Tuesday, June 28, 2011

How Elite Education causes a disconnect..... or Form over Function

There is a fantastic article by William Deresiewicz that starts with his epiphany moment:  that he could not find common ground to talk to a man who came to fix his plumbing.  He's an Ivy Leaguer, start to finish, and the one thing that the Ivy League does is insulate you from ideas and people who are not also in the Ivy League.  It teaches that diversity really is only skin deep because diversity of ideas is non-existent.  It's more than worth reading the whole thing but here's an excerpt: 
An elite education not only ushers you into the upper classes; it trains you for the life you will lead once you get there. I didn’t understand this until 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. Extensions are available for the asking; threats to deduct credit for missed classes are rarely, if ever, carried out. In other words, students at places like Yale get an endless string of second chances. Not so at places like Cleveland State. My friend once got a D in a class in which she’d been running an A because she was coming off a waitressing shift and had to hand in her term paper an hour late.
 This article goes straight to the heart of what is going wrong with this country.  You have a set of elitists, by education and training.  They have been lauded and soundly applauded as special snowflakes.  They have not been taught how to think or even how to relate to others who are not like them--they have no diversity of thought.  As one of his students quoted in his piece put it “So are you saying that we’re all just, like, really excellent sheep?”

The problem with the 'elite' universities creating a bunch of "really excellent sheep", is that those sheep are supposed to be running our country.  Americans have fallen into the trap that equates elite education with good education or with education as it used to be--something that fosters an ability to look at a situation, any situation, critically and logically.  That fact that  Deresiewicz mustered enough introspection to write the article is frankly amazing considering the indoctrination he has experienced in his life. 

The eliterati are incapable, by virtue of their education and upbringing, to make the hard decisions, to relate to anyone not of their socioeconomic class.  Cartoons, such as Day by Day, often show Obama and company as the French aristocracy, and that's not all that far from the truth.  They have been living life in a rather large and opulent hamster ball and are isolated from any consequences of their actions.  They are takers and not givers.  Their idea of helping someone is writing a check (usually using someone else's money) instead of actually getting out there and getting dirty.  As Deresiewicz says, the elite universities create leaders, not thinkers.  What we need is thinkers who are not afraid to get dirty, whose raison d'etre is to not hold onto power, but to use power in a limited fashion to enhance freedoms, not stifle them. 

But as long as the American public buys into the idea that someone else knows better what is good for all, as long as those elected keep passing laws and rule  by executive fiat, nothing will change.  Americans have allowed a ruling class to develop in opposition to everything this country was built upon.  Do we really want those in positions of power who can't even muster a conversation with another American??


Brigid said...

Opulent hamster ball. Oh my, yes.

There's nothing worse than people who have become educated so as to know how to read, but in such a manner, that they do not know what is WORTH reading.

Midwest Chick said...

Exactly. And that's what the Ivys are doing. Unfortunately they are the model that others are emulating. I still think of the study where students know LESS about civics and western history coming out of college (and were even worse coming out of the Ivys) than they did going in.