DISCUSSION / The Merits of the Ivy League / Blame the Root, not the Ivy


by Jessica Lu

The question has been thrown left and right at us: What do you want to be when you grow up? When you’re young, this question is wonderful. There are a million and one answers: astronaut, ballerina, cowboy—and they’re all feasible. It’s when you start to grow up that you realize it’s a flawed inquiry. The questions that are being asked are really, “What do you want to study? What are you interested in? What do you want to spend the rest of your life doing?”

Our education system doesn’t seek to help students answer them. They’re more interested in answering, “How can we increase test scores? How can we boost the school’s reputation? How do we get more funding?”

Mr. Deresiewicz seems intent on blaming the Ivy League and private institutions (all of which, by the way, vary greatly in quality and personality) for asking these questions. But they’re not the ones that do it first: it’s the K-12s that do. Public education, meant to be a blessing, has been crippled by apathy and lack of resources. Students from similar neighborhoods, and therefore often similar socioeconomic backgrounds, pour into one school. Nationwide, inflation outpaces teacher salary and textbooks grow obsolete. Group interests (the notorious example being athletics), parent influence and school board politics plague efficient allocation of capital. Unless they’re magnet schools, rarely do they have the resources to cater to each student’s individual interests and strengths; instead, it’s a one-size-fits-all approach. The No Child Left Behind Act exacerbated the importance of standardized testing and diminished that of critical thinking, problem-solving and going beyond the curriculum. These downfalls might explain why the United States scores so poorly on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) examinations, when considering its immense Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Students lucky enough to have the availability of decent teachers, quality instructional materials, AP classes, club funding and local resources emerge eager to go where their potential is recognized, their peers similarly talented and their future prospects unbounded. Many don’t choose the public universities, which are also sinking for many of the same reasons. They choose the hallowed ivy halls of a prestigious private institution, with tiny class sizes, unlimited library shelves, hundreds of student-run organizations and of course, progressively important shiny degrees.

And who can criticize this choice?

And conversely, who can criticize these colleges for admitting—applauding—these types of students, who Mr. Deresiewicz calls “out-of-touch, entitled little shits?”

Especially in our capitalist society, since when does the private sector accept responsibility for the faults of the public one? Why, in this particular case, should it pick up the pieces of a broken system that government has so far failed to fix?

If anything, Mr. Deresiewicz and other critics are not recognizing that these institutions have managed to stand up when others—even private ones, like banks—have crumbled. It should be noted that even some public colleges are considered top-tier, like UC Berkeley and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Our universities (with Cambridge and Oxford) dominate world rankings lists. Their names are recognized at every door. International students attending top-rate high schools dream of entering schools like Harvard, Princeton, Johns Hopkins, Stanford and MIT. But no one dreams of going to elementary school here.


“Problem Solving Skills of 15-year-olds: Results from PISA 2012.” National Center for Education Statistics. Institute of Education Sciences, n.d. Web. 25 July 2014.

“PISA 2012 Results.” Programme for International Student Assessment. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, n.d. Web. 26 July 2014

“Rankings of the States 2013 and Estimates of School Statistics 2014.” National Education Association, 12 Mar. 2014. Web. 26 July 2014.

The Participants

Why Generalizations are Damaging

Kennan Smith
Columbia University

Blame the Root, not the Ivy

Jessica Lu
The University of Chicago

Zombies or Intellectuals?

Gabriela Goitia
The University of Pennsylvania

Engaging from Within, not Dropping Out.
Stephanie Ban
The University of Chicago

Why I Chose a Public University.

Neel Swamy
University of Michigan

Are Ivy Leagues Poisonous

Shirin Chen
Brown University