Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Brooks on Harvard

Reading Room, Langdell Hall, Photo by John Phelan via Wikimedia Commons.

An interesting take from moral philosopher David F. Brooks ("Harvard's False Path to Wisdom") on the case of Kyle Kashuv, the gun nut Trump acolyte among the survivors of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas high school shooting, whose Harvard acceptance has been rescinded after the discovery of some extremely offensive text messages and other communications he wrote "years ago", in his words, or in some cases 18 months, as in the below example (via Steve M):

Most conservative commentators focused on the unfairness of Harvard's decision, as Ben Shapiro, a mentor of Kashuv's, described it:  "Harvard's auto-da-fe sets up an insane, cruel standard no one can possibly meet", because who among us has not as a teenager typed things like this?

Via HuffPost, which got it from a former classmate who remarked, "Everyone knew him as the vulgar kid that says stuff like that, talked that way out loud. He would talk that way to a lot of people. I don’t think he was trying to hide it or anything, I don’t think he was scared, I think he fell into that Discord, gamer guy that says those vulgar things." Kashuv is Jewish himself, so I don't know whether that makes "kill all the fucking Jews" more innocent or more disturbing, but I lean toward the latter.
Brooks begins by noting Kashuv's remarkable accomplishments:
Despite the trauma of the shootings and a busy impromptu career as a school safety advocate, Kashuv was able to graduate second in his class, with a weighted G.P.A. of 5.345, according to the Daily Wire (how is that even possible?). Along with his classmate David Hogg, he was admitted into Harvard.
I don't think it is possible using the most generous weighting system I can find an example of, where the highest grade is a 5.3 (for an A+ in a college-level class). In the unweighted score, he was not all that remarkable as a Harvard applicant.

(Also he was directing it at someone in at least one case, the "niKLANGjock" who was dating a "pasty" Jewish girl.)

Anyway, Brooks feels that the Harvard admissions committee does things wrong, as regards moral formation, and ought to have kept the kid precisely because he's behaved so badly:
The Harvard admissions committee is the epicenter of the meritocracy. In the meritocracy, winners win. If you get a straight-A average, that proves you have mastered the art of learning math (or at least mastered the tests that are supposed to measure these things). If you get a D in math, that piece of information is a problem to the committee.
Moral formation is not like learning math. It’s not cumulative; it’s inverse. In a sin-drenched world it’s precisely through the sins and the ensuing repentance that moral formation happens. That’s why we try not to judge people by what they did in their worst moment, but rather by how they respond to their worst moment. That’s why we are forgiving of 16-year-olds, because they haven’t disgraced themselves enough to have earned maturity....
It’s hard to know if Kashuv has learned from his repulsive comments, but if he has, wouldn’t Harvard want a kid who is intellectually rigorous and morally humble? Wouldn’t it want a student who could lend a hand to all the perfect résumé children who may not have yet committed a disgrace, but who will?
The gravity of his sin should weigh in his favor, assuming it's made him humble.

(I mean it hasn't, in fact, he begins his campaign to change Harvard's mind in classic Republican fashion by exaggerating how long ago it was and suggesting he was totally "unaware" of what he'd done, as if he'd been blacked out at the time—"A few weeks ago, I was made aware of egregious and callous comments classmates and I made privately years ago"; complains that he's the one who's suffering, presumably as he lost his wingnut welfare gig with Turning Point USA—"speculative articles were written, my peers used the opportunity to attack me, and my life was once again reduced to a headline. It sent me into one of the darkest spirals of my life"; and in the end turns to whatabouting the university itself—"If any institution should understand growth, it’s Harvard, which is looked to as the pinnacle of higher education despite its checkered past. Throughout its history, Harvard’s faculty has included slave owners, segregationists, bigots and antisemites. If Harvard is suggesting that growth isn't possible and that our past defines our future, then Harvard is an inherently racist institution. But I don't believe that.")

When I was first looking at the story, my first thought was for the kid who would now get plucked out of the waiting list and get this unexpected opportunity. That's who's going to be humble, in my opinion. There are literally thousands of Harvard rejects out there who are every bit as academically qualified as Kyle Kashuv and who don't, unlike him, think they're entitled to go. By Brooks's own standard, every one of them is better qualified than he is. But Brooks only thinks about the one who has a publicist.

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