Friday, July 25, 2014

Vicious Circle of the Elite Universities

For those with any interest in the curious state of education at elite American universities, a cultural impasse of the most difficult kind, I recommend this article.

It has its short-comings by omission. The author neglects, for instance, the disaster of Affirmative Action, which often leads to less qualified candidates gaining admission to schools at the cost of other candidates for non-academic reasons. People often assume blacks and Hispanics benefit the most and whites suffer the most under Affirmative Action, but from personal observation I would say that Asians and Asian-Americans are those most often excluded under this scheme.

The author's liberal perspective also inspires him to suggest weighing SAT scores by demographic background, which entirely defeats the purpose of the test—which is a long corrupted version of an IQ test. He is onto something though, as not a few students at elite universities have been programmed by the likes of Michele Hernandez since age 12 to gain admission to Ivy League or near-Ivy League caliber schools. This entails exotic experiences from constructing health clinics in Kenya (as though senior citizens or homeless here are a less worthy cause) to hours of one-on-one SAT tutoring.

This excellent article could be completed by understanding that affluent whites are not the only demographic problem at the elite schools. As a graduate of one of these institutions I would guess 35% of my school would be called "affluent and white," 40-45% would be called "diverse" on ethnic and sexual grounds, and the remainder would be just boring middle and upper-middle class America. As a member of this class group I often found myself a spectator watching two separate matches being contested, two separate movies being played: the wealthy white frat boys and sorority girls, and the ethnic/gay/foreign student crowd. We the "ordinary people" had remarkably little in common with either group. Sadly, I found people in my group to have the most genuine intellectual curiosity, as we had not been programmed like academic automatons like our wealthy counterparts and unlike the diverse part of the populace we generally had an apolitical perspective. The disdain for originality and good writing by professors stunned me. With few exceptions they favored politicized, thinly-guised regurgitations of their own opinions or of views closely related to the accepted orthodoxy of the age. I once penned a forty page paper—the assigned page count—on Edmund Burke's concept of "Moral Imagination" for an intellectual history class. My best friend plagiarized a summary book on the Enlightenment, the professor's favorite era, that dealt with Hume, the professor's favorite thinker, using very creative formatting to bump seventeen pages up to twenty-two. He got an A- and I got a B+. The experience rather turned me off from my previous plans to do a doctorate and move into teaching.

More diversity is necessary in universities, but admissions staff are often flummoxed by this problem and do not know how to get students with broader life experiences and true intellectual curiosity. The endless wheel goes round and round....

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