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    The American ScholarWilliam Deresiewicz6/1/0830 min
    21 reads25 comments
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    The American Scholar
    21 reads
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    • carrie233 years ago

      Many good insights here. I am curious to know why we are reading it 10 years post publication.

      • bill
        Top reader of all timeScout
        3 years ago

        because it's evergreen AF :)

    • adww894 years ago

      Also he kept harping on the fact that elite universities don't encourage students to 'ask the big questions' but rather 'train them to ask the little questions.' He declares that elite universities are moving toward vocational training, but again offers no evidence to back them up (even names of sample courses would be useful here). What I feel like he's splitting hairs here. Teaching students to be analytical thinkers provides them with the fundamental skills necessary to ask the 'big questions.'

      • bill
        Top reader of all timeScout
        3 years ago

        Well said. The last sentence is right on. (I'm commenting on this article so it gets bumped up to Article of the Day tomorrow!)

    • erica4 years ago

      I went to Stanford undergrad and Dartmouth business school, so I was immediately on the defensive. I have to roll my eyes at this guy for criticizing Ivy Leagues after reaping their benefits for 24 years. His inability to communicate with people who are different from him sounds like a personal problem. I find it easy to talk to anyone, regardless of class, and am very comfortable around the teachers, parents, custodial staff, and vendors at my school in Ward 8 of Washington, D.C. I don't believe people who didn't go to an Ivy League school or equivalent are beneath me. I have tons of friends who didn't go to these schools who are way smarter than me. This guy just needs to branch out more. Apparently he did so eventually, and then wrote this article. Good for him.

      He offers Al Gore and John Kerry as examples of people who received elite educations and were incapable of connecting with the larger electorate. I wonder what he would say about Obama, who connected wonderfully with the vast majority of the country, despite attending Columbia and Harvard. There seem to be more factors at play here.

      He writes about elite institutions as devoid of creativity and risk-taking. I wonder how entrepreneurship factors into his framework. Maybe he thinks this is just another form of students doing what they think others want them to do, since entrepreneurship is the new cool thing.

      But some parts did resonate. The entitlement that comes from getting extensions any time I asked, the grade inflation, thinking that becoming a schoolteacher would be a waste of my expensive education, the fear of failure. This is terrifying, and rang true: "The liberal arts university is becoming the corporate university."

      • jeff
        Scout
        4 years ago

        He offers Al Gore and John Kerry as examples of people who received elite educations and were incapable of connecting with the larger electorate.

        Those examples were so stupid. There's nothing wrong with just taking a purely personal overview of something you've experienced first hand and feel passionate about but he should have kept it at that. His couple attempts at veering towards an objective argument just served to weaken his overall position. But hey, what do you expect from a Yalie?

        I have tons of friends who didn't go to these schools who are way smarter than me.

        Thanks for the shout-out 😎

        • erica4 years ago

          Hahaha who says you're smarter than me?? Just because you built the website I'm using to communicate with you doesn't mean anything ... :)

          • bill
            Top reader of all timeScout
            3 years ago

            if jeff can build the pizza challenge in a week he's smarter than everyone

      • bill
        Top reader of all timeScout
        4 years ago

        I don't think Obama connected "wonderfully with the vast majority of the country." Intellectual elitism is a hallmark of his presidency, one of his biggest flaws, and definitely a function of his higher education, not his upbringing.

        • emily4 years ago

          Except he did, though, based on his election ...

          • bill
            Top reader of all timeScout
            4 years ago

            His approval ratings were up and down, and a ton of people (who later voted for Trump) never connected with him specifically because of his Ivy-elitist vibe.

      • bill
        Top reader of all timeScout
        4 years ago

        Glad you brought up entrepreneurship! In my experience, it has two definitions - one for grads from elite academia and one for everyone else. For people from top schools, entrepreneurship means starting a scalable tech business with money from silicon valley and/or wealthy family members. An "exit" is essential and getting rich is the point, although some social purpose might be involved. For everyone else, it just means being your own boss, doing your own thing, like starting a small business or even freelancing.

    • jlcipriani4 years ago

      OMG!!!!! What godawful pretentious self-involved twaddle! I disliked this piece and this author so much on first reading that I may try to go back and read it again on a different day to see if my capacity for compassion will reassert itself. Right now I just feel dismissive and rejecting. I find his tone throughout to be unbearably self-congratulatory - he is impressed with himself for going to Ivy League schools - and equally impressed with himself for how insightful he is at noting the perceived ill-effects of attending Ivy League schools. A little less narcissism might have helped him to notice that hardworking people are as common as ID card systems - even out among the plumbers, public university-attendees and other incomprehensible members of the hoi polloi.

      He takes no responsibility for his own social skills – and apparently he entered college bereft of any other influences and has never spoken to anyone since who didn’t attend an Ivy. Parents (a frequent source of social skills training), friends, teachers, TV, Stephen King – nothing seems to have impacted his view of the world at all. It’s actually pretty sad. Now I kind of feel like a jerk for railing about him.

      The most interesting thought in the article was the Emerson quote that, “one of the purposes of friendship is to equip you for solitude.” I see how friendship – with its joys and rigors may equip one to enjoy solitude – but am less sure how it equips one to handle solitude except through reflecting on pleasant memories and the anticipation of future time with friends.

      • bill
        Top reader of all timeScout
        3 years ago

        That's the best comment of 2017.

    • sjwoo4 years ago

      True that elite universities produced John Kerry and W...but they also produced Gates, Brin/Page, Zuckerberg...Windows, Google, Facebook. [I'd put Jobs/Reed College/Apple in the mix, too.] Certainly these "elites" knew something about the "unwashed masses" -- otherwise, how could they have created entities with such broad-based appeal/application?

      This essay is the very definition of cherry-picking. And one that speaks not so much about the narrowness of elite education but the narrowness of the life led by writer himself. There are students who attend Ivy League schools from families that barely scrape by...I should know, because I was one of those students.

      In my current job, I work with a guy who never went to college and is one of the brightest associates in my department. It took me about a week to figure that out, and another week to leverage his knowledge to get our project done in record time. Contrary to what Deresiewicz writes here, it is very possible for elites and non-elites to work together.

      • bill
        Top reader of all timeScout
        4 years ago

        Some industries and companies, though, are better at identifying and promoting the people who have huge potential but don't have great "education" sections on their resumes.

    • Jank4 years ago

      William Deresiewicz is a whiny, boring, unrelateable victim of an Ivy League education who sucks. I wonder if in the nine years since he wrote this article he finally took public transportation, went to a baseball game or even went to the hardware store by himself. This man has no agency, blaming his lack of life experience and poor social skills on his time spent in school. A part-time customer service job or moving gig could have grounded his humanity with the rest of America who benefited from not attending his university.

      • jamie4 years ago

        It feels like he is the spoiled kid in the room that needs everyone to notice him and react. He should be ignored and cast aside like the attention seeker and narcissistic silly-man he is. There are many ways people like this can engage in a better and more soulful life. BUT, could it be that he knew this would be received as pure snobbery and he was hoping for the exact reactions everyone had? Is he the antagonist who struck a cord with some peoples passions. Reacting passionately about this article might be exactly the mission. If so, brilliant! If not, pure silliness.

        • jeff
          Scout
          4 years ago

          I had the same thought after reading this. He does kind of prove his own point in a roundabout way with his insufferable writing style. My bet, however, is that this guy is legitimately so far up his own ass that he can't even see the irony in it. Like you said though, if this was a self-aware piece, mad props!

          • jamie4 years ago

            I couldn't imagine a dinner with this man, jeeesh, he would bore the hell out of me.

    • jamie4 years ago

      I am not sure how to react, I did not feel any compassion for this man but oddly I felt a sadness for a lack of connection he seems to cherish. It seemed like he was baiting the readers to react negatively to the piece. I am not going to fall for it, I just found him and his needed elitism boring.

    • turtlebubble4 years ago

      Really interesting read. Hated him in the beginning and felt for him in the end. The whole first point pertaining to interpersonal skills, understanding of the myriad of intelligence and valuing other human beings should not be expected to start at college! These qualities are not the responsibility of any educational institution. It would be great if these ideas were taught and even more so fostered throughout human development, but I think the lack of humanity in education is what made me so disinterested in school in the first place. It is my assumption that a lot of people prepping for an elite school know these facts but are more concerned with the personal gain and promise of a wealthy future. I also believe a lot of people prepping for these kinds of colleges are aware of many of the downfalls mentioned but do dream of the romanticized experience of real top notch thinkers learning and bettering themselves in an institution that does award many resources which would aide in making the world a better place! That's where I felt for him at the end. I think he had hoped that would be the majority and wondered if his students had lost their inspiration or if it were never there at all. I don't believe the majority of people attending these schools are alternative thinkers looking to innovate and better the world. I do know there are a good number of them, I know a few myself, but I don't think its the universities that are normalizing the students I simply think the majority are there to use them for what they proven to be good at: graduating money makers.

      I was struck by another point which 'big' or 'free' thinking being delivered only when instructed. That is a freaky thought to me which I've wondered sometimes with our generation: are we just performing the role of being philanthropic or empathetic because it has been proven to be valuable? Because we all like to feel like we are helping a cause so a company donating some portion of sales to something makes it is more profitable? Of course I like this trend and think any money going to a need shouldn't be scoffed at but I do think it makes it harder to determine individuals intentions. Similar to huge corporations mandating meditation retreats etc. Is introspection at all beneficial if it is goal oriented? i.e. to get a good grade or a promotion or even worse to be better than those around you

    • emily4 years ago

      Interesting stuff, but feels tortured from an analytic standpoint (apparently one I am very familiar with!). The pieces about cost feel almost completely divorced from reality:

      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. Yet the opportunity not to be rich is one of the greatest opportunities with which young Americans have been blessed.

      Most young Americans - even a large swath of those at the elite universities - will struggle with student loan debt for years, which isn't mentioned here at all. The race to the top of the US News rankings for colleges isn't mentioned - that affects the "second tier" universities just as much as the elite universities. And how can you look at a segment of students going to "second tier" universities and say:

      These are the kinds of kids who are likely, once they get to college, to be more interested in the human spirit than in school spirit, and to think about leaving college bearing questions, not resumés.

      What does that even mean??

      • adww894 years ago

        I was equally confused when he wrote:

        These are the kinds of kids who are likely, once they get to college, to be more interested in the human spirit than in school spirit, and to think about leaving college bearing questions, not resumés.

    • adww894 years ago

      WOW I have so many thoughts about this piece. In no particular order:

      @Erica, I completely agree with you RE his entire section of the elite not being able to relate to average people. I think that his own issue that he can't relate to his plumber....I went to Williams with people from a wide swath of socio-economic strata, and have worked with people from very different backgrounds than my own, and have never felt like I could not hold a conversation with them. I found this line "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" SO CRINGE.

      I also thought that his paragraph glorifying 'the opportunity not to be rich' was cloying. I have a feeling he does not drive a Honda, and does not vacation in FL. A staggering percentage of my classmates have gone on to work in education, non-profits, and in other 'meaningful' careers (and my class was not an anomaly). I also find it extremely reductive that he only considers those careers to be the ones with meaning. I can promise you that there are ways to find meaningful work across sectors.

      Equally reductive was his point about students at elite schools behind petrified of failure. I am POSITIVE that students at second and third tier schools are equally uncomfortable with failure.

      @Erica & @Bill I agree that he completely ignores entrepreneurship by saying "This is not to say that students from elite colleges never pursue a riskier or less lucrative course after graduation, but even when they do, they tend to give up more quickly than others." This feels incredibly anecdotal- he literally cites one friend who stopped writing poetry after a year. There are legions of startups founded by grads of elite universities (Harry's, Warby Parker, AllBirds, Birchbox, SeatGeek, Flexport etc etc).

      Another prime example of his utter lack of data and hard evidence is when he writes "students from elite schools tend to graduate with less debt and are more likely to be able to float by on family money for a while. " He's totally ignoring the fact that our entire generation is choked by student loans, and that burden is often what compels people to take more corporate and established careers.

      I will say that I agree with his points about students at elite schools having myriad second chances and opportunities. I was definitely shocked to read that section about his friend at Cleveland State. I honestly had no idea it was like that.

      Finally, this is a personal issue, but I find his definition of 'elite universities' as a category that begins and ends with the Ivy League, while all liberal arts schools are summarily lumped into the second tier as indicative of his own shortsighted elitism.