Don’t go to Yale. That is the ultimate advice former Yale Professor William Deresiewicz has given in his controversial article in the New Republic, an Ivy League publication, “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League.” Reflecting on his 20 years at Yale, and his time spent as an admissions officer, Deresiewicz starts off his diatribe with an anecdote about his days in the admissions process. Who does Yale choose? Students who scored the highest on the SAT’s naturally enough; they use a formula that considers extracirriculars, and if the parents are donors, that is a strong consideration as well. Yet doesn’t this selection process make sense?
Not anymore, Deresiewicz explains. SAT scores measure parental income, not intelligence, least of all having a soul or original mind. How is that? Deresiewicz explains that an ivy league culture has grow up around these institutions in which students are groomed their entire life to make it into these schools and become the proverbial leaders that Yale and the like pride themselves on producing.
And so these students are given private tutors and have a scheduled regime of “enriching experiences” fit to fatten their little resume. They come to see their private experiences in terms of what would look good on a resume, not only before going to Yale, but well after it.
“Our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great a what they’re doing but with no idea why they are doing it,” he wrote in his article.
Yale ain’t got no soul, and it certainly isn’t inspiring its students to develop their own. Incoming students are shoulder-loaded with “toxic levels of fear, anxiety, and depression, of emptiness and aimlessness and isolation.”
Yes, they do go on to be the sorts of leaders you would expect, leaders out of touch with the world and its diversity. They have no idea how to “build a self” nor do these colleges “teach you how to think.” They train you, don’t educate you, they give you analytic and rhetorical skills that will help you in the business professions, but no reason for doing so, other than to perpetuate status and flashy résumés.
“College is not the only chance to learn, but it is the best,” Deresiewicz explained. His recommendation, therefore, is to send your children to a second-tier school such as Wesley, or better yet, to a small liberal arts college.
Deresiewicz’s arguments augment a total view of how society should be shaped, and his reforms aim not simply at persuading Ivy Leaguers to have a soul, but for society as a whole to change its class structure. This is why he ends his article with the rhetorically programmatic slogan: “We have tried aristocracy. We have tried meritocracy. Now it’s time to try democracy.”
It is unclear at times whether Deresiewicz is after Ivy League reform, liberal arts college expansion, or a remantling of society – perhaps all of them – but his concern for the students he used to teach is clear enough. He is hoping to change the value system of the upper-middle class most of all, interchanging a status-based value system with something a bit foggier and harder to quantify, a soul-building value system. Perhaps this is why he gives kudos to religious four-tier colleges.
To say the least, his article, which sports a Yale flag in flames, is meant to be incendiary, and hopefully will inspire some students to see themselves in terms of their full potential, not merely in terms of their resume building potential.