The nation’s top colleges are turning our kids into zombies By William Deresiewicz
… So extreme are the admission standards now that kids who manage to get into elite colleges have, by definition, never experienced anything but success. 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. …I always had the same GPA: 3.7 to 3.8 (out of 4.0) from high school to college to B-school. Partly, this was because some classes were genuinely very hard for me. But there were other classes where it didn’t seem worth the investment in time to get more than a B, thus freeing up more time in classes I cared more about. For example, at Rice I had more Bs and Cs than most students with a 3.8 because I also had seven A+s.
But, in general, I don’t like giving Be Like Me advice.
The sign of the system’s alleged fairness is the set of policies that travel under the banner of “diversity.” And that diversity does indeed represent nothing less than a social revolution. Princeton, which didn’t even admit its first woman graduate student until 1961—a year in which a grand total of one (no doubt very lonely) African American matriculated at its college—is now half female and only about half white. But diversity of sex and race has become a cover for increasing economic resegregation. Elite colleges are still living off the moral capital they earned in the 1960s, when they took the genuinely courageous step of dismantling the mechanisms of the WASP aristocracy.
The truth is that the meritocracy was never more than partial. Visit any elite campus across our great nation, and you can thrill to the heart-warming spectacle of the children of white businesspeople and professionals studying and playing alongside the children of black, Asian, and Latino businesspeople and professionals. Kids at schools like Stanford think that their environment is diverse if one comes from Missouri and another from Pakistan, or if one plays the cello and the other lacrosse. Never mind that all of their parents are doctors or bankers.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few exceptions, but that is all they are. In fact, the group that is most disadvantaged by our current admissions policies are working-class and rural whites, who are hardly present on selective campuses at all. The only way to think these places are diverse is if that’s all you’ve ever seen.
Back in 2005, during the Larry Summers Brouhaha, I explained:
Summers’ job is partly to enhance, but mostly to protect, one of the world’s most valuable brand names. “Harvard” stands for “intelligence,” extreme far right edge of the IQ Bell Curve smarts. America is increasingly stratified by IQ, and the resulting class war that the clever are waging upon the clueless means that having Harvard’s endorsement of your brainpower is ever more desirable. Thus, applications and SAT scores have skyrocketed over the last half century.
Yet, Harvard’s IQ elitism sharply contradicts its professed egalitarianism. The typical Harvard professor or student considers himself superior to ordinary folks for two conflicting reasons: first, he constantly proclaims his belief in human equality, but they don’t; and second, he has a high IQ, but they don’t.
Further, he believes his brains weren’t the luck of his genes. No, he earned them. Which in turn means he feels that dumb people deserve to be dumb.
Ivy League presidents aren’t much worried that the left half of the Bell Curve will get themselves well enough organized to challenge the hegemony of the IQ overclass. No, what they fear is opposition to their use of IQ sorting mechanisms, such as the politically incorrect but crucial SAT, from those identity politics pressure groups who perform below average in a pure meritocracy, such as women, blacks, and Hispanics. But, they each boast enough high IQ activists, like Nancy Hopkins, to make trouble for prestige universities.
So, Harvard, like virtually all famous universities, buys off females and minorities with “a commitment to diversity” — in other words, quotas. By boosting less competent women, blacks and Hispanics at the expense of the more marginal men, whites, and Asians, Harvard preserves most of its freedom to continue to discriminate ruthlessly on IQ.
But what about the author’s headline advice about not sending your kid to the Ivy League? Is that a good idea?
I’m becoming ever more of a counter-contrarian, so my hunch is: Nah, that’s probably bad advice.
Is there a way to test this objectively?
One way might be to look at the range and intensity of student-organized clubs at a college. All else being equal, you’d probably want your kids to attend college where there is, say, an active, enthusiastic birdwatching club. Not that you want your kids to watch birds necessarily, but you’d rather that your kids were around kids some of whom prefer watching birds to just watching TV. That seems like a pretty noncontroversial plus that could be measured relatively quantitatively.
My impression from visiting campuses in the pre-Internet days and looking at bulletin boards where student groups posted their fliers about upcoming events is that high test score colleges had more and more active clubs than low test score colleges. For example, Caltech has a small student body, but it usually has a pretty fanatical Alpine Club.