The Elitism of Elite Colleges

Writer William Deresiewicz contends that an Ivy League education leaves students with some serious blind spots...

Writer William Deresiewicz contends that an Ivy League education leaves students with some serious blind spots...

High-school students, their parents, and indeed, most of us see receiving a thick envelope from an Ivy League college as among the best things that could possibly happen in one's life. It's undeniable that this "golden ticket" opens myriad doors in life. But this essay from The American Scholar argues that we may not actually want to go through some of those doors.

The writer is William Deresiewicz, a Columbia University graduate (B.A., M.S., and Ph.D.) who has taught English at Yale. He contends that an Ivy League education leaves students with some serious blind spots—he recounts finding himself in his kitchen, unable to make conversation with a plumber who came to work on his house because he was at a loss to imagine what they might have in common. And he argues that an Ivy League education teaches young men and women to "color within the lines." Even when students are encouraged to think critically in their classes, he writes, they feel comfortable thinking for themselves only because they've been given permission to do so—it doesn't require questioning authority.

Deresiewicz draws connections between grade inflation and the administration of the Yale- and Harvard-educated President George W. Bush (the link being self-congratulatory complacency). He contemplates what it means to be an intellectual and sings the praises of solitude (an unfamiliar and uncomfortable condition for many of today's young adults) and of failure, which rarely happens at Ivy League schools (and which J.K. Rowling also addressed in her Harvard commencement speech this year).

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