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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Former Yale Professor Warns: Don't Send your Kids to the Ivy League

All parents want what is best for their kids. In the United States of America, that means that parents tend to buy or rent in a place with the best public schools they can afford. We send our kids off to school and hope that the yellow school buses will get them safely to their classrooms, and their classrooms will lead them to a future filled with happiness, joy, the ability to think, to question, and to do whatever it is that they want to do when they grow up.



Recently, I received an email from Vice President Joe Biden, with the subject, "Good for business, good for workers, good for the economy." Apparently, big business and community colleges are informing our politicians. Biden writes, "We’ve heard from businesses that many jobs in today's brightest sectors go unfilled because there simply aren't enough people with the skills to do them. That's not good for businesses, it's not good for workers, and it's not good for this country." Wait, what? Many jobs are going unfilled? What businesses? What workers? I can't help but reflect on the term "workers." The word proletariat comes to mind, as I was educated before the Common Core Standards and we read a lot of fiction. Remember George Orwell's classic, Animal Farm?
"Boxer and Clover, two hard working animals, are used to represent the proletariat. They believe anything they hear and don't really think they're slaves. Since Squealer is such a good talker, the proletariat are drawn to Napoleon's ideas because they sound like they're beneficial. Also, they're kind of unintelligent, so they're very easily persuaded."

Dictionary.com defines the term proletariat:

pro·le·tar·i·at [proh-li-tair-ee-uh t] 
noun
1.  the class of wage earners, especially those who earn their living by manual labor or who are dependent for support on daily or casual employment; the working class.
2. (in Marxist theory) the class of workers, especially industrial wage earners, who do not possess capital or property and must sell their labor to survive.
3. the lowest or poorest class of people, possessing no property, especially in ancient Rome.
Who are the proletariats to today's politicians? Maybe they are not who we think they are. Maybe they are our kids, public school kids. While we are sleeping, state governments cut public school funding, then claim our schools and our children are failing and unsuccessful. Though this started in the cities, it has now sprawled into the suburbs. Have your local taxes gone up? Don't blame the schools, blame your Governor. So what does a former Yale professor think of our dream to send our kids to the "best" colleges, perhaps even the ivy leagues? You may find yourself rethinking your American dream.
In this New Republic article, William Deresiewicz, opens our eyes about the real deal at America's Ivy Leagues. He is the author of Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and The Way to a Meaningful Life, which comes out August 19 from Free Press. He taught at Yale from 1998 to 2008.
Deresiewicz warns, "These enviable youngsters appear to be the winners in the race we have made of childhood. But the reality is very different, as I have witnessed in many of my own students and heard from the hundreds of young people whom I have spoken with on campuses or who have written to me over the last few years. 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 at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it."

The following resonated with me: smart, talented, anxious, timid, lost, little intellectual curiosity, stunned sense of prupose, great at what they are doing with no idea why they are doing it. I see this in my own community. Great families, great kids, all caught up in a game in which they are unaware that they may be mere pawns.

Deresiewicz continues, "When I speak of elite education, I mean prestigious institutions like Harvard or Stanford or Williams as well as the larger universe of second-tier selective schools, but I also mean everything that leads up to and away from themthe private and affluent public high schools; the ever-growing industry of tutors and consultants and test-prep courses; the admissions process itself, squatting like a dragon at the entrance to adulthood; the brand-name graduate schools and employment opportunities that come after the B.A.; and the parents and communities, largely upper-middle class, who push their children into the maw of this machine. In short, our entire system of elite education."
I can't help asking myself how deep we are into the cogs of this machine? Are we so unaware that we are allowing our kids to be crunched in the gears without even knowing it?
Deresiewicz shares that he, "... taught many wonderful young people during (his) years in the Ivy Leaguebright, thoughtful, creative kids whom it was a pleasure to talk with and learn from. But most of them seemed content to color within the lines that their education had marked out for them. Very few were passionate about ideas. Very few saw college as part of a larger project of intellectual discovery and development."
Thomas Jefferson knew the importance of public education, and it is not to color within the lines. It is not to be dispassionate about ideas, and it certainly was not to go through the motions and simply get a job.  Jefferson stated, (to George Wythe) "I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised, for the preservation of freedom and happiness...Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish & improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils [tyranny, oppression, etc.] and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance." 1786 August 13.
He also knew that education brings the light of happiness when he added,
 (to C.C. Blatchly) "I look to the diffusion of light and education as the resource to be relied on for ameliorating the condition, promoting the virtue, and advancing the happiness of man." 1822 October 21.
The article by Deresiewicz makes us question the jargon forced on public education today. Perhaps the most widely used being, "college and career ready" and "rigor." On rigor, he shares a story:

"The prospect of not being successful terrifies them, disorients them. The cost of falling short, even temporarily, becomes not merely practical, but existential. The result is a violent aversion to risk. You have no margin for error, so you avoid the possibility that you will ever make an error. Once, a student at Pomona told me that she’d love to have a chance to think about the things she’s studying, only she doesn’t have the time. I asked her if she had ever considered not trying to get an A in every class. She looked at me as if I had made an indecent suggestion. There are exceptions, kids who insist, against all odds, on trying to get a real education. But their experience tends to make them feel like freaks. One student told me that a friend of hers had left Yale because she found the school 'stifling to the parts of yourself that you’d call a soul.'” (Emphasis mine.)

Do we want our children to be cogs in a machine, even an ivy league one? Do we want them to get mindless A's, to be afraid of taking risks, to not have the time to think about what they are learning due to "rigor"?

Deresiewicz  brings up a business term that has become fashionable to use in education today: Return on Investment. "... that’s the phrase you often hear today when people talk about college. What no one seems to ask is what the 'return' is supposed to be. Is it just about earning more money? Is the only purpose of an education to enable you to get a job? What, in short, is college for?"
These are the questions we must ask ourselves today, as politicians from both parties take special interest money from people trying to profit off of our tax dollars and tell us what we want for our children's educations. Read the whole article here and see what you think.


I will leave you with this quote:

"College is not the only chance to learn to think, but it is the best. One thing is certain: If you haven’t started by the time you finish your B.A., there’s little likelihood you’ll do it later. That is why an undergraduate experience devoted exclusively to career preparation is four years largely wasted."

A mind is a terrible thing to waste.



 

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