Monday, June 23, 2008

A response to Professor X, Part III: Do Yalies dream of being excellent sheep?

I hadn't intended to post again till I was back in Wichita, but this (I think) is worth breaking Internet silence.

Via j.d. over at Evolution comes "The Disadvantages of an Elite Education" by William Deresiewicz. It touches and expands on some points I made in Parts I and II of this series, for whatever that might be worth to you.


Raminagrobis said...

If that article does indeed give an accurate picture of the the way things are, it’s pretty worrying. But I don’t recognize it. Much of what he says might have held for, say, the Paris of the middle ages (where the division between University and Town was so prounounced that they were actually separate jurisdictions, and members of the University were not legally bound by the same authorities as the townsfolk); but for the modern context? Hardly.

I think people grossly overstate the role a university education has to play in fashioning a person’s character. They worry that universities aren’t doing enough to equip their charges with a broad range of life skills. What they’re missing is the simple fact that it is no longer (and shouldn’t be) the job of a university to inculcate moral precepts and social skills. We get them in other ways, by living life. University is, and should be, just a small part of any person’s wider education. And all this hand-wringing about the failure of universities to do more is massively hubristic and self-regarding: just accept that university is not the be-all and end-all of everything; accept that it is only has a minor and limited role to play in forming the individual.

I believe the determining factor is much more likely to be individual personality than the educational system. Baldly deterministic statements like ‘an elite education…makes you incapable of talking to people who aren’t like you’ quite clearly reflect little more than the author’s own hangups and insecurities. He needs to get over himself. If he doesn’t know how to make smalltalk with a plumber, that’s his own personal failure, not the failure of the educational system. If he is not equipped with the requisite social skills to function outside of the coteries of academia, that’s his problem, and he should try to do something about it. No need for large scale reforms of the educational system: Il faut cultiver son jardin.

R. Sherman said...

One wonders whether the author ever had the ability or willingness for that matter, to talk to the hoi polloi in the first instance. I echo Raminagrobis' remarks above, but it seems rather narcissistic to blame an educational system for one's own personality flaws.


Cordelia said...

Nice riff on Philip K Dick for your title. Yalie androids, nice ! Did you see the article in the NYTimes this morning about Harvard students marching lockstep toward Wall Street instead of working in any public service ?

Winston said...

Have you ever taken a look at the lists of known members of Yale's Skull and Bones Society? Wikipedia has a partial listing, and there are others scattered around. I worked directly for one of them at one time in the corporate world. It was quite scary what he could accomplish just by making a quick phone call to one of his brothers in high places. Scary...

Paul Decelles said...

Welcome back John,

The article had some valid points but I don't think you can skewer elite colleges to the exclusion of other institutions. Many of my students come into college thinking for instance that biology is all about filling in little blanks on diagrams rather than about lots of cool stuff.

I think the writer just has some issues with Yale...maybe couldn't get the position he wanted, else he would not romanticize "second tier" institutions with his students there don't get second chances clap trap.