"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Saturday, June 28, 2008

for everything else, there is mastercard--and Yale

Did you ever think there might be a disadvantage to a degree from an elite school? Check this out from Goatsmilk:

Our best universities have forgotten that the reason they exist is to make minds, not careers

By William Deresiewicz

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. . . .


  1. Fascinating thought, isn't it? We are pushed towards this ideal world in which we are surrounded by the educated few and we can live in our nice suburbs far away from the gas stations and the diners and the people we see as somehow below us. In reality we're just isolating ourselves from the real world, the people we should be communicating with. It's a question my friends and I have tossed around over many a beer - when does talking about the world from a "high theory" sort of perspective (what we call it) come back and bite us in the ass because we can't communicate with the people who are really making the world work?

    Sidenote: I came across your blog a few weeks ago and have been reading up whenever I can. It has certainly expanded the way I think about this whole education business and, as a hopeful future educator, I thank you very much.

  2. Aw, Jeez. After this endless whining about the HYPed schools of the Ivy League, what is the point? Of course they admit the children of the rich and send them off to get rich and keep the system going. Of course the children of the rich are often dolts. Of course these dolts often rise to the top of the heap, just as dumb as they were from birth. And, of course, the country is going to hell led by morons.

    But this is hardly new. Emerson complained that Thoreau wasn't career-oriented -- that he could have been head of a railroad instead of living in the woods -- that, in other words, he was a failure.

    I think a much more relevant point is that the schools themselves are so lax. Filled with professors famed for scholarship that is usually not worth the trouble it takes to decipher and debunk, they need teach nothing at all, provided they continue to contribute to the tens of thousands of journals created to honor their existence.

    By becoming diploma mills for the rich, admitting the test-wise, teaching no one and passing everyone, and assuring success more by their skill in public relations than their commitment to public service, these schools for the elect do more harm than good.

    On the other hand, those who survive the large and unsympathetic public universities are hardened to meet the real challenges of the world -- and few have trouble talking to a plumber. When the nation falls to its knees, we should look to the graduates of Berkeley, Ann Arbor, or Madison to lift us up again.