DISCUSSION / The Merits of the Ivy League / Zombies or Intellectuals?
by Gabriela Goitia
Last Monday, William Deresiewicz started a fiery debate over the validity of an elite education. While students around the nation– including myself– found a large amount of his arguments grossly generalized, Deresiewicz does raise valid points on the true definition of “service,” the underestimation of smaller, religious institutions, and the reevaluation of the American dream.
During the hype of the admissions process, thousands upon thousands of students read up on the importance of being a high school superstar. The description of this lofty goal now includes being “serviceable” and “dedicated to his/her community.” So with the hopes of reaching their elite university ambitions, these thousands of students feel the need to go to Honduras and Ghana to help rural villages gain access to clean drinking water. Under regular circumstances, this is a gesture of a global citizen committed to developing countries. However, the altruistic goals are lost in the importance of putting all this service work on a college application: it’s not real service if you have a hidden agenda of achieving your Ivy dreams.
Another point in which Deresiewicz admittedly makes an understandable argument is the importance of religious colleges. While I might be a bit biased considering my father is a theologian, I agree with the notion that more intimate religious schools often force students to reevaluate their beliefs, their sense of self and their sense of purpose. But their lack of renown in the college admissions process leads for them to be underestimated in terms of how well their students are prepared academically, when in reality, these schools have the upper-hand. A non-Ivy League education doesn’t necessarily lack able students that are prepared to question and to think. Notwithstanding, this isn’t to say that prestigious universities lack the ability to challenge their students to think critically about their convictions.
Perhaps the reason that Deresiewicz’s article has caused so much commotion is the vast amount of times that he paints elite universities as industrial factories that drain the originality out of their students. The students who have the privilege of studying at top universities are not products on an assembly line: we are students fully capable of true thought, in every academic and philosophical sense of the word. Granted, many of us are motivated individuals who have set goals and ten year plans. But who’s to say an investment banker can’t love Wittgenstein? Who’s to say an attorney or a doctor doesn’t stay up contemplating their values and their principles? That’s assuming that the majority of these students are interested in traditional careers anyways. You’ll be surprised to find the number of students who are at prestigious colleges that go on to contribute to their individual communities as writers, actors, social workers, and social psychologists. In fact, these are the students that are creating new fields of study for the sake of intellectual curiosity and for the benefit of people all over the world.
Upon rereading Deresiewicz’s article, I did find that I agreed with his final and main point: “I used to think that we needed to create a world where every child had an equal chance to get to the Ivy League. I’ve come to see that what we really need is to create one where you don’t have to go to the Ivy League, or any private college, to get a first-rate education.” Access to an excellent education shouldn’t be a privilege, it should be a right. But while we try to establish an education system that makes this particular dream possible, let’s not undermine the institutions that gave us the original standard for an excellent education in the first place. More importantly, let’s not assume that the people at these institutions aren’t committed to the progress of society and education itself.