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The Educated Sheep Of The Ivy League

With guest host Jane Clayson.

A loud complaint that some top American colleges are turning out “excellent sheep.” A sharp critique of the Ivy League.

An image from the Princeton University campus. (Instagram / @JessHeart23)

An image from the Princeton University campus. (Instagram / @JessHeart23)

All around this country, the freshman Class of 2019 is packing its bags and will soon be pouring into college campuses in an excited babble.  It has been a long slog for them and their families –SATs, applications, pulling together financing.  And for a very few, fortunate members of this class, the smell of fall in the air is even sweeter as they head to one of the nation’s eight Ivy League colleges.  But don’t feel jealous, says our guest today.  These top schools aren’t offering the great, mind-expanding education you think they are.  This hour, On Point:  A big critique from within the Ivy League.

– Jane Clayson 

Guests

 William Deresiewicz, essayist and author. Author of the new book “Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite.” Also author of  “A Jane Austen Education.”

Yishai Schwartz, reporter / researcher at the New Republic. (@YishaiSchwartz)

Alexander Nazaryan, senior writer at Newsweek. (@alexnazaryan)

From The Reading List

The New Republic: An Attack on the Ivy League Is an Attack on Meritocracy Itself — “In Deresiewicz’s hands, the word ‘meritocracy’ becomes a canard, as he condemns the Ivy League for creating a perverse incentive-structure and credential rat-race that prevents students from ‘building a soul.’ According to Deresiewicz, the Ivy League’s cutthroat social competition and superficial standards for success drive students (and potential applicants) in artificial, anti-intellectual, and anti-contemplative directions. “

Newsweek: American Horror, Ivy League Edition — “Deresiewicz writes under the implicit assumption that his readers agree with him about what constitutes a “meaningful life” and are, in fact, hubristic enough to judge whether the life of another lonely, confused and bewildered human has ‘meaning’ or not. Though he uses the word on nearly a dozen occasions in the book, it is never quite clear what he means by it, even if his lament for English majors is a pretty good clue.”

Chronicle of Higher Education: William Deresiewicz’s Weird Anti-Ivy Elitism – “Deresiewicz makes a fair point about the absurdity of the college-admissions process in the United States. As a graduate student, working at the writing center, I read many essays written by undergraduates hoping to attend med school that relied on the trope of the Doctor Without Borders (in the vein of  ‘ … as I held the cholera-stricken toddlers, I knew I wanted to go to medical school. … ‘) to try to get traction in an expensive, obscure, and insanely competitive process.”

Read An Excerpt of “Excellent Sheep” by William Deresiewicz

 

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  • Agni Ashwin

    It’s getting hot in here.

  • Expanded_Consciousness

    Poor students. They have to compete in a competitive world. Boo-hoo.

    Universities are offering the same humanities courses they always have: literature, film, history, philosophy, culture studies, media studies, technology studies, etc.

  • Jim

    it is not about the education, don’t you see? it is all about the connections with the elite workforce… that is what ivy league students are shooting for.

  • Jeff

    I think the big issue is that most of these students come in as good students so these schools essentially just become large holding tanks where they keep kids in a holding pattern for 4 years. Plus there is the problem with confirmation bias where they think they’re the smartest people because they’re surrounded by others that think like they do…my guess it that many of these ivy league students just go even further into the liberal ideology and any other viewpoints are suppressed.

    • http://hammernews.com/ hammermann

      You are right- very smart people are usually liberal because they absorb and process many points of view without the fear, hatred, and repression that underlies so much conservative, now extreme radical, “thought”.

      • Jeff

        Actually I see far more hatred on the left, they are the ones that attack a minority group and say things like “you didn’t build that” and assume they are entitled to another person’s hard earned dollars.

        100% equality treatment under the law is not hateful.

        • hennorama

          Jeff — again with the completely out of context “you didn’t build that” crapola?

          Seriously?

          • Jeff

            It was in context…he was talking about infrastructure, small businesses definitely contribute to the tax base which is used to pay for infrastructure. To suggest that business owners didn’t contribute or need to contribute more when 47% of people aren’t even paying FIT is dishonest and still offensive…that’s completely “in context”.

          • hennorama

            Jeff — thank you for your response.

            You are persistent in your errors.

            An excerpt of the President’s words are in the comment linked to above, which contains this paragraph (emphasis added):

            If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

            So the President, just in that single paragraph, mentioned:

            “a great teacher”
            “this unbelievable American system”
            “roads and bridges”

            all prior to your out-of-context sentence fragment, then added:

            “the Internet.”

            In addition, your statement that “47% of people aren’t even paying FIT” is out of date, and too high compared to the most recent estimates, and is misleading in that the Federal Income Tax (FIT) is far from the only tax that Americans pay, and certainly is not the main source of funding for infrastructure.

          • Jeff

            Tax payers pay for the “great teacher”, they support the “American system” and they are paying for “roads and bridges”. For Obama to suggest that they don’t contribute to those things is still offensive!!! How do you not get that!? I hope you have the same disdain for the 47% who don’t contribute to those basics of life and don’t pay Federal Income Taxes.

  • Michiganjf

    Thanks for this excellent post!

    I look forward to poring over the linked material you’ve provided.

  • Fiscally_Responsible

    Of course, part of the sheepish product would be the liberal, secular humanistic, anti-God, “the bigger the government, the better” perspective and political philosophy held by virtually all universities in this country including the Ivy League schools.

    • jimino

      The idea that Ivy Leaguers’ education is geared toward using the collective resources, exemplified by our form of government, for the common good, rather than making them as rich as humanly possible by whatever means necessary, is another of your pathetically ignorant comments.

      But since you raised the issue, aren’t your ilk the ones who have raise homo sapiens into God-like status? You know, the whole image-and-likeness-of-God thing.

    • TFRX

      Are you huffing too much of that movie God’s Not Dead?

      • Fiscally_Responsible

        Apparently, everyone but you knows that most universities are a cauldron of left wing, humanistic philosophy resulting in the mass production of cookie cutter liberals.

        • jefe68

          Ignorant is as ignorant does.

        • TFRX

          “Everybody…knows?”

          Thanks for making me incredibly unintendingly prescient. I didn’t set out to invent an axiom, but:

          Whenever a right-winger says We can all agree…, it’s the time to stop listening

      • jefe68

        “There ain’t no devil, only God when he’s drunk.”
        ― Tom Waits

    • J__o__h__n

      Doesn’t Christianity use the metaphor of a follower being a sheep as ideal behavior?

    • Ray in VT

      It must be a shame to not have one’s favorite myths held up as absolute Truths just because they aren’t supported by facts. Nothing seems to me to be any more anti-intellectual and sheepish as taking a super old religious book and considering it to be an absolute source of knowledge and Truth.

  • toc1234

    its the course catalogue. any course/depts added in the last 30yrs (aside from CS) are just feel-good grade-inflating fluff which really only exist to employ professors and staff rather than actually prepare students for the real world….

    • AC

      you mean like underwater basket weaving?

  • http://www.facebook.com/loring.palmer.9 L Swift Palmer

    Hooray for Tim Weiskel and his outstanding critique. He should be one of the guests on this ‘show’ on so called, ‘higher education’.

  • jefe68

    Let’s talk about grade inflation and creating an environment that fosters mediocrity.

    • Mari McAvenia

      Yes, let’s. BU may not host such a talk, however. Shareholder values and all. If the word “Boston” is in it that means money, baby. “Keep your mouth shut and fill in the financial forms correctly” is hardly the route to civil discourse. Or higher education.

  • Human2013

    It’s troubling that a disproportionate number of the most disciplined students are entering the elusive pit of toxic financial products. They will go on to create the most complex financial instruments that will lead to an economic collapse.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    Adolph Hitler used to remark incredulously that soldiers would die for their country for a little piece of silk or ribbon. The mortarboard and gown is the modern equivalent: all that time, effort, energy, and money for a little piece of paper and a moment Mom and Pops can be proud of.

    CA-CHING go the cash registers at fine colleges and universities, everywhere. “We thank you for your support.”

  • Jon

    what’s the meaning of life? I’d love to hear what the guest speaker would say – don’t just point out those kids wondering about that isn’t enough

  • Mari McAvenia

    Are many of these “excellent sheep” really just better cheaters than their less affluent peers? Where and how do legacy enrollments come into the picture?.

    • TFRX

      There’s also the self-selection by income shown in the test-prep industry.

      I took my SATs without any of those Kaplan things, as they didn’t exist then. (Not to reveal my age, but I took my SATs by pressing a sharpened reed into a damp clay tablet.)

      I don’t know the “conversion rate” between what was a good score when I was in HS v. today. And that well-off kids take these courses as a matter of regularity, whereas when we get to the lower-middle and working classes, it’s another story.

      EDIT: Among a certain socioeconomic class, SAT test prepping is pro-forma. A bit further down, it’s a fairly solid investment which doesn’t require much coin. But proceed far enough down the ladder and it’s a gamble with an uncertain payoff, bringing with it a myriad of questions about scare resources.

      • Mari McAvenia

        My daughter took the SATs at age 12 and earned a higher score than the average college freshman, in the verbal section, and an average score in the math without ever having taken any advanced math courses. She was identified as a “gifted student” by Johns Hopkins and was eligible to take AP courses at several New England colleges. Because we lived on an island with no higher educational institutions and my income as a single mother was barely enough to house and feed my 2 kids, we were not able to take advantage of the “gifted” programs. She hasn’t spoken to me for years. ( A poor, hard working mother is eminently disposable in the eyes of the “gifted”, I guess. )

        • TFRX

          “Higher than average college freshman on verbal” speaks to, I guess, a lot of reading, and what sounds like no shortage of interesting conversation* at home. I would hazard to guess that this “byproduct” process makes her more rounded.

          *I don’t mean TED Talk Jr. But it sounds like you did something right in upbringinger. Congrats on that part. (The ingratitude is another story.)

          This island isn’t Vinalhaven, off Maine, is it?

          • Mari McAvenia

            No. Martha’s Vineyard. I had to move away the year she graduated from HS, there. Couldn’t make enough – as a blue collar worker by day and a freelance journalist at night – to keep up with the sky-rocketing inflation which took over in the late 90s when the Clintons came to town. Thanks for the complement. Yes, we had GREAT conversations at home. I miss her so bad it hurts. ( She also earned a place as a competitor at the National Spelling Bee in DC. That was fun! I never needed to use the spellchecker on my computer when she was around.)

          • TFRX

            But I have it on the highest Mainstream Media authority that the only people on the Vineyard are lefty celebrities, Democrats who should be vacationing in Swingstates!, old money keeping hidden, and charming locals working at The Black Dog. :-)

            (For the latter, think Julia Roberts and Anna Gish in “Mystic Pizza”, except not on the mainland.)

          • Mari McAvenia

            It takes a LOT of money to be poor on Martha’s Vineyard. Seriously. Wasn’t always like that, though. The “haves” NEVER mingle with the “have nots”. It’s a very rigid, if unspoken, rule there.

          • Don_B1

            I suspect it is a growing rule everywhere. With the growth in inequality, the people who are at the top are unknown to even the ones who make up to $1 million or more.

          • TFRX

            “It takes a lot of money to be poor on Martha’s Vineyard.”*

            If that’s not an axiom already, we should make it one. You really should sell that on bumper stickers.

            *(And as DonB1 added, it’s not just MV.)

        • Don_B1

          Reading your story of raising your daughter with limited means led me to conflate it with the story that Maya Angelou told on this past weekend’s Bill Moyers. When she was raped at the age of seven and a half, she told the name of her attacker, who was killed the night he was released from jail. Because she thought she was responsible because she had spoken his name. So she never talked again for some five years. During that time she read every book in her Arkansas Black library and some from the white library and memorized a lot of the best. She took that as sort of a “silver lining.”

          Not that they are equivalent, but many do consider the children who learn to “entertain themselves” as apparently your daughter did, end up more thoughtful and creative citizens in later life.

          I hope your daughter comes to realize how her early life was not something you deliberately inflicted on her and finds a way to reconcile with you.

          • Mari McAvenia

            Thank you, Don. Because of my own “Maya experience” as a youngster I did encourage my kids to speak up about anything and everything they saw, heard and felt.

            It’s a double-edged sword to do it that way. Against the grain. Academia, in any country, does not encourage independent studies.

            I just concluded a 2 hour conversation (on the phone) with a Turkish woman who now lives in England – who is struggling to complete her doctoral thesis with tremendous opposition – and have a greater understanding of what it takes to bust down the sheep pens of acceptable “thinking”.

            When my daughter told me that she didn’t want to have children and end up like me, I got it. It really wasn’t me she was rejecting. It was the system that forced her to choose: “be economically successful or be a mother.”

            Our best and brightest women must make impossible choices in America, still, mostly requiring silence and obedience.

            At least my intrepid, intellectually energetic, foreign friend doesn’t buy that same bill of goods. I pray that my brilliant American daughter finds her own voice. Again.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    I sat through some graduate courses this very weekend from Stanford. Quantum Mechanics.* How much was I charged? Nothing. It was free. Download from YouTube right through my wireless router to my TV set, me occupying my club chair. Stanford got society’s credit for opening up their resources; I got some additional educational bullets for my Arsenal.+

    Who wins here? We all do. No diploma, no Charlotte Simmons, and no down time wasted on: What’s my life all about?

    * Had courses on this in graduate electrical engineering school 30 years ago
    + Go Gunners!

  • http://hammernews.com/ hammermann

    I went to Brown (a while ago) and characterized them as broken shards, people brilliant in their own field but not complete, like pieces of glass- you got what you could from different people but never expected too much. Much later in the oughts I went to dozens of foreign policy lectures at the excellent Watson Institute, and the questions were always abominable- head-slapping stupid, as if the people didn’t even regularly read any paper or newsmag, or know rudimentary history. Granted that was grads, often not Brown undergrads, but still I just asked my questions, which got up to 10 minute answers and ignored the students.

    Re. English, friends there would give essays to check and I was usually horrified- they used pompous words improperly, elaborate confusing constructions, sketchy illogical arguments.. and I would tell them- I’d fail this if I was the teacher. They’d learned to do obscure BS, under the theory that if people didn’t understand it, they would think they weren’t smart enough! Course Brown had Pass -Fail options on everything and Fail wasn’t used much. NOTE: Dozens of press conferences of new leaders in Ukraine are on BLOG.
    http://tomhammers.tripod.com/audio.htm#pressconf

    • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

      A shard can’t be diffusely brilliant. Hoober Doober

    • Mari McAvenia

      “Baffle ‘em with B.S.” appears to be the motto embraced by freshly minted Ivy League economists, in particular.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    YES! I went to the top engineering school in Alaska. The University of Alaska at Fairbanks. Thanks for asking.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    It’s easy to be conservative when mom and dad are footing the bills for your journey through life.

    • Jeff

      Don’t you mean liberal?

      • Don_B1

        No. Most of the parents that can afford to foot the education bills require conservative ideology to be at the foundation of the child’s thinking.

        But if you are paying for it yourself, you at least have a chance to learn think for yourself.

        • Jeff

          Huh? I know way more liberals that had their education fully paid for while conservatives generally require that their kids take out a loan even if the parents could pay for it. It’s called teaching responsibility.

    • Expanded_Consciousness

      -

  • mt1630

    As a teacher at a semester program for high school juniors, I taught kids from a variety of schools around the country. Many were pushed to become “sheep” long before ever reaching college. For example, I had one student who told me that at her home school she would be discouraged from persisting in an AP class if her grade dropped out of the “A” range. This would prevent her transcript from being marred with a “B” and more importantly limit her opportunity to challenge herself with new ideas and persist in something difficult. I am less concerned with the education one receives at college and more concerned with the pressure just to get in in the first place.

  • Government_Banking_Serf

    An army of compliant, convinced technocrats is what our effective one world government will need. Why encourage independent thought and action when that is the antithesis of what you want?

    The elite of the elite, Washington/Wall St. lords, need an army of regular elite to carry out their orders.

    Self governance and independent spirit built the interesting and productive American culture. Losing it will be a sad day, for all free thinking aspirants the world over.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    It is not worth the while to go round the world to count the cats in Zanzibar.
    –Walden, H.D. Thoreau

    And thus tis not worth while to grow up in Wogistan or Erehwon and move your butt to King’s College or Harvard.. for finishing and polishing school.

  • JBSpurr

    The good professor is more right than not. How do we explain the fact that 35% of the recent Harvard graduating class was heading into Finance (morally bankrupt but still a source of obscenely high salaries) and “consulting,” another scam where wet-behind-the-years kids tell company execs what to do, a sorry commentary on both sets of actors? This is what all that brilliance and “excellence” in education lead to — and law school was not even included.

    Another pernicious trend is the progressive corporatization of higher ed, such that the upper strata of administration are steadily increased while those who actually work and add quality to the institution are pared away. The libraries are reamed out and the higher echelons receive bloated salaries. They suffer from many of the elitist concerns that bedevil American business. A total shame.

  • Michael Leonard Rowley

    I went to two Colleges, one charged at the time $150 per
    credit, the other $300. Same books, same homework, different cost. So this is Sheepish. The four year College
    spent two years on subjects that were not related to my degree. These ‘non-technocratic’
    courses. Not Sheepish. Some colleges act like college is a Summer Camp, not a
    place of learning. In general I agree, but a lot of colleges are turning out
    very wise and knowledgeable sheep that can’t find a job afterwards. They are technocratic or have merit. Saying
    they are failing in a meritocracy is like saying they are failing. A
    Meritocracy shows this.

    Do dreams feed you? No. Is it good to think about, yes. Can
    most of the people going to college afford those dreams, maybe? Do Lectures
    with 200 people offer dreams to students no. To place the blame on a need for a
    educated workforce is just plain silly. We need the top students to think like
    this, all the time, and the rest to do this some of the time.

    I do agree that students need to learn how to argue, and
    know what a false argument is, be critical,
    think, independent which is in other words, the ability to troubleshoot words
    said by others. But guess what. You will
    be fired from your job if you do that.

  • Jon

    both speakers trying to self credit their own opinions or perfect the education system. there is no perfection in this reality. The only perfection exists in the next reality where the meaning of life lays that less and less people believe in

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    I went to school so long ago my tuition was $100 per semester. Then after Vietnam, I GI billed through two engineering degrees. There are ways: it requires flexibility and making the best use of third and fourth choices in life.*

    * If mommy and daddy aren’t on Goldman’s executive compensation board.

  • J__o__h__n

    Lots of ums from the representative of the meritocracy. And he said “incentivizing” and “already preexistingly”

  • Mary Mendoza

    Of course many schools are treating students as “clients”. Look at how much money they’re paying to attend. This is an old argument. Some female basketball player was caught cheating, and when thrown out of Princeton, had the grace to sue them, stating they owed her the degree, because…. she had PAID FOR IT!!! So this argument is not new in any way, shape or form. Also the cost of the degree, @ $60,000 a year combined with the rising under if not actual unemployment of people under 34… is giving rising to increasing anxiety.. People are more under the gun than ever given the cost. If college wasn’t so expensive, then maybe colleges could be more honest and say.. “No dear student… that essay is terrible.. redo it or fail.” But given the cost..

  • Expanded_Consciousness

    What is new in this debate? Seems old hat to me.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    One should be prepared to lose one’s life everyday of the year. Especially when one is paying for the privilege of sitting in a classroom.

  • Tim Weiskel

    Bill D. observes that “the educational system is failing….” but this is not the case. In fact, higher education is serving its functional role quite effectively.

    It is useful to make the fundamental distinction between the two clear functions of higher education: 1) training on the one hand and 2) certification on the other. Students will submit to a whole range of arcain training and silly fantasy worlds — like the mental contortions of market economics, for example — but the reason why they do this is because they need the certification. Certificates are delivered by elite institutions for performance within the constrainted thought-systems of the corporate elite and their ideological cheerleaders on the college faculty.

    Passion is a real red flag. Unfortunately, Yishai Schwartz, seems to be quite seduced by “passion.” He has mistaken passion and enthusiasm for education. What about the capacity to analyze, argue, think and build a world perspective? This has little to do with the titilating excitement of momentary passions and transitory enthusiasms. Part of growing up is learning this. Whatever else Yishai seems to have experienced at Yale, he clearly hasn’t grown up yet. Perhaps his education is yet to come. We can always hope. The question is whether after the “excitement” of his undergraduate moment at Yale has passed, has he been equipped with anything more that can nourish a life-long learning capacity?

  • Yep

    I have a relative who teaches in an elite private high school in the northeast. She nearly lost her job for refusing to change the grade for one of her math students. The grade was a B+ ! In math! The parents wanted it changed to an A- and the school backed them by putting the teacher under intense review/scrutiny for one year.

    I’m not sure why we should care about nurturing the souls of the young elite. Their families seek to perpetuate the status quo by essentially buying each necessary “credential” and this is just fine with them.

    • Leonard Bast

      I taught for two years in just such an elite private school in the northeast, and this sounds like business as usual.

      • Jessica Moore-Lucas

        I taught at a mid-major university for several years and faced similar pressures; I don’t think this is an issue exclusive to elite schools.

  • Leonard Bast

    Yishai Schwartz talks like a machine, which is telling.

  • Tonya LaJeunesse Pisinski

    Doesn’t this striving for Ivy League college further stratify our society? When admission requires being involved in 10 to 12 extracurricular activities, doesn’t that rule out students whose families can’t afford all those activities? As a parent of four children, we can’t afford for them to be involved in 10 to 12 activities apiece! Nevermind the time expense in participating them all.

    • AnitaC1040

      I agree, what a phoney way to decide a person’s worth. Many middle/lower class kids are busy with a part time jobs or helping out their families at home. Wouldn’t it be nice to get an average intelligent kid with good grades into the Ivy’s to get a better representation of the US population and how we think. Some young kid with potential, but just doesn’t come from a family who can afford all these activities or even even have the knowledge that multiple activities is what the Ivy’s look for. Most guidance counselors also do not have the time to guide most middle/lower class kids, as well. Some of these young students have a lot to say and contribute and do not have the time to join all those extra curricular activities. They are too busy contributing to our families welfare, helping out with chores, the younger kids, or any work around the house that has to get done. Maybe then, with other kinds of criteria used to admit students we could change the self centered materialist goals of Wall Street, slow climate change, question our leaders, get a bribe free democracy and everything else John_Hamilton, in this stream, spoke about. What about judging kids essays on their potential moral and critical thinking skills.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    One can go through one’s whole life in private academies and colleges and yet when one is faced with life’s most demanding job* — spend most of your energy and mental accomplishments on knocking little white balls around the rolling green fields of grass. What an absolute failure awaits one who doesn’t make the right education and experience choices early on in life.

    * President of a bank, law firm, or a once great nation.

    • AnitaC1040

      I often think the wrong people are promoted and put in charge/or put on top. I think the idea that Market Basket promotes from within is a good one, seeing what actually happens on the front line of a business will inform a CEO’s decisions more than any Ivy league diploma. Often times, decisions made at the top interfere with the production line at the bottom/middle or to the satisfaction of good customer service.

  • Michiganjf

    Mr. Deresiewicz is SO ON POINT!

    As a “professional” student who took university classes almost every semester for over twenty years, just to stay interested and busy (until 2001, when tuition was still reasonable), I can say the changes I saw in education and student interest align perfectly with the points your guest has made today.

    Not only was the available curriculum more diverse and interesting, but so were students’ academic pursuits.

    Your other guest, Mr. Schwartz, is probably just too young to truly understand the changes which have taken place in the last 30 years.

  • Expanded_Consciousness

    T.S.Eliot did not just spend all his time reading and writing poetry. Universities do not “produce” T.S. Eliots. They facilitate.

    “Following graduation, Eliot attended Milton Academy in Massachusetts for a preparatory year, where he met Scofield Thayer, who would later publish The Waste Land. He studied philosophy at Harvard College from 1906 to 1909, earning his bachelor’s degree after three years, instead of the usual four.[2] Frank Kermode writes that the most important moment of Eliot’s undergraduate career was in 1908, when he discoveredArthur Symons’s The Symbolist Movement in Literature (1899). This introduced him to Jules Laforgue, Arthur Rimbaud, and Paul Verlaine. Without Verlaine, Eliot wrote, he might never have heard of Tristan Corbièreand his book Les amours jaunes, a work that affected the course of Eliot’s life.[16] The Harvard Advocate published some of his poems, and he became lifelong friends with Conrad Aiken, the American novelist.

    After working as a philosophy assistant at Harvard from 1909 to 1910, Eliot moved to Paris, where from 1910 to 1911, he studied philosophy at the Sorbonne. He attended lectures by Henri Bergson and read poetry with Alain-Fournier.[2][16] From 1911 to 1914, he was back at Harvard studying Indian philosophy and Sanskrit.[2][17] Eliot was awarded a scholarship to Merton College, Oxford in 1914. He first visited Marburg, Germany, where he planned to take a summer program, but when the First World War broke out, he went to Oxford instead. At the time so many American students attended Merton that the Junior Common Roomproposed a motion “that this society abhors the Americanization of Oxford”. It was defeated by two votes, after Eliot reminded the students how much they owed American culture.[18]

    Eliot wrote to Conrad Aiken on New Year’s Eve 1914: “I hate university towns and university people, who are the same everywhere, with pregnant wives, sprawling children, many books and hideous pictures on the walls … Oxford is very pretty, but I don’t like to be dead.”[18] Escaping Oxford, Eliot actually spent much of his time in London. This city had a monumental and life-altering impact on Eliot for multiple reasons, the most significant of which was his introduction to the influential literary figure Ezra Pound. A connection through Aiken resulted in an arranged meeting and on 22 September 1914, Eliot paid a visit to Pound’s flat. Pound instantly deemed Eliot “worth watching” and was crucial to Eliot’s beginning career as a poet as he is credited with promoting Eliot through social events and literary gatherings. Thus, according to biographer John Worthen, during his time in England Eliot “was seeing as little of Oxford as possible”. He was instead spending long periods of time in London, in the company of Ezra Pound and “some of the modern artists whom the war has so far spared… It was Pound who helped most, introducing him everywhere.”[19] In the end, Eliot did not settle at Merton, and left after a year. In 1915 he taught English at Birkbeck, University of London.

    By 1916, he had completed a doctoral dissertation for Harvard on Knowledge and Experience in the Philosophy of F. H. Bradley, but he failed to return for the viva voce exam.”

  • jsallen

    Not much discussion here about tech schools, for example MIT — which also has excellent humanities offerings both in coursework and extracurricular. Will anyone make reference to C.P. Snow’s classic book, The Two Cultures…

    • John_Hamilton

      PBS has been airing a documentary about how Stanford sponsored a competition for student teams to solve problems in less developed countries. Students were not necessarily science or engineering majors. They came up with brilliant ideas for water purification, medical equipment, solar cooking devices, and other things I can’t remember. They had to present their inventions in the targeted countries.

      At the end of the program they showed what students did after graduation, most of which involved some combination of regular jobs with an eye to doing something for humanity. I suspect that something similar is going on at MIT.

      Even where I live, Madison, Wisconsin, students are learning solar technology and alternatives to fossil fueled transportation at the local technical college. Just by exploring alternatives minds are opened up. Maybe these schools are the model for the future.

      Unfortunately, as long as our “leaders” emanate from the Ivy League, we may be stuck with the kind of intellectual inertia that is destroying life on this planet.

  • Rick Evans

    Blah, blah Ashbrook have you mastered school.

    Yes sir, yes Yale sheepskin proves.

  • J__o__h__n

    “surrounded by people who went to Ivy Leagues and people who did not” that would describe everyone who went to college Jane.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    Just because we’re not at Stanford or Princeton, doesn’t mean I can’t teach as if we’re at those schools.
    –T.D. Roberts, PhD Stanford*

    It doesn’t matter where you go; it matters who you learn from.

    * I took electronics & communications courses undergraduate and graduate school at engineering school in the early ’80s from Prof. Roberts. Real communications not “engaging each other from our individual person spaces.”

  • Roberto1194

    College is far too late to address and and incorporate Philosophy:
    and the understanding of one’s moral, ethical, and spiritual place in the world. (ie. Non-judgmental creative thinking, words, and actions that bring “meaning”, and “compassion”… – not for self-interested strivings for materialist “achievement”, but as the stuff of a good and meaningful life.)
    These need to be considered as “Core” subjects at the Primary and secondary school levels; Which are then more deeply contemplated and appreciated in college and in life…

    • AnitaC1040

      Well said, Roberto. I was very fortunate to have an intelligent, well educated father who had the time to pose moral questions to me as I was growing up and made me question everything. I am astonished when I speak to my peers and those even younger who are not schooled in critical thinking or the underground history of this world. Possibly once you get to college, it may be too late to change the way you think. Although college should be the advanced place that challenges your preconceived notions and push you to expand your present ideas.

    • JoshuaHendrickson

      Nobody in America today, not even at the college level, is going to promote real humanities as core curricula. That would only undermine the perpetual money machine.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    Let’s hear it for the Fighting Artichokes of Scottsdale Community College. Go team!

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    Waiting for Obama is like sitting on the bench wondering where Godot went off to. Except the wait for the Harvard Law Golfer Guy is even l-o-n-g-e-r.

    • Mean Girl

      Hey look: an obsessive/compulsive Obama Hater!
      Aren’t you so special.

      • Beelzebub

        Hey look: a narcissistic “I Love Barack” groupie.

        • Richard Hussong

          Apparently you failed to notice that Mean Girl said nothing positive about Obama or herself, so your insult is completely unfounded.

  • AnitaC1040

    I see this timid thinking every day on the news shows/Sunday talk shows. These people are all from the elite schools.They never challenge or question their guests. They take everything they are told at face value and they just regurgitate it to their audience. I think of Jon Stewart, John Oliver and Colbert Show, who seem to be the only ones who even think to question. This is so sad. Possibly, these elites come from back grounds of privilege and all think alike or maybe they are from disadvantaged families who just want to fit in with the ruling class so they keep their mouths shut and eventually are brain washed possibly in an effort to rise to the top and not cause waves.

    • TFRX

      I’d like to think about this, but it’s about access.

      Access to a certain type of guest, and certain viewpoints in number. The “face values” on there are very limited leftwards, and there are plenty of liberals who went to Ivies and etcs, but those elites somehow never get invited on.

      On the flip side, Chuck Todd (provenance unknown) will not do anything to anger John McCain (bottom 10% percentile at USNA) to the extent that McCain will not answer “Meet the Press”
      invites.

      • AnitaC1040

        Yes, I see what you are thinking. And I guess it is the fact that the people who get promoted to the top spots on news shows tow the line. And yes, many anti “tow the line” people have gone to the Ivies, but I hardly see them where it counts.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    Go elite sheep! Because us wolves.. are waiting.

  • John_Hamilton

    The guest has opened a needed conversation, but his argument exaggerates the role played by Ivy League schools in the larger society. Whenever a part of the phenomenal world is removed from its context the analysis is always skewed, and interaction with the larger reality is ignored and its influence devalued.

    If the Ivy League schools were doing a proper job would global climate change be solved? Hardly. Would economists be produced who question the need for infinite growth on a finite planet? Not likely. Would graduates find a way of creating a bribe-free democracy? Good luck.

    One thing we might have learned from the Occupy movement is that many of our great universities, including those of the Ivy League, graduated masses of people who couldn’t find jobs, and were frustrated at the corrupt jobs our corrupt system has to offer, most particularly in the banking system, but with corporations in general.

    The “American” corporate system is unsustainable – meaning that it cannot continue in its ways of polluting the environment, displacing workers, creating dehumanizing work at an increasing rate with fewer employees, and corrupting the governmental process. At some point it will collapse.

    If the Ivy League were to produce independent, free-thinking, creative graduates, would these problems be solved? Maybe, but not within the confines of corporate “America.” Either they wouldn’t be hired or they wouldn’t be employed for very long.

    I remember hearing the conventional wisdom decades ago that the great value of a Harvard education wasn’t what was learned in the classroom, but the connections made that would come in handy after graduation. By entering the elite institutions students automatically become members of the elite. The elite they join has no room for the kind of dissent that would actually make things better, so it is natural that they would self-select for conformity.

    So, a conversation has been started. A narrow conversation, but one that could lead to a broader discussion. As we push the Sisyphean rock up the mountain of unsustainability, we might want to discuss the meaning of life well beyond the Ivy League before we reach the mountaintop. We could start with a simple question: What is Wall Street for? Decades ago Kurt Vonnegut posed a related question (Between Time and Timbuktu): What are people for?

    • http://hammernews.com/ hammermann

      Yeah, right- connections, that was what gave you the freedom to go anywhere, do anything- you could chose those connections to encompass as much freedom as you wanted. I disagree that none of these people will solve vexing problems of mankind- you want something fixed, hire an MIT wizard, and give him dictatorial powers, or a few million and they would come up with a solution. We KNOW what to do to combat every ill, but don’t have the political will to enforce it, against the entrenched corporate interests. Wait for AGW famines in the next ten years- people will burn Shell, Exon-Mobile to the ground.

      • John_Hamilton

        You might want to look at my comment below about MIT and other non-ivy league schools. I suppose “AGW” is the new heady acronym for climate change. I’ll keep it in mind. I wouldn’t want to seem unhip. Here’s a listing of Ivy League schools: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivy_league

  • Sy2502

    I went to community college and then to CSU. Now I work side by side with graduates from Harvard, Stanford, Santa Clara University, etc. We make the same money and I don’t have their ridiculous student loans to repay. I try not to rub their noses in it too much…

    • Samuel Walworth

      Just curious, what do you do for a living, what kind of work is where Ivy Leagues and SUs work side by side.

      Please share it :-)

      • Sy2502

        Software engineering for 10 years, then I transitioned into Marketing for the last 5 years.

        • Samuel Walworth

          Great..
          I do work in IT as well (Unified Communications, to be fancy).

          For some reason, I do see that Youth of this generation is not interested at all in IT or Computer Science in general.

          I ask the all my friends and their kids if any of the kids are interested in IT or Comp Science, so far none..

          2 Years ago, I was working with a global IT/Telecom giant, and for almost 10 months we were looking for people like crazy but could never find anyone with decent qualification (in the field) or with the experience.

  • wareinparis

    The reason for which an alarming number of people today seek a degree has little to do with the love of learning, and everything to do with love of the almighty dollar. Our children are told constantly about how much more money the degreed person will earn in a lifetime, than a non-degreed person. These children are not encouraged to learn for the sake of learning, or to become better citizens of the world in which they live. Rather, they are encouraged to get that degree, an advanced degree would be better, primarily for the sake of getting ahead. That is to say they are learning, not for the sake of learning, but for money and power. This is true across the higher education market place, and not a disease of only the Ivy League schools.

    • Patro321

      This has never not been the case. This romantic notion that colleges used to be communes of free thinkers looking upon their economic futures in disgust is fun but also a fantasy. At best you can say colleges were a place to stash your non performing brat children for a few years if you were a rich patriarch, but even then they were not there for the love of learning.
      Also, the love of learning is not mutually exclusive with wanting an economically viable skill set to support the rest of your life and family with.

  • JoshuaHendrickson

    I read WD’s article in NEW REPUBLIC on this issue and I may seek out his book. I only have an Associate of Arts degree from a community college and at this point I consider it adequate but hardly necessary. That’s because I never thought of higher learning as a gateway to $ or to the middle class. I thought it would be a good way for me to spend time in literature classes talking about books. I ended up as Humanities Student of the Year for 2011 in my school and enjoyed every minute of my 2+ years there. I’m not happy about my student loans but they’re not so absolutely crippling at that level. What I learned most of all is that if one wants a great humanities education then all one must do is READ. And I was already doing that anyway. People who pursue $ at the cost of all actual intellectual and spiritual growth don’t make any sense to me.

    • wareinparis

      I could not agree more strongly! I went to high school in the early 1960′s and finished 8th in my class of almost 100, even though I knew that my demographic would not go to college. Most people who do not know my personal history assume that I have a college education. Many guess me to be a retired educator!
      I read because I like to read, and have done so my entire life. The education this has afforded me could not have been purchased at any price.
      Am I less because my life’s path did not lead to a credential? I do not think so. That degree might have gotten me more money, but money is not the most important thing.

  • lucheen

    Wonderful … and it’s about time. I got chills when William Deresiewicz talked about passion.

  • Mort Sinclair

    One of the best shows I’ve heard in a long time. I’m a high school English teacher, and I found myself cheering every single syllable he uttered. Bravo, sir! Keep talking!!

  • michi_chi

    It isn’t going to get any better as we feed that trend from the primary education levels. Instead of concentrating on developing a citizen, an educated person who can thoughtfully contribute to society, we push 3rd graders to ace tests so they can “get jobs”. Not to learn because it is fun, not to learn because it is something that will make you a better overall person, but for the $$$.

  • wareinparis

    Great question! Not everyone should go to college.

  • Maria

    I find it controversial to justify the notion of meritocracy as a defining factor when considering admissions to an ivy league institution. “Meritocracy” comes at a price that not all individuals are able to invest in and therefore this notion does not take into account the lived experiences of a majority of the population. Regardless of how passionate poor individuals are and how hard thy work investing in music lessons, after school sports, and additional resume building activities will be a lot more difficult in comparison to more affluent populations. Assuming that all students start with an even playing field in their educational path is to ignore the financial dichotomy that defines our country.

  • Jon Carry

    NPR is so breathtakingly stupid that they can’t even get the graduation year correct. This year’s entering class is going to graduate in 2018. Not 2019.

    • Ray in VT

      What an amazingly horrendous oversight. Surely this entirely undermines the whole reporting/conversation on the matter so as to render the show irrelevant.

      • Jon Carry

        Public education, public radio, public toilets. There is a pattern here.

        • TheDailyBuzzherd

          Public Dumping by someone badly posing as “John Kerry”. Pull your pants up, boy.

        • Ray in VT

          Yes. Conservatives like to dump on/in all of them, but don’t want to pay for them.

    • Rachel MA

      This academic year is 2014/2015. Four years later is 2018/2019.

      • 228929292AABBB

        OK let’s work through it. freshman – 2014/15. sophomore – fall 2015/16. junior – fall 2016/17. Senior – fall 2017/18.

        I don’t agree with the use of terms like ‘breathtakingly stupid’ by Jon but you and Mort are not helping to make him look excessively harsh.

        It wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of NPR listeners spent five or more years in college, but that doesn’t make a rule.

        • Mort Sinclair

          You are correct. My post has been deleted. Thank you.

          • Jon Carry

            You are right, I shouldn’t have used the phrase “breathtakingly stupid” to describe the lack of basic math evidenced here. Too many syllables.

    • Mort Sinclair

      No, as pointed out to you below, you are wrong, This year’s “entering class” will graduate in 2019. The four people who agreed with you illustrate Mr. Deresiewicz’s point nicely and, with you, should have spent more time in the “public toilet” you decry below in order to avoid the “breathtaking stupid[ity]” you just demonstrated.

      • 228929292AABBB

        OK let’s work through it. freshman – 2014/15. sophomore – fall 2015/16. junior – fall 2016/17. Senior – fall 2017/18.

        I
        don’t agree with the use of terms like ‘breathtakingly stupid’ by Jon
        but you and Rachel are not helping to make him look excessively harsh.

        It wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of NPR listeners spent five or more years in college, but that doesn’t make a rule. I took three, but I’m not referring to this year’s fresh(people) as the class of 2017.

        PS Shame on all the ‘likes’ for these misguided comments. Think before you click.

        • Ray in VT

          “It wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of NPR listeners spent five or more years in college”. Given that many students are opting for a 5 year approach, it is likely that many who both do and do not listen to NPR will go that route. Given surveys regarding the educational attainment levels of a majority of NPR listeners, 5+ wouldn’t surprise me, given graduate school.

    • JanDana

      After 4 years, they will graduate in the spring of 2019. Now apologies are in order.

      • Jon Carry

        Here is my apology: I’m sorry my tax money goes to supporting you LoFo voters.

  • Beelzebub

    How petty.

  • jstoby

    I think Deresiewicz makes some good points about education and society in general, but I do think it’s a bit simplistic to pin all of these problems on the elite universities.

    • lupusposse

      Since it is doubtful we commentors have read the entire work, before commenting, we possibly do not know whether he addresses necessary introspection.
      Traditional tribes of North America, for instance, developed several methods of teaching and using introspection.
      We also do know that numerous drugs (read: alcohol) tends to eliminate the capacity for coherent introspection – along with memory, long-term ability to achieve coherence, and causes a few other cognitive debilities.
      As a matter of fact one of the most famous Yale grads of recent decades, utterly abandoned effective introspection in favor of following flawed impulses, some immoral, some merely unethical, calling them by a three-letter word all too often used to justify revenge and other failures of impulse control.

      Since I began with the mention of traditional oral cultures that operated without formal educational institutions, and the fact that they taught and still teach the necessity and value of introspection, let us hope that each of us can learn to value the practice sufficiently to discover what constitutes that undefined term, “meaning” in our personal, social, and biologically interwoven lives.

      Should the author pursue the development of instruction in introspection (and I most certainly mean an effort and practice that goes beyond general philosophy in its objectifying form, intending something more personally applicable than mere philosophy or descriptive psychology!), he, and we, might gain insight through exploring the widespread methods of many of the world’s indigenous cultures.

      Go Walkabout, and you will find more than you understood before.

    • NR

      He begins the podcast by pointing out that he discusses those elite universities because they are the ones that have overwhelmingly produced our nation’s leaders. You have to go back to Dole to even find a non-Ivy League graduate that was selected by one of the parties to run for President.

  • realedreform

    Don’t send your kids to school…let them have their childhood to explore and find themselves. Let faith unfold. It will replace fear and expectation. Enjoy watching your children enjoy their lives. They will be loaded with interests which you will naturally want to encourage.

  • AnitaC1040

    Yes, thank you for that, but they are not on the top news shows (newspapers, etc). They are comedians. They are allowed to question, they get paid for that. I seem to think that if you are smart enough to get into college, you can graduate from any college including the Ivy’s. After all, the classes we all take are the same. I think a better way to select students would be to look for some extrodinary students and then instead of using extra curricular activities, etc. as a criteria for entrance, the rest of the students be put into a pool and have a lottery. And that pool should include many legacy students, who really do not have the grades. The students that get into Harvard, Yale, etc. have parents who are aware of the process of what it takes to get into these schools and have the money to help their children get a leg up. That is testing the parents not the student.

  • Captaindiesalot

    Ivy League “elites?” It’s a very expensive education to have pompous fools teach kids that Collectivism and Statism is better than personal freedom, Economic self-sufficiency, and the Constitution.

    In my industry, I’ve witnessed the destruction of the business by the incompetence of the elite who run the banks in our industry. These schools should be torn down.

  • Captaindiesalot

    Yeah, and see where all your liberation has brought us? We’re in the process of destroying Western Civilization, and you’re proud of your time during the 70′s. Seriously, you’re all a bunch of losers. You like quoting Leviathan, but the REST of the Scottish and English Enlightenment is simply condemned by your fellow alumni.

  • TheDailyBuzzherd

    Kiddie Mills. Play Dates. Trophy Collectors. Merit Trollers. Fair Warning.

  • allen 2saint

    I went to a small but well known religious grad school and got a great education where I was taught to think for myself and tough it out, despite disagreeing with the hierarchy of my denomination. I think I benefitted from this “under the radar” education.

    And I want Jane Clayson to have her own show, where she can display her intelligence and her impeccable pronunciation of the English language.

  • Jonnie

    I’m so tired of hearing these hyper-active over achieving Indian houseboy types pontificating on life in America. First we are for here’s we the rantings of Dinesh Disuza and now his younger spawn Yishai Schwartz! We all know America is better than life in an Indian slum or life in general in India, where 60% of the population practice open public defecation.

    In the future, npr should warn its listeners when these over earnest types are booked for its shows.

    • Evan Simkowitz

      I’m sensing this anger comes from the fact that you were a mediocre student with this self-righteous view that somehow your shortcomings were someone else’s fault. This bigoted, racist view is one many people share but it’s wrong. The simple truth is: if you were unhappy with your performance, you should’ve worked to improve. The “Indian houseboys” aren’t your enemy; you are. At least, the part of you that blames them for you not getting into Harvard. America was founded by sons of immigrants. Just because someone hasn’t been a US citizen as long as you have been doesn’t make them less deserving than you of a great education. They had the same chance for success as you, they simply took advantage of their opportunities better than you did.

    • victorbradley

      In what universe is Yishai Schwartz an Indian name? Far be it from me to correct your bigotry, but Mr. Schwartz is clearly Jewish, Ashkenazim judging from his surname.

  • Evan Simkowitz

    Class of 2018 but nice try.

  • Fran

    I am 100% in agreement that colleges should not be further degraded into trade schools for the 1%. However when defining what education should
    do I’ve noticed one glaring omission. . . Shouldn’t these schools produce people who are also good citizens In our participative democracy? The basic success metric is really simple — massive increases in the number of people who vote.

  • downtown21

    What an insufferable windbag.

  • B Bode

    I have listened to this fantastic interview / discussion for the 3rd time this evening, and I am very much a supporter of the findings and anecdotal perspective that Mr Deresiewicz offers so brilliantly here. I coach youth competitive rowing in Boston, and I see and experience exactly what he outlines in his works — excellent sheep. I simply wanted to point to another work titled, “Doing School,” by Denise Clarke Pope. It’s a must-read for those who feel that we are “producing” (in our esteemed secondary ed. scholastic institutions). Thanks for a great, much needed, conversation that seems to touch upon a sensitive but vital button that presses on the maladies of our hyper-competitive, over-specialized, and hollow society.

  • ranndino

    I think the professor is generalizing too much, but… While I didn’t go to an Ivy League school I’ve had many lunches with kids who graduated with honors from some of the top schools in the country (they were either interning at one of the top tech companies I worked at or just got a job after a successful internship). Almost all of them were very socially awkward and could not hold a conversation on any topic other than their job and some geeky game like WoW. They simply never got time to explore anything other than what their main career focus was and had no knowledge or interest in anything else. Very one dimensional people. I felt bad for them. For example, how do they connect to anyone outside their field? What would they talk to a girl they like about? Algorithms?

  • Regular_Listener

    I can sympathize with Deresiwicz’s views, but I think what is going on at the Ivies is just mirroring what is happening throughout the country. As college costs have gone up and up, and family incomes have stayed flat or declined, it is somewhat inevitable that college will be seen more and more as preparation for a middle/upper class career and not as an opportunity for intellectual adventure and exploration. I see it happening with younger relatives of mine – before they even start college, their parents are insisting that they know what they will study and what kind of career they are preparing for. The culture was different when I was heading off to college.

    • ExcellentNews

      Maybe I’m naïve and unpolished for thinking it, but the purpose of college IS to prepare a young person for a middle/upper class career. After all, that is the purpose of colleges in the rest of the world. After all, today’s engineers, doctors and scientists will grow old and retire, and they need to be replaced by a new generation that’s at least as competent in their fields as before.

      If adventure and exploration is the goal, we should not look to college. If the family is wealthy enough, let them sponsor their kids joining an ashram and trekking the Himalayas (or whatever). Meanwhile, let’s make sure our colleges are open to take the most determined, brightest young people from around the world who want to focus on science and engineering and build careers in these fields.

  • arydberg

    Learning is one thing. Marks and accolades are quite another. We live in a world where everything is smoke and mirrors. We do not have any real goals of any significance other that to win at any price.

    Is it any wonder that we lost 50,000 lives in Viet Nam for nothing. Or that we lost 4000 people in Iraq for the whim of a spoiled Yale graduate.

    In past years character counted for something. Today it is old fashioned. Honesty and dignity counted for something but today that too is old fashioned.

    Today we stand at the precipice of a police state and no one cares. 34 countries have a healthier population than we do but this fact never even makes it to the news. There is a continuing series of health epidemics but they also never make the news.

    Meanwhile there is this thing called a computer that makes possible two ends. One that we become enslaved with all of our wealth going to the top. Or two that we become a great generation. Everything I see says that number one is winning.

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