Saturday, July 9, 2011

The problems of prestigious universities

A really excellent essay from the American Scholar, the publication of Phi Beta Kappa, that lays out the problems with elite higher education in the US as it presently operates.

The essay is more negative than I would be. I don't think any reorganization of the system would produce all that many more of the sort of intellectual seekers that the author really wants to have as students, but maybe we could reduce the number of self-inflated jerks that the system produces. And the bonus slam at George W. Bush, itself an example of the sort of behavior the author is complaining about, sounds an off note in an essay otherwise well above partisan politics.

In reading the essay, as in my academic life more generally, I find myself with mixed feelings. At times I am very grateful to have gone to deeply mediocre public primary and secondary schools and to Big State U precisely because they kept me in contact with people very different from myself. At other times I regret all the learning that didn't happen because I did not press my parents to send me to a private high school, which they probably would have done if I had pushed a bit, and because I did not press myself to go to a more elite college, though I might well have gotten into one. People who wear their Harvard pedigrees on their sleeves annoy me, but so do anti-intellectuals who denigrate the value of scholarship. Mixed, mixed, mixed.

Recommended for students, professors and parents.

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