Steven Pinker, one of the world’s biggest names in the field of psychology and a professor at Harvard University, has written a splendid response to William Deresiewicz’s article in “The New Republic” devaluing the Ivy League. Pinker is not surprised that Deresiewicz’s piece has touched a nerve nor is he surprised that it attracted the most readers in the history of the publication. As he writes, “Admission to the Ivies is increasingly seen as the bottleneck to a pipeline that feeds a trickle of young adults into the remaining lucrative sectors of our financialized, winner-take-all economy. And their capricious and opaque criteria have set off an arms race of credential mongering that is immiserating the teenagers and parents (in practice, mostly mothers) of the upper middle class.”
But Pinker’s piece is extremely critical of the vast majority of Deresiewicz’s points. He questions why Deresiewicz believes Ivy League students are less intellectually curious and engaged than their non-Ivy League peers. Just because they’ve jumped through hoops in admissions means they’re not as good thinkers as students who attend state schools? Just because a student gets ‘A’s’ at Harvard means he can’t think outside of the box? Just because a student doesn’t read a book from cover to cover means he or she doesn’t appreciate learning? Pinker even admits that he too often doesn’t read books from cover to cover. Most people don’t! Likely neither does William Deresiewicz. Except for his own book. We’re sure he reads that from cover to cover, backwards, forwards, and upside-down.
We like this point by Pinker in particular: “But the biggest problem is that the advice in Deresiewicz’s title is perversely wrongheaded. If your kid has survived the application ordeal and has been offered a place at an elite university, don’t punish her for the irrationalities of a system she did nothing to create; by all means send her there! The economist Caroline Hoxby has shown that selective universities spend twenty times more on student instruction, support, and facilities than less selective ones, while their students pay for a much smaller fraction of it, thanks to gifts to the college. Because of these advantages, it’s the selective institutions that are the real bargains in the university marketplace.”
So much for Ivy League colleges not being a great value. We’re curious to hear if Mr. Deresiewicz, an Ivy League graduate himself, cares to respond to Professor Pinker’s wonderful editorial. Mr. Deresiewicz? Oh, is it Dr.? Our sincere apologies. We wouldn’t want to undervalue your degree. No sir.
While you’re here, check out another great response to the initial article on the value of the Ivy League in “The New Republic.”