Elite colleges have been accused of producing graduates who are somewhat ignorant of the realities of life beyond the confines of these institutions. In his article, The disadvantage of an elite education, William Deresiewicz explores how the Ivy League universities have been too preoccupied with making careers, at the expense of minds.
Deresiewicz is however quick to point out the fact that the enormous benefits of an elite education need not be denied. For example, students are taught to think in certain ways, not to mention the advantages of accessing the necessary contacts in helping one to launch a successful career, and the ensuing success in life.
However, an elite education is not without its own inadequacies, as Deresiewicz has discovered. One of its disadvantages is that students who have had the chance to attend an elite school are not in a position to engage in meaningful conversation with their counterparts who either attended a typical institution of higher learning, or never went to any college at all. Whereas elite schools takes pride in their ability to embrace diversity, nonetheless, Deresiewicz (para 4) argues that such diversity is almost explicitly on the issue of race and ethnicity.
For example, Deresiewicz talks about the high level of homogeneity that characterizes the elite schools in as far as the issue of class is concerned. In the same way, elite schools have a tendency to cultivate a certain sense of liberal attitudes, in effect ensuring that their students are often confronted with a paradoxical dilemma of seeking to promote the interests of the working class, never mind that they are not in a position to even hold any meaningful conversations with members of this social class.
Deresiewicz recounts how at the age of 35, when he was moving house and needed to have the piping system fixed in his new house, he was shocked to learn that he had nothing to talk about with the plumber who was evidently of a different social class from him. At that point, it finally dawned on him that the elite education system is indeed defective in certain areas.
Deresiewicz (para. 4) has also recounted the inability by Al Gore and John Kerry, both of whom were presidential nominees on a Democratic ticket during the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, to effectively communicate with the larger Democrats electorate (working class) from whom they were seeking votes from.
Al Gore and John Kerry are both alumni of Harvard and Yale, respectively. Despite their being decent, earnest and intelligent men, nevertheless, their inability to talk with the working class is an indication that indeed, the elite schools are defective in enabling their students to interact well with the rest of the society.
As Deresiewicz (para. 2) has learned after nearly 24 years in Columbia and Yale that elite colleges never cease to remind their students that they need to praise themselves for being part of the community, and the ensuing benefits that are associated with those who attend such schools, such as high connections in the job market, and prestige.
In addition, the period before one joins an elite college, while at such a school, and even upon graduation, is characterized by constant inculcation of a collection of values that the students needs to embrace.
Aside from the issue of class, elite schools, as Deresiewicz has observed, teach their students that it is not worthwhile to engage in a conversation with people who never attended Ivy League schools (their social class notwithstanding) because, as these institutions often emphasize, such individuals are beneath the students from elite schools. Students at these schools are always reminded that they are “ “the best and the brightest,” (Deresiewicz para. 6), meaning that everyone else is less bright, or less good.
Consequently, students from elite schools learn to take sympathy in individuals who did not attend prestigious colleges as they did. However, at these schools, the students are never taught that the world is full of smart individuals who never attended any elite colleges, mainly because of the issue of class. In addition, such students also never get to learn that the world is also full of very smart people who had no chance to ever attend college.
Deresiewicz (para 7) further urges that while at Yale, it never dawned on him that there could also be individuals who are not “smart” and who still get to attend the elite schools. There is a tendency, as Deresiewicz has observed, for elite universities to pursue analytical intelligence, at the expense of other equally important forms of intelligence, such as creative ability, emotional and social intelligence.
Among the educational elite, the latter forms of intelligence suffer from a preferential distribution. Accordingly, the arguments that the “best” are indeed the brightest could therefore be said to be the case in only one narrow sense.
Another disadvantage that Deresiewicz identifies that characterizes elite education is their practice of inculcating in their students a “false sense of self-worth” (para. 8). In this regard, he underscores the importance that these colleges normally attached to numerical rankings: GPA. SAT, and GRE, during admission, while at school, and upon graduation. Accordingly, students are conditioned to think along the lines of numerical rankings.
Ultimately, numerical rankings signifies identify, fate, and value of the students. Critics of numerical rankings argue that these tests are not a measure of something real; rather, they are an index of the ability of a student to take tests. Since students never get to learn the truth about these tests, they are therefore encouraged to pursue academic excellence in its absolute sense.
Elite colleges could be said to produce elite snobs who are completely ignorant of a different world other than the one that they have been used to. For example, students attending elite colleges are taught that other people who have not attended the same or similar elite schools are beneath them, and thus not worth associating with.
In addition, these schools tend to emphasize on analytical intelligence at the expense of creative skills, social and emotional intelligence. In addition, they have been conditioned in such a way that they are complete ignorant to the fact that the world has a lot of smart people, some of whom did not attend elite colleges, or never even attended college at all. Accordingly, such individuals often find it hard to associate with individual outside their elite circle, and hence the label, elite snobs.
Deresiewicz, William. The Disadvantages of an Elite Education. 2008. 02 December, 2010. http://www.theamericanscholar.org/the-disadvantages-of-an-elite-education/