Rebecca Walker


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Overcoming Bias


Found this today. It hits home something I've been thinking about for a while...Hit the Overcoming Bias line above to get to the link.

Biases of Elite Education

"From a thoughtful essay by William Deresiewicz:

An elite education ... makes you incapable of talking to people who aren't like you. Elite schools pride themselves on their diversity, but that diversity is almost entirely a matter of ethnicity and race. With respect to class, these schools are largely - indeed increasingly - homogeneous. ... 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. ... Elite universities ... select for and develop one form of intelligence: the analytic. ... social intelligence and emotional intelligence and creative ability, to name just three other forms, are not distributed preferentially among the educational elite. ... There are due dates and attendance requirements at places like Yale, but no one takes them very seriously. ... Students ... get an endless string of second chances. Not so at places like Cleveland State. ..

An elite education gives you the chance to be rich - which is, after all, what we're talking about - but it takes away the chance not to be. ... [If they] pursue a riskier or less lucrative course after graduation ... [elite students] tend to give up more quickly than others. .. a couple of graduate students ... were talking about trying to write poetry, how friends of theirs from college called it quits within a year or two while people they know from less prestigious schools are still at it. ...

The final and most damning disadvantage of an elite education: that it is profoundly anti-intellectual. ... Being an intellectual is not the same as being smart. Being an intellectual means more than doing your homework. ... They are products of a system that rarely asked them to think about something bigger than the next assignment. ... Being an intellectual means, first of all, being passionate about ideas - and not just for the duration of a semester, for the sake of pleasing the teacher, or for getting a good grade. ... Students at Yale and Columbia ... have seemed content to color within the lines that their education had marked out for them. Only a small minority have seen their education as part of a larger intellectual journey, have approached the work of the mind with a pilgrim soul. ... Places like Yale are simply not set up to help students ask the big questions.

My experience confirms all of this. The sort of risk-taking, soul-searching, and success-sacrifice that is required for (but hardly guarantees) truly great intellectual achievement is not much rewarded in our current elite education system."

What do you think?




Anonymous goldiilocs said...

Even though I haven't attended an Ivy League school (and probably won't ever.....), I can say from my observations, I find this to be true. I think it's wonderful to experience that lifestyle of 'academia' (if I'm using it in the right context), but how realistic is it? Being that I'm a student at a open admission public 4 year university, sometimes I can admit to feeling somewhat inferior to Ivy League students, only until we have a conversation about 'real life' and it's sad how life skills don't seem to be a proirity to some. You can study, study, study various phenomena (sp), but do you truly *get* the everyday world?

To add, I remember scanning an article about Harvard (or it could have been another school of that persuasion) professors giving students a higher grade for lesser work to maintain a higher GPA. So...what that tells me is its all about numbers and not actual education. It's nice to have a degree from XYZ school, and it may be easier to move up in the world, but let's remember, Bush graduated from Yale.

Anonymous Anonymous said...


Blogger rachel said...

Wow, this is a thoughtful post, Rebecca! As a product of an open admissions, public university, I'm often envious of friends (and my current students within the academe)who seemed to have gotten (or are getting) a superior education.

For instance, my students at a private, semi-elite university are getting Real Theory in freshmen composition, something which I never received in lower division courses.

And, friends of mine who attended grad school at ivy league universities after having attended the same public college as I, bemoaned their lack of preparation, arguing that they had to play catch up in a way that their ivy league peers did not. Frankly, I feel like my B.A./M.A armed with the same amount of critical theory that undergrads received from ivy league institutions in a mere four years.

As for a university encouraging students to ask the big questions, I can say that I feel my college experiences confirms your suspicions, but I attribute my ability (and eagerness) to think about systems of power and to think critically about the world, to my major (English/women's studies) more than I do to the college itself.

Great post, as per usual!

Blogger oholiyah said...

i think higher education period can be stifling to the creative mind, especially if you major in math, the sciences, engineering,or possibly business. i graduated from a 4 year public college with an engineering degree. getting the answers right was more important than exercising creativity. you were taught a concept and if you vered from what you were taught or didn't show every step the exact way you were taught, you could blow the exam, possibly your grade for the class.

our educational system period from pre-school on up leaves a lot to be desired. any creativity i fostered was due to reading and studying outside of given assignments in organized education.

our educational system is decent at preparing you for a vocation, but it doesn't do well with teaching its student to think creatively, to question, and think for yourself.



Post a Comment

<< Home

All Rights Reserved 2007.