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The Disadvantages of an Elite Education

 
 
OGIONIK
 
  1  
Reply Wed 13 Aug, 2008 09:40 am
of to csn! in a few hours..

im takin career tests or someshit and finishing financial aid stuff, well prolly not finishing.. lol.

gah! this thread is making me doubt myself! NOOOOOO

just kidding.
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Thu 14 Aug, 2008 02:51 pm
@Shapeless,
This concerns me personally, since my university belonged to the closes thing Germany has to an Ivy league school. (We don't have the concept of the Ivy league, but two years ago, when the Federal government identified Germany's "elite universities" for the purpose of giving them extra subsidies, the Ludwig Maximilians Universitaet was one of the first three thus identified. If the original article's criticism is valid, I should see the adverse results just by looking in the mirror. So let me address them in turn.

Quote:
The first disadvantage of an elite education, as I learned in my kitchen that day, is that it makes you incapable of talking to people who aren't like you.

It could be that my education -- elite or not -- makes it difficult for me to talk to average posters about physics. That's one reason I rarely post in the Science and Education forum. But from my perspective, the communication problem doesn't mainly come from us. It also -- and, I think, mainly -- comes from posters who don't see that talking about scientific phenomena requires correct terminology; that the brilliant idea they had in the shower yesterday isn't original, it has been debunked by Newton 300 years ago; that science has produced a lot of statements that defy common sense, but are nevertheless correct; and, perhaps most importantly, that it takes work to see why they're correct. There really are good reasons why we study this stuff for years, sometimes even for decades. And when people act as if their handwaving "common sense" "intuitions" are just as good as that, they are the arrogant communication-deniers, not us.

Quote:
My education taught me to believe that people who didn't go to an Ivy League or equivalent school weren't worth talking to, regardless of their class.

Can't reproduce. The author appears to be overgeneralizing from his personal case.

Quote:
The first disadvantage of an elite education is how very much of the human it alienates you from.

Again, can't reproduce. The author appears to be overgeneralizing from his personal case. He also appears to think he comes accross as less human by incorrectly numbering his list of disadvantages to an elite education.

Quote:

Bull. Nothing keeps you from giving your money away and living a more modest life.

Quote:
I've been struck, during my time at Yale, by how similar everyone looks.

This one I definitely can't reproduce. At our physics department we had the whole spectrum from smooth business school types to smelly quasi-bums. The average of the distribution was Jeans, wrinkled T-shirt, and sandals, but the standard deviation was huge.

I strongly suspect that William Deresiewicz is peddling a ton of populist clichees here.
fishin
 
  3  
Reply Thu 14 Aug, 2008 04:09 pm
@Thomas,
Thomas, In regard to your comments on teh communication issue - I disn't get the impression from either of the 2 original articles that that was the sort of communictaions they were talking about. Like you, I think most people get frustrated in a conversation (especially of the on-line variety) when someone is posting nonsense about something that is near and dear to us.

But the impression I got from the articles was that they were commenting on the ability to make "small talk" - to talk about the weather or that big car accient on the highway last weekend.

Since moving up here to Boston I've met quite a few people and there is a peculiar "quirk" with Bostonians. If you are sitting with someone and they let out a soft sigh and look at you and say "So! How 'bout them Red Sox!" it's there way of saying "Hey, I'm bored and have no idea what to talk to you about!".

It's pretty much a running gag amongst Bostonians. They'll smirk or chuckle when they say it and everyone knows that they really don't have any interest in the Red Sox at all but they think something should be being said. (An actual Red Sox fan will say something like "Did you catch the game last night?" if they really want to talk about the Sox!).

The impression I got from both of the articles is that these guys are totally lost on how to just have a normal converstion about bland life activities with someone who isn't "one of them". - they aren't limiting it just to their area of technical expertise.
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Thu 14 Aug, 2008 04:39 pm
@fishin,
fishin wrote:
Thomas, In regard to your comments on teh communication issue - I disn't get the impression from either of the 2 original articles that that was the sort of communictaions they were talking about. Like you, I think most people get frustrated in a conversation (especially of the on-line variety) when someone is posting nonsense about something that is near and dear to us.

I was trying to be accommodating, and this was the closest I got to agreeing with the first author on something. As to small talk, I don't think we graduates from good universities have a greater problem than others, and I don't think we have a greater problem small-talking to member of the upper-class than to members of the lower class. The closest thing to common ground I can find on small talk is a certain difficulty for me and many fellow physicists to make small talk with anyone on anything. But that's about being over-analytic, over-precise, and over-critical. It's not about elitism. And it's fairly specific to our faculty -- the students of law and managerial economics at our university wouldn't have had this kind of problem.

fishin wrote:
The impression I got from both of the articles is that these guys are totally lost on how to just have a normal converstion about bland life activities with someone who isn't "one of them". - they aren't limiting it just to their area of technical expertise.

I share your impression of these guys. If only they didn't overgeneralize their self-observations to their entire set of peers!
0 Replies
 
georgeob1
 
  1  
Reply Fri 15 Aug, 2008 09:38 am
@Thomas,
There are indeed some cliches in the article you cited. However there are many largely accurate observations as well. Princeton isn't far down the road from where you reside now. It is a lovely place and a day's looking around there might alter your view. Similarly you could take a walk around Cambridge ann the Harvard & MIT campuses during your next Boston gathering as get a look at that for yourself. Either just might be an interesting and informative experience.

Increasing fractions of the graduates of these universities go into law, financial management and business management in this country (at least over the last few decades). In these fields, the elitism to which the author refers does indeed exist in this country - just as it does in France with respect to the great national schools; and in the UK with respect to Cambridge & Oxford. I know less about the analogous situation in Germany, but am aware that the great universities there were historically a bit less connected with the social elites than were their counterparts in other countries. The senior levels of Law, finance and corporate management in this country are indeed disproportionately populated by the graduates of the elite universities to which the author referred, and success in these fields is indeed a prime motive for those seeking entry and of the universities themselves in placing their graduates (later gift-giving allumni) and expanding their endowments.

In science the situation is a bit different in all of these countries. In the first place, as you noted, it takes some serious work just to develop the conceptual framework and vocabulary with which to communicate with others about some (but not all ) of the ideas involved. It is interesting that very often it is the best and most gifted scientists who are best able to overcome these difficulties and communicate essential ideas to a broad audience (as a young boy I was enchanted and inspired by some of the works of the transplanted Russian physicist, George Gamov). My point here is that, to a degree and in spite of the difference cited above, the difficulties in communicating in the area of science that you, yourself cited, may well reflect some of the vestiges of elitism on your own part. That may well influence your view of the author's argument.

I do agree with you that the author's case was a bit overstated and the domain of topics he considered was limited in a somewhat self-serving way - points I attempted to make in an earlier post here.

Thomas
 
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Reply Fri 15 Aug, 2008 10:18 am
@georgeob1,
georgeob1 wrote:
It is interesting that very often it is the best and most gifted scientists who are best able to overcome these difficulties and communicate essential ideas to a broad audience

I know. That's why I envy you so much for going to camp with Gary Becker every summer, and why I would kill for your seat in the Feynman lecture.

Interesting observations about the campuses of elite universities. I did walk the Berkley and Stanford campuses (students on each campus graciously forgave me for walking the other), I did spend a Saturday in Princeton, and I did take a walk through Cambridge and the Harvard campus on my last trip there. I didn't meet the kind of elitist, autistic egghead the author of talking about. Whether that's evidence they're less common than he thinks, or that I've just had lunch in the wrong hangouts, I can't definitely decide at this point.
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Fri 15 Aug, 2008 10:24 am
@Thomas,
For three years, I spent a great deal of time at Caltech (where my husband was a postdoc). It doesn't get much eggheadier/ elitist than that.

There were a range of personality types. I didn't meet anyone as socially stunted as the original author, though, either.
georgeob1
 
  1  
Reply Fri 15 Aug, 2008 10:50 am
@sozobe,
Well I graduated from Caltech, and I don't consider myself either an egghead or an elitist. (Perhaps I have now adopted the same defensive posture for which I earlier criticised Thomas). Embarrassed

I do agree with Thomas that hard sciences are, to a degree, a thing apart from the stuff Mr. D... (can't remember the name) was writing about. However, perhaps to a lesser degree, tha same principals do apply. Besides I couldn't resist the opportunity of (gently) poking Thomas in the eye.

I believe the essential point of the article had to do with the close affinity of the legal, financial and corporate management professions with a handful of elite universities; the self interest of the universities themselves, the allumni and those seeking entrance in perpetuating and advancing their dominance; and the internal consequences of all this on the social fabrics of both the universities and the professions so affected. I think the author's essential points are valid, (though exaggerated a bit). There are also several other important and related factors operating here, both with respect to the universities themselves and the basic purposes of education, that the author chose not to address and which could be a basis for criticizing his conclusions.

It turns out Thomas has visited and observed the scenes I suggested and he remains unmoved. That just tells us what a stubborn lot these Bavarians really are. Wink
0 Replies
 
fishin
 
  3  
Reply Sat 16 Aug, 2008 07:39 am
@sozobe,
Having grown up in the shadows of Yale Univ. and now living in proximity to Harvard and MIT I'd have to say that I generally don't see it amongst the students while they are attending the schools themselves. There is always some friction between the eggheads and the "townies" but I've seen that with the non-elite schools too.

I see it more amongst those who graduated a few years back. I suppose there is a difference between attending the school and actually having graduated. I'd think that most of the people attending these schools know that pretty much anyone can say that they "attended" Harvard/MIT/Yale etc... I could take night classes at Harvard any time I wanted to and many people do. Being able to say that you are a "Harvard Grad" is a different story and those attending (usually) haven't graduated yet.

I think you also get a difference in the personalities between those who attend the business schools and those that attend the techie schools. A lot of the MIT grads KNOW they are "socially stunted". That's pretty much considered to be the norm for the "geeks" and many times, worn as a badge of honor.

But there are quite a few early 30-something people that wander around greater Boston with their "I'm a Harvard Grad!" attitudes and many of them are socially stunted and don't realize it. Luckily there are quite a few others that are also Harvard Grads with a little more common sense that look at them and say "Yeah? So what?" :p



0 Replies
 
farmerman
 
  1  
Reply Mon 18 Aug, 2008 04:42 am
@georgeob1,
GEORGE O Frankly though, I worry far more about the dismal quality of K through 12 education in this country. THAT sorely needs a period of serious institutional destruction and recreation, starting now.

Yah, this is a sad state of affairs, in my home geographical area is a huge increase in charter schools and home schooling. One is merely a market attempt and the other is fueled by real commitment. We shall need a few years to see how they are really working.


Ive taught at an elite and Ive seen that many of the schools faculties are shifting over from showing preferences to other elites for their own staffs.
0 Replies
 
plainoldme
 
  1  
Reply Sat 13 Mar, 2010 11:30 pm
I suspect that the original author's problem is not his education but his personality. Years ago, I read in an advice column for teenagers a letter written by someone who said when s/he (was not certain which gender the person was) was around quiet person s/he was quiet while s/he tended to be more active and boisterous around out-going,noisy people. The writer asked, "Do I lack a personality?" The response was that the person had a great deal of personality which the advisor defined as the ability to get along with people from different groups and to adapt to the situation one was in.

I suggest the person who wrote this column lacked social graces and that the ivy League education had nothing to do with his problem.
0 Replies
 
 

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