A former Yale professor, writing in The New Republic no less, has some interesting advice for parents dreaming of sending their children to Ivy League schools – don’t do it. William Deresiewicz taught at Yale from 1998 to 2008 and gleaned a few lessons from the experience which included learning that prospective students would be better off if they looked outside the Ivy League to pursue excellence and become more substantive people.
Deresiewicz believes America’s elite education system produces young people “with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it.” So much for the meritocracy.
The reason elite education is producing such a mindless clubby breed, Deresiewicz submits, is that elite education has become about seeking status instead of honest scholarship, students at elite schools are not really students but status seekers that go to class.
I taught many wonderful young people during my years in the Ivy League—bright, thoughtful, creative kids whom it was a pleasure to talk with and learn from. But most of them seemed content to color within the lines that their education had marked out for them. Very few were passionate about ideas. Very few saw college as part of a larger project of intellectual discovery and development. Everyone dressed as if they were ready to be interviewed at a moment’s notice.
Look beneath the façade of seamless well-adjustment, and what you often find are toxic levels of fear, anxiety, and depression, of emptiness and aimlessness and isolation. A large-scale survey of college freshmen recently found that self-reports of emotional well-being have fallen to their lowest level in the study’s 25-year history.
No passion for knowledge, just an obsession with seeking position.This is the elite?
Deresiewicz says elite education has devolved into trying to make money instead of learning how to think, everything is justified on technocratic terms. Therefore devoting undergraduate education, as the Ivy League does, to careerism is a missed opportunity to receive an actual education – to learn to think critically and make self-discoveries that can help guide later life decisions, careers included.
The damage to the students’ personal development is bad enough, but when one considers that many of the future leaders of business and government will be excreted from these institutions there is little reason to hope for a better future. Perhaps it is time to take a break from superficial competition and steer prospective students away from the Ivy League towards real opportunities to be educated.