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.