Sunday, July 06, 2008

On 'elite' education

Stopped by ShrinkWrapped(you should check it out), and ran across this post on the changes happening in universities as many of the 60's nutcase radicals who became professors are retiring. It had a link to this article on the disadvantages of an 'elite' education. You really need to read it. Besides touching on something Kim has written about- colleges becoming virtual technical schools- the attitudes the author notes are just amazing. First paragraph really sums it up quite nicely:
It didn’t dawn on me that there might be a few holes in my education until I was about 35. I’d just bought a house, the pipes needed fixing, and the plumber was standing in my kitchen. There he was, a short, beefy guy with a goatee and a Red Sox cap and a thick Boston accent, and I suddenly learned that I didn’t have the slightest idea what to say to someone like him. So alien was his experience to me, so unguessable his values, so mysterious his very language, that I couldn’t succeed in engaging him in a few minutes of small talk before he got down to work. Fourteen years of higher education and a handful of Ivy League dees, and there I was, stiff and stupid, struck dumb by my own dumbness. “Ivy retardation,” a friend of mine calls this. I could carry on conversations with people from other countries, in other languages, but I couldn’t talk to the man who was standing in my own house.
That is just, for lack of a better phrase, downright amazing. Apparently the idea of saying "How's the day been?", or something like that didn't even occur: he was too busy seeing a savage from the Outer Reaches to do that. At least he realizes that there IS a problem, though; too many of his class don't even see that.

And he does see it:
But it isn’t just a matter of class. 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. I was given the unmistakable message that such people were beneath me. We were “the best and the brightest,” as these places love to say, and everyone else was, well, something else: less good, less bright. I learned to give that little nod of understanding, that slightly sympathetic “Oh,” when people told me they went to a less prestigious college. (If I’d gone to Harvard, I would have learned to say “in Boston” when I was asked where I went to school—the Cambridge version of noblesse oblige.) I never learned that there are smart people who don’t go to elite colleges, often precisely for reasons of class. I never learned that there are smart people who don’t go to college at all.
He even notes what Kim wrote about:
When elite universities boast that they teach their students how to think, they mean that they teach them the analytic and rhetorical skills necessary for success in law or medicine or science or business. But a humanistic education is supposed to mean something more than that, as universities still dimly feel. So when students get to college, they hear a couple of speeches telling them to ask the big questions, and when they graduate, they hear a couple more speeches telling them to ask the big questions. And in between, they spend four years taking courses that train them to ask the little questions—specialized courses, taught by specialized professors, aimed at specialized students. Although the notion of breadth is implicit in the very idea of a liberal arts education, the admissions process increasingly selects for kids who have already begun to think of themselves in specialized terms—the junior journalist, the budding astronomer, the language prodigy. We are slouching, even at elite schools, toward a glorified form of vocational training.

But even after writing this, the view he has of other than 'elite' schools is right out there in front:
In short, the way students are treated in college trains them for the social position they will occupy once they get out. At schools like Cleveland State, they’re being trained for positions somewhere in the middle of the class system, in the depths of one bureaucracy or another. They’re being conditioned for lives with few second chances, no extensions, little support, narrow opportunity—lives of subordination, supervision, and control, lives of deadlines, not guidelines. At places like Yale, of course, it’s the reverse. The elite like to think of themselves as belonging to a meritocracy, but that’s true only up to a point. Getting through the gate is very difficult, but once you’re in, there’s almost nothing you can do to get kicked out.
It just doesn't seem to occur that going to someplace like Cleveland State, or OU or OSU, can mean getting a damn good education for a lot less money, oh no: you're being trained for your proper 'social position'. Doesn't seem to bounce of his head that if the graduates from there have trouble getting into higher reaches of some fields, it might at times be because the 'elites' from the Ivy-covered-brain League who are already in the higher offices often want someone 'like themselves' under them, not somebody who went to a state college. You hear the voice of Fraser Crane repeatedly dropping "I went to Harvard" and teaching his son disgust with people who are home-schooled, or didn't go to the 'proper' private schools, or went to a (horror!) state college.

The students(and parents of) he writes of are generally also the ones who have disgust at the idea of actually working with their hands(except in a proper social project, of course), and disgust for the people who get their hands dirty. Whether plumber, carpenter, machinist, mechanic, soldier... that's for the lower classes, you know, who can't do better. They're the ones like someone I used to know who bitched at regular intervals how they had a degree and this and that in their background, and yet they're not being paid what they're worth. And they're pissed that the people with dirty hands often get more respect and make better money than they do.

Read it.
Read it. In wonder, at the attitude so many of our future 'leaders' have, and how they're getting them.


Anonymous said...

Great post, I know what you mean, although I can sympathise with the hairyback's predicament.

Chances are Kim's plumber was at least as bright as he is (which probably isn't quite as bright as he thinks he is, but that is true of most of humanity, self included...)...

The problem comes when the "proletariat" can only talk about spectator sport, TV and drink

Then it's time for a complete disconnect.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I have too much to say about it here, I'll write more as Og.

Last Chance Safari Company said...

I was one of those that you speak thirty years ago I graduated from Cornell university, and spent the next twenty years, covering up for the comments that you made here, that those of us that degreed from those prestigious universities think more highly of ourselves than those that didn't have the opportunity to attend, My oldest daughter is a senior in engineering this year on the dean's list, and is starting to have the same feelings, questioning whether to be overt and proud of her education or whether the criticisms laid forth are just... my answer to her and to you are the same. If you got your education because your daddy paid for it- and he didn't- hang your head, but if you worked long and hard to get there, and just as dilligently to get on the dean's list, with a list of credits and impressed proffessores to your credit, then go into the world and make it a better place, but don't ever expect anyone to respect you for where you went, you will get respect when you show them how you got there.