I’ve been a frequent reader of (and occasional commenter on) Ephblog for a while, so when I encountered a discussion of the disadvantages of an elite education on MetaFilter, I emailed David to say this might be interesting content for this site.  And now I seem to have become an author.

Anyway, the MetaFilter thread is actually a discussion of an article about Yale by William Deresiewicz. Deresiewicz claims, among other things, that elite educational institutions — Yale, in particular — have created alumni who are not always able to connect with others across social and class boundaries:

It didn’t dawn on me that there might be a few holes in my education until I was about 35. I’d just bought a house, the pipes needed fixing, and the plumber was standing in my kitchen. There he was, a short, beefy guy with a goatee and a Red Sox cap and a thick Boston accent, and I suddenly learned that I didn’t have the slightest idea what to say to someone like him. So alien was his experience to me, so unguessable his values, so mysterious his very language, that I couldn’t succeed in engaging him in a few minutes of small talk before he got down to work. Fourteen years of higher education and a handful of Ivy League dees, and there I was, stiff and stupid, struck dumb by my own dumbness. “Ivy retardation,” a friend of mine calls this. I could carry on conversations with people from other countries, in other languages, but I couldn’t talk to the man who was standing in my own house.

More generally, he argues that some of the institutions of elite education encourage what he calls “entitled mediocrity” and that such an education often does not encourage students to view their experience as part of an intellectual journey and that alumni, for all their education, are afraid to take meaningful risks.

In general, he argues that some of the institutions of elite education encourage what he calls “entitled mediocrity” and that such an education often does not encourage students to view their experience as part of an intellectual journey and that alumni, for all their training, are afraid to take meaningful risks.

What struck me as interesting was that, while Yale and Williams are similar in many ways — and, in fact, Williams is considerably more isolated than Yale — I haven’t encountered the same sense of entitlement and isolation among my Williams classmates as Deresiewicz discusses in the article.  I suppose some of my classmates might be uncomfortable talking to their plumber, but I personally don’t know anyone who would be.  And, as a group, I think my Williams classmates have taken many risks — intellectually, career-wise, etc. — of exactly the kind that Deresiewicz appears to be arguing that Yalies do not.

Perhaps there is some confirmation bias at work here: is Deresiewicz himself elitist and out of touch, and thus seeing in the current generation of Yalies a similar sense of entitlement? Maybe I’m making a generalization about Williams students and alumni as well.  But I’m nonetheless interested in why (and perhaps whether) this sense of entitlement does not appear to be similarly widespread at Williams.

So the question I would put to you, Ephblog readers, is whether it is in fact true that a Williams education somehow better prepares students for life in the larger world, and, if so, what makes Williams so much different than Yale?

Facebooktwitter
Print  •  Email