On the Ivy League

Ivy League, On Ivy League, On the Ivies

Ivy League colleges don’t mold character. And neither does any other college in America. They shouldn’t be expected to, contrary to what a writer for “The New Republic” asserts.

Osita Nwanevu has a nice response up on “Slate” to an article published in “The New Republic” that detailed an Ivy League graduate’s gripes with the Ivy League. As Nwanevu so well articulates in his response to the piece on the Ivy League, “The Ivies, Deresiewicz contends, are particularly bad at ‘self’ production and now merely serve as places where ‘the rich send their children to learn to walk, talk, and think like the rich.’ The more socioeconomically diverse public schools, by contrast, can at least offer upper class students the potential for ‘experiential learning’ side by side with the less well off. Wealthier kids, the theory goes, can become more curious about the world and more intellectually serious by interacting with the less privileged.” Who says the less well off, the less privileged, don’t attend Ivy League colleges? These are precisely the kinds of students Ivy League colleges seek out! Deresiewicz couldn’t be more off base.

We’re thinking that Deresiewicz — who was not an Ivy League admissions officer contrary to how some pieces describe him — watched a little too much “School Ties” and “The Skulls” before writing his piece. The Ivy League is not a bastion of conservatism as he so describes. All sorts of people go to Ivy League colleges — not just the wealthy. And the poor aren’t at Ivy League colleges just to educate the wealthy, so they can have a better sense of the world. That’s quite an ugly, pessimistic perspective. So it’s clear for our readers, Deresiewicz simply spent one day — yes, one day in the spring of 2008 — on the Yale admissions committee. That’s all he claims. He led his article off in this way so any subsequent piece that referred to him as a Yale admissions officer is simply misinterpreting his words.

As Nwanevu writes, “To believe that a college—Ivy or otherwise—can confer intellectual benefits in four years that you won’t be able to attain at some point over the course of the next 60 is to believe in magic. If a student leaves college capable of independent thought, it might not be because professors are miracle workers or because he managed to glean perspective from the underprivileged like one wrings water from a towel. It could be because he was raised in an environment conducive to independent thinking—a characteristic that a decent college should look for when admitting students in the first place.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves! Deresiewicz seems to have an axe to grind with the Ivy League, which is ironic because he himself attended the Ivy League. The Ivy League doesn’t shape character. Remember that line in “The Emperor’s Club” where a wealthy parent tells Kevin Kline’s character (the enthusiastic teacher) that he doesn’t send his kid to his school to shape his character — just to to teach him facts and such? It’s true. The Ivy League shouldn’t be expected to shape character. No school should. But Deresiewicz seems to hold the Ivy League to a higher, unreasonable standard. His claims are mostly baseless and attention-seeking and that’s the end of the story. Don’t believe in magic. Don’t believe all the words of William Deresiewicz.

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