My Reaction to William Deresiewicz On the Ivy League
A man I have known in the past just published an op-ed about the horrors of the Ivy League. Here it is. As a product of the Ivy League (though not of the elitist private school/destination-public-school complex that so often leads there), I have this to say about it.
Deresiewicz makes some valid points, but mostly the piece is an eye-roller.
I think part of the problem is that he is actually talking about four distinct things. However, in the time-honored manner of a person who trained in literature, but not in logic and math, he is weaving them all together in a “narrative,” instead of discussing them each distinctly and logically.
His actual points, when you unpack the needless rhetorical weaving, are:
- you become timid and anxious and lost from going to these schools;
- they “educate” “leaders” only for the purpose of climbing corporate ladders, not to be out-of-the box thinkers;
- they are elitist and they privilege kids from upper-middle-class families and are not meritocratic and exacerbate inequality; and
- the entire educational system is at fault.
I think there is some validity to some of these, but tagging Ivy League schools with these problems, except for number 3, is unfair and just about catching eyeballs for the op-ed.
Point one has some validity, but I also know people who become timid and lost because the do NOT get into these schools, and go to Ohio State instead, or have chips on their shoulder and who treat education as even more of a commodity than Ivy Leaguers do.
Point two has some validity, but I think is wildly overstated, based on my own college experience and the experiences of my friends, he is talking about maybe 20% of the students. It would be more accurate to say that the Ivy League ATTRACTS these types of students. It is not the cause. He is confusing correlation with causation here. Or, alternatively, since the text of the article acknowledges the broader role of the education/industrial complex, he just had a dishonest headline writer who was interested in generating clicks.
Point three is definitely true. However, it has been ameliorated in recent years by all of the scholarship money the Ivys give out.
Point four has some truth, but again, has nothing to do with the Ivy League, per se. It relates more broadly to insecurity about America’s place in the world, and parents’ reactions to that. The Ivy League is a symptom of a far broader issue, not a cause.
In short, I felt he made some valid points. But they are cloaked in a great deal of nonsense. He confuses correlation with causation, possibly deliberately as to point two, possibly it just seems that way because he had a cheap, dishonest headline writer. Broadly, he is failing to grapple with far broader societal issues, and unfairly focusing on the Ivy League. One cannot help but sense the bitterness of a very smart, high-achieving man who was denied tenure at Yale, and who before that had “never experienced anything but success.”