between 15 and 25 years old used illegal drugs do they think that all those people should do time in jail?

    Let me add that our system of schooling is weird. We pay teachers to teach us and they grade us, and then even if we get bad grades they blab the grades to anyone who asks. If I paid a piano teacher for lessons and I was looking for a job I do not think the person hiring would call my piano teacher to ask how good I was. Since I paid the piano teacher he better say I am good. The teacher would not tell the employer something like “he was always behind on his learning scales”. Instead the employer would ask me to play. But if you have this creative kid who gets bad grades you blab it around. Better to not be creative and thoughtful but regurgitate what the teacher tells you.

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Bob, your comment is too long for this blog.

  • Johnna

    Hello – I’ve been following this blog off and on since my brother turned it on to me a few months ago. Thank you for your questions and for grappling with a whole host of diverse issues! I recently returned from a reunion with college friends that about 20 of us put on ourselves. We went to Luther College in Decorah, Iowa – a small, liberal arts college. I was amazed at how everyone who was present was able to participate in rewarding, intellectual conversation, as well as introspective and fruitful questioning and vulnerability. We all thoroughly enjoyed our time there and, though most of us don’t bring in more than $40-60K, the level of contentedness is extremely high.

    I’m in agreement with most of what “thinking small” is trying to say: (the one above who wrote the following) Deresiewicz should be careful in conflating “elite education” with “elite universities,” and he should try spending some time at a top-ranked liberal arts college. Intellectual passion and engagement with the big questions are alive and well in American higher-ed, if one knows where to look.

    But I think that’s exactly the point. Deresiewicz isn’t talking about liberal arts schools. So, cheers for the essay post and y’all – check out your nearest liberal arts school!

  • http://reactionwheel.blogspot.com Jerry

    I read the essay a few weeks ago and while at first agreeing with it, I quickly came to the conclusion that the author is the victim of a pernicious bias: he believes that his is the only model of success. For instance, he criticizes his always-connected students because he believes that solitude/silence is vital to introspection and that introspection is crucial to attaining knowledge. (Is it? Is it really? How much time did Socrates spend in silence? They couldn’t shut the guy up!)

    Perhaps introversion was the key to his learning (perhaps because he’s an introvert?) but by believing that his path is the only path, he makes a crotchety cliche of himself: those dang kids, why can’t they be just like him?

    I recommend you send him a free subscription to Overcoming Bias.

  • Court

    I think anyone interested in this article should read it in full. Robin selects an interesting section, but the writers says a lot more.

    Speaking broadly, I know (of) a few people who went on to elite educations; they were super-overachievers (also know as grade-grubbers, if one was to speak politely) who not only got perfect grades but also were president of every club, did community service, and wrote entrance essays in their spare time. 15 years or so on, my fairly limited sample of people went on to the sorts of jobs and lives you might expect: corporate / business / political money-grubbing. The path they were on from high school onwards was pretty indicative of where they would go in life. Small sample size, I emphasize.

    I myself went to a small, Jesuit, liberal arts college and most of my fellow students, even those who made a pretense of going after the life of the mind, went on to corporate / business / political money-grubbing. Just on a smaller scale. My feeling is that if you could have switched these people, they would have ended up doing the same basic thing. Their relative educations were, so far as I can tell, only so much window dressing.

    So, much as my anti-elitist side would love to prick the perceived smug superiority of the Ivies, I tend to think that to follow an independent path is a rare thing wherever one goes to school; and the institutions themselves don’t have much to do with it one way or the other. Out of any given set of students only a very small proportion will be interested in pursuing the life of the mind. I very much doubt that your formal education has much to do with it.

  • http://www.johnniemoore.com/blog/archives/002058.php Johnnie Moore’s Weblog

    Glittering prizes

    David Smith’s blog feed is made up mainly of his del.icio.us daily links. These are a pretty fabulous digest of interesting stuff. This one caught my eye today: biases of elite education. (And I love the idea of blog called…

  • Jor

    Court, I think you are basically right. I’ve been at both a state school and an “elite school”, and my sense is the same as yours. People who are interested in ideas themselves, a broad education, following an independent path, or taking large risks are rare at both places. I guess a naive assumption would be that “elite schools” should try and select for students such as that.

    I just don’t think its realistic for “elite schools” to be able to do this. Its probably next to impossible to figure out which type of student is which during admissions. Even if you had a perfect admission filter — the schools would still have a strong incentive to ensure a significant proportion of their graduates go on to hold positions of power in money-grubbing places to keep the endowment growing.

  • Joseph Knecht

    On Deresiewicz’s point about anti-intellectualism, I think he overestimates how much university/college influences a person intellectually and underestimates the extent to which the die is cast long before higher education begins. Before finishing high school, most smart people have decided that they have little interest in learning as an intrinsically rewarding activity and little interest in anything that is not a means to GOODSTUFF (TM) (wealth, power, prestige, the ‘perfect’ marriage, etc.). Some truly exceptional experiences in university will change the minds of some, but they are a small minority, regardless of the university.

    I do think though that in high school, among the smartest of the lot, the individuals in the subset that most strongly regards education as a purely instrumental stepping-stone to GOODSTUFF — i.e., the anti-intellectuals — are *much* more likely to attend (if possible) an Ivy than a strong liberal arts college or a non-Ivy that is especially strong in what they are most interested in. This is not to say that such people will be necessarily be a majority at an Ivy, but there will be a lot more of them proportionally at an Ivy than anywhere else, and they will generally be loud and conspicuous in their stepping-stone activities and attitudes (just as their less smart and equally GOODSTUFF-grubbing equivalents are at non-Ivies).

  • Tom

    I attend Yale, and I think the essay fairly accurately describes the lives of about 50% of the students there.

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    As a general principle, it’s stupid to take large risks. Perhaps good for society, generally bad for the individual.

  • Kel

    The one good idea this essay advocates is that a mind which ardently conforms to a social system will be unable to think beyond that system. He validates that idea when he explains why a professor with tenure at a university with an endowment larger than the gdp of africa is disappointed the majority of students spurn metaphysical delights and pursue building credentials in order to survive financially.

  • kelli norton

    I’m sure that to some extent the author is right on in what he’s saying. But the reality is, the world is not a fair place and the gap between those who have and those who have not is widening – this will inevitably create situations in which we won’t know how or will be afraid to communicate with each other. There are those with elite education who do not possess elitist attitudes and are capable of carrying on a conversation (genuinely) with anyone. Likewise, there are those with elite education who are snobs and can’t or won’t talk to anyone outside of their circle…I don’t see this changing. What I’m going to do and I hope the author is doing, is make as much of a difference as I can in my little part of this world. And for the record, I agree with the person who said the plumber could have initiated conversation with the author. Everyone, no matter where they’re from or where they’re educated should feel comfortable enough to talk with anyone. And if this isn’t the case, perhaps the person should search within himself/herself to find out why he/she is not. The world will always have it’s classifications (black, white, male, female, low-income, middle-class, Ivy League, etc.) and all the stereotypic thinking that goes along with these categorizations, but we can’t let these associations, whether true or not, (i.e., maybe one is in the low-income bracket, or did attend an Ivy League school) dictate who we are and how we think about ourselves.

  • Mediocre Joe

    This article is simply laughable!

    Like many, I am a product of poor public school education and a mediocre 4 year State College and without a doubt, loathe not having received an elite education. That said, I cannot disagree more with the author of this article. I’ll point out a few obvious disadvantages that students of poor and mediocre (non elite) education befall.

    1) A poor or mediocre education makes you incapable of talking to people who aren’t like you.
    Using myself as an example, I could not hold an intelligent conversation with the head of say, Harvard Law School on the subject of law without sounding like a complete incompetent fool. Similarly, s/he may very well feel completely out of touch in trying to discuss the benefits of sporting jeans 7 sizes too large while skateboarding versus skin tight jeans stolen from little sister. In both cases, the less learned of the two would simply not be experienced enough to offer a “professional” opinion. And if you asked me which of the two subjects (law or skateboarding) I would prefer to hold mastery over, I would have to say…….uh hmm…Law. I speculate that most of you out there would also chose law over skateboarding.

    In sum, elite education leads to the mastery of the most important academic subjects while poor and mediocre education can hardly claim such accomplishment.

    2) I’ve spent close to 20 years attending some of the most diverse public school and college institutions in the USA (in Los Angeles) and in all honesty, I still find students overwhelmingly segregating themselves according race, class, and whatever other identities they carry. Mexicans with Mexicans, Filipinos with Filipinos, Russians with Russians, Persians with Persians, “White” Jews with “White” Jews, African Americans with African Americans, Armenians with Armenians, Indians with Indians, Lower Class WASPs with Lower Class WASPs, etc. I could go on and on. And this is happening in public schools with students of very diverse backgrounds. I realize that this phenomenon is not occuring nationwide but certainly in Southern California. So, while these schools are not homogeneous, students still resort to clan mentality and find a way to gravitate, by and large, to their own peeps. So much for non-elitist education trying to unite the many races and classes.

    3) My poor and mediocre public education taught me to to believe that people who didn’t go to an equally poor and mediocre school weren’t worth talking to, regardless of their class.

    4) Mediocre universities … select for and develop one form of intelligence: average intelligence. … social intelligence and emotional intelligence and creative ability, to name just three other forms, are not distributed preferentially among the educational mediocre.

    5) At mediocre colleges and universities you also get an endless string of second chances. In fact, I’ve had classes where if you were to acquire the maximum extra credit points available, you could take your grade from a C+ to an A-. Now that’s a lot of extra credit points. Not to mention the chance of turning in every paper or project in 2 or (less common) 4 weeks overdue.

    6)A poor or mediocre education gives you the chance to be (let’s be honest here)just another Joe with a degree. If Joe is lucky enough to have a moderately rich family, well then his chances of starting his own business, putting a down payment on a house, purchasing a new, reliable vehicle are dramatically increased. If mediocre Joe is fortunate enough to have some money in the family, then the probability of Joe going on to earning a PhD are also dramatically increased. Too bad that most mediocre Joes with mediocre education DO NOT have money in the family. So instead they take out university loans to pursue that PhD and end up being in dept for a long long long time while living in a cheap apartment and wishing that they had not the financial strain that prevents them from taking on writing poetry or painting.

    Where there’s a will there’s a way, but it’s not necessarily the smartest or most advantages way.

    7) If you truly believe that students from elite universities like Yale or Harvard are “content to color within the lines that their education had marked out for them. And that only a small minority have seen their education as part of a larger intellectual journey,” try sitting in a classroom or hall packed with mediocre students at a mediocre university…you’d come out of there having lost faith in the human race! Am I being drastic? yes, to prove a point. I have sat through many hours of lecture and laboratory classes at mediocre state universities and have disdained all but a selected handful. Why? Simply put, these institutions function more like automobile manufacturing plants than they do like places of higher learning. In these mediocre universities you’re lucky to reach your senior year philosophy seminar before you’re expected to ask “the big questions.” I’m talking about truly revolutionary questions, not just the same old questions that Kant or Foucault asked.

    Would I trade my poor and mediocre secondary and post-secondary education for an elite education that AT THE VERY LEAST guarantees that the “institution’s name on a piece of paper” will get me the interviews that “Mediocre Joe” could only dream of getting? You bet your sweet self I would!

  • Pingback: disadvantages elite education « education webs

  • Pingback: xoxoANP! » Blog Archive » Intellectuals cannot be engineered