Tuesday, August 12, 2014

How "elite" higher education is destroying our society

I got this link from Mitchell over the weekend; he knew this was bait for another "Scam Alert" on higher education.

It comes from the website of the Dallas Morning News, where William Deresiewicz pulls back the curtain on the scam that is an Ivy League education.  It's a damning indictment, and you really ought to read the whole thing, but this excerpt should give you an idea of what Deresiewicz, who used to be on the faculty at Yale (and thus, knows of what he speaks), sees in today's "elite" higher educaton:

Our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it.

Now, we used to think of college as the place wherein young people prepared to face the world, and in an ironic way the Ivy League has done exactly that.  For Deresiewicz describes perfectly what kind of a world we now live in.  Look at U.S. foreign policy, for example - don't the words "anxious, timid and lost" describe it to a T?  Of course, what else would you expect from a society that displays these very traits?  One has only to look at the breakdown in religious belief to see a people with no sense of purpose, little to no curiosity, no idea why they do what they do.  Remove belief from life, and that's what you get.

More:

When I speak of elite education, I mean prestigious institutions like Harvard or Stanford or Williams as well as the larger universe of second-tier selective schools, but I also mean everything that leads up to and away from them — the private and affluent public high schools; the ever-growing industry of tutors and consultants and test-prep courses; the admissions process itself, squatting like a dragon at the entrance to adulthood; the brand-name graduate schools and employment opportunities that come after the B.A.; and the parents and communities, largely upper-middle class, who push their children into the maw of this machine. In short, our entire system of elite education.

Deresiewicz speaks of the students he taught at Yale, and once again it's hard not to see the cause-and-effect, in that the system is producing exactly the kind of society one might expect when it's made up of young people who bring these experiences into the world.  There were many wonderful young people,

But most of them seemed content to color within the lines that their education had marked out for them. Very few were passionate about ideas. Very few saw college as part of a larger project of intellectual discovery and development. Everyone dressed as if they were ready to be interviewed at a moment’s notice. [...] Look beneath the facade of seamless well-adjustment, and what you often find are toxic levels of fear, anxiety and depression, of emptiness and aimlessness and isolation. A large-scale survey of college freshmen recently found that self-reports of emotional well-being have fallen to their lowest level in the study’s 25-year history.

Well, it's hard to argue with any of this, especially when we don't even know what college is meant to achieve:  "Is it just about earning more money? Is the only purpose of an education to enable you to get a job?"

In the midst of the gloom, Deresiewicz offers the start of the solution: "I’ve come to see that what we really need is to create one where you don’t have to go to the Ivy League, or any private college, to get a first-rate education."  You may or may not agree with his conclusions, but be sure to go here and read them.

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