You need to stop sending your kids to Ivy League schools.
In brief, according to a piece in the most recent New Republic by William Deresiewicz, who taught at Yale for 20 years, the students who are sent there are conformist, over-privileged overachievers. They emerge from homogeneous backgrounds and grow up to be elitist little twits. (He also went to one, but he is different now.)
They overcame a little diversity, mainly not socioeconomic, to get in.
Ivy League applicants’ biggest hardship was having so little hardship in their lives that they had to hire people to take them on bus trips during the summer so they would have things to write college essays about.
Need to overcome adversity to get in? Not to worry. Your parents will get you the finest adversity that money can buy! And one for your sister, too, when she’s old enough.
They walked out of their separate housing entrances for the well-heeled and got onto planes to their enrichment summers. “Spend An Entire Three Hours on a Greyhound Bus!” the brochures proclaimed. “Understand enough about diversity in broad, oversimplified strokes to write either a single college essay of five paragraphs or the entire movie ‘Crash’!”
They get in and learn nothing because they are too terrified of failure to study things they do not already know. (The only thing Ivy Leagues are good for, Deresiewicz admits, is if you need people to memorize 30 lines of Alexander Pope with absolute precision. They excel at that.)
They develop the firm conviction that if you march to the beat of a different drummer, you are doing something wrong. We are all listening to this drummer for a reason. Your drummer must be screwing up.
When they get out, they are obsessed with status and give society less than they might have. Or something. The point is that the education is not value-added. If anything, it is value-subtracted. It produces conformist, unimaginative people who are desperate for outside approval.
And, well, I don’t disagree. Of course I don’t. I don’t know how. Besides, if I disagreed, you might not like me, and I want you to like me! That means more than anything in the world! PLEASE LIKE ME! I can fax you some of my high school report cards if that would sway you!
If you cannot tell from the foregoing, I went to an Ivy League school. I didn’t learn very much, but I drank a lot.
I remember freshman year, sitting around with a group of my peers, talking about our deepest fears. “I’m afraid,” someone said, “that I won’t ever be able to become a great writer because my childhood was too happy.”
Everyone nodded. There was a silence.
“My mom died,” said someone else.
“LUCKY!” we said. “That must have made a great application essay! I had to fly all the way to Bhutan and build houses for half an hour.”
Later we all became ibankers. There was a moral in that somewhere.
So the question becomes: if we’re serious about this, how do we go about fixing it?
The simplest way is not to send your kids to Ivy League schools. Not — note — that “we” stop sending kids to Ivy League schools. Or that “one” stops sending them there. Or that “you” (everyone else) stops sending them. It is that you — you in particular — do that.
And that’s the problem.
Of course everyone agrees that the most efficient way of producing good human beings who aren’t elitist turds is to break down the system.
But for every person who has read this article and knows that the Ivy League schools are elitist twit factories — that you must seek elsewhere for the truly well-educated, and that state schools, while “impersonal,” give you a real chance to get to know your fellow man on an equal basis, that work in the service industry is the best kind and that second-tier schools let you exercise true curiosity — there are thousands upon thousands who haven’t. If everyone would just read this article (or one like it) and agree what to do, we could proceed. Not even everyone! Just all the Concerned Parents who are currently embroiled in the helicopter derby whose only conclusion is admission into an elite institution, the parents who hover over their children, shredding stray seagulls in their rotor blades.
“You thought the way to guarantee that little Preston IV was successful, well-rounded and a productive member of society was to send him to Harvard? Nonsense. He needs to overcome adversity and expand his scholastic horizons, and avoid all those elitist twerps who just sit there reciting Pope. If you send him to an Ivy, you are stunting him for life!”
The trick is that you have to get everyone to agree. It’s a prisoner’s dilemma of sorts, and the stakes are your children’s prospects. If some people don’t get the memo about Massive Structural Shifts in How We Are Educated, their kids will get into Ivy League schools in your kids’ place, and all the employers who did not read the article will keep assuming that going to an Ivy League school is a mark of quality and hire them instead. It is no use enclosing copies of the New Republic with your child’s ibanking applications and scrawling “HE DIDN’T GO TO YALE BECAUSE YALE WOULD HAVE DONE HIM A DISSERVICE!” at the bottom of his resume. First off, that is creepy. Second off, it is unconvincing.
Besides, it seems so unfair, as Mitt Romney’s dad probably used to lament a lot. I worked my whole life to overcome adversity and earn a comfortable place for my children, and now you tell me that is the worst thing I could have done? That my children will be out-of-touch elitists who don’t know the value of good honest labor and strive only to conform? If I’d known I was just supposed to dunk them straight back into adversity, I wouldn’t have bothered with this American Dream business in the first place.
Still, if that’s what we’ve agreed to do, it’s fine. We just have to make sure we’re all on board.
Soon the conversation from Suburban to Suburban will be much different. “Hello, Gail,” Florence will say, at the country club. “Trip is working at McDonald’s this summer and reading Emerson to himself. What’s your daughter doing?”
Gail will shrink a little into her Adirondack chair. “Well,” she will hedge, “Campbell is — she’s going to Columbia, actually.”
Florence will nod in sympathy. “Some kids take longer to find themselves,” she says. “But we all have to march to our own drummer.”
“Oh, absolutely,” Gail will say. “I only hope you’re right.”
But, fortunately, there are still a few people who haven’t read the article.
The point is: You need to stop sending your kids to Ivy League schools. You first. I’ll watch and see what happens.