Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Liberty, Fraternity, and Sorority

Harold Lloyd, The Freshman (1925).
Shorter David Brooks, "Becoming a real person", New York Times, September 9 2014:
According to William Deresiewicz, our elite colleges no longer help their elite students develop their souls and become elite real persons like me. Instead they're turning them into elite sheep. Just like ordinary people, only with bigger apartments and nicer cars. It's like a tragedy.
It's not at all surprising that Brooks should be worrying in this way about the moral health of students at Yale and Chicago without displaying any interest in, or even cognizance of, the existence of the unwashed millions who must content themselves with Buffalo or Michigan State or failing with MOOCs or heaven forfend not get a tertiary education at all, because that's who he is.

But I'm kind of taken aback here by how comfortable everybody in the debate seems to be with the preservation of the very ritzy private undergrad school as a culturally distinct institution for the "happy few" (sprinkled with a few kids from poor families alongside the tuition-paying "minority" students from Nigeria and China) reproducing a culturally distinct upper class. Whether it's like H.G. Wells's Eloi, devoting themselves to truth and beauty, while the publicly educated Morlocks struggle with standardized tests and online classes, or in Steven Pinker's alternative proposal for a techie elite of high-stakes test virtuosos leaving the public universities to take care of, I don't know, elementary and secondary teacher training and preparation for other types of factory work.

What's ironic is that undergraduates at state and community schools may in many ways have more opportunities for that old-fashioned soul building because they're not busy saddling themselves with $50,000 or $100,000 in debt and they don't have class values to uphold. They can afford to take time to graduate. They can read a book by Steven Pinker instead of taking his course, which is a much more cost-efficient way of finding out what he has to say (which the Harvard students apparently don't even want to know, since they won't go to the lectures). They can work in a restaurant. They can have experiences that are forever unavailable to somebody focused on getting that job at Goldman Sachs or eBay.

My proposal for private colleges is that we give more money to public ones.

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