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Rhetorical Analysis of “The Disadvantages of an Elite Education” by Deresiewicz


A rhetorical analysis considers a text as the instrument of communication and persuasion and describes how the text accomplishes those aims. It elucidates the main ideas and claims of the article; then, it explores whether the article managed to convey them to the reader or listener. The analysis introduces the concepts of ethos, pathos, and logos that describe the text’s ethical, emotional, and logical aspects, respectively. “The Disadvantages of an Elite Education,” the article of William Deresiewicz, claims that higher education can be disadvantageous and even harmful for the personality and society. He provides many arguments and examples to support and develop this claim, using rhetorical tools widely. I think that he uses them effectively and conscientiously, making the article clear, easy to read, and persuasive.

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A summary of Deresiewicz’s article and its purpose

The article begins by describing how the author has come to his opinion that an elite education can be disadvantageous. He mentions a meeting with a plumber that has come to repair something in his house; after that, Deresiewicz suddenly realizes that he cannot even talk with a plumber: he has no words for it (Deresiewicz). Next, he describes elite universities and their medium: he mainly talks about universities from the elite Ivy League. He argues that the medium is essential to understand how those universities work: it is a vast system of mentors, courses, elite private schools, usually costly. All this creates a closed class of elite detached from the rest of society.

Then, the author formulates the article’s main idea: he challenges the opinion that an elite education is only beneficial. He claims that it does not develop many other skills, except analytical thinking, and even leads to the degradation of some of them: for example, emotional or social intelligence. Students think about themselves in terms of grades and ranks, which have little connection with reality (Deresiewicz). While some possibilities are open due to higher education, others are closed.

Deresiewicz provides many examples to support his claim, which takes the rest of the article. He writes that his friend referred to the elite universities from the Ivy League as “Ivy retardation,” meaning that people become dumb after studying there (Deresiewicz). Despite having prestigious work possibilities and valuable contacts, they lost contact with most ordinary people, unable even to talk with them. While universities claim that they are created to stimulate mindfulness, creativity, and leadership, they actually stimulate an “entitled mediocrity” (Deresiewicz). They do not support individual desires and do not teach how to think independently: they teach only analytical skills, which is no more than one aspect of intelligence. Thus, while usual universities teach students how to be incorporated into the bureaucratic hierarchy, elite universities teach how to be incorporated in the high levels of the same hierarchy: that is the only difference.

The article’s purpose is to show that elite education has disadvantages, both for those who study and society. It makes students alienated from the real world; they lose the possibility of taking ordinary professions such as schoolteachers. They often cannot understand what they really want from their lives, and universities provide no cues for that, teaching students to be “excellent ships” (Deresiewicz). As one can conclude from the article, society becomes divided into classes, and inequality grows higher and higher. At the end of the article, Deresiewicz suggests that the only real purpose of the educational system is to reproduce classes, and it should not claim that it is created for cultivating mindfulness. If there should be places for cultivating mindfulness and self-awareness, they are not elite universities.

The Article’s Appeal to Ethos

There are no explicit statements about ethos or Deresiewicz’s credentials in the article, but he discusses sad experiences that students confront in elite colleges and supports them with his experience. For example, the first several paragraphs clarify that elite schools appreciate the importance of diversity, but their diversity is only ethnic and cultural: there is no class diversity there. All students are from the same background as wealthy businesspeople. Uneducated people with no such background usually lack opportunities to enter these top colleges and get the education they deserve. Consequently, he argues that students of top colleges and universities are unwilling to interact with people who are not similar to them. The author describes his experience: “as I learned in my kitchen that day, is that it makes you incapable of talking to people who aren’t like you” (Deresiewicz). It is ethos, as it stimulates the reader to trust the author: he shares his own experience about students in elite schools and implies that he knows the article’s subject well.

The Article’s Appeal to Pathos

Pathos directly appeals to the audience’s emotions and feelings; writers and speakers use it to make their articles and speeches more fulfilled, enriching them by emotions. Deresiewicz uses it when comparing the Ivy League schools, such as Yale, and other universities. He provides the example of Cleveland State, where he had a friend studying. The author highlights the differences between studying processes in those two universities: while at Yale, students are forgiven for many faults, even such as threatening with bodily harm, at Cleveland State, his friend obtained a D grade just for late submission of her work (Deresiewicz). While in the regular universities, students are prepared to take their place in the bureaucratic system, in prestigious ones such as Yale, students are prepared to be the leaders of society. Such differences are obviously unjust and evoke emotions heavily: the reader remembers the whole article better under them.

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The Article’s Appeal to Logos

Logos is the formation of noncontradictory logical arguments and supporting them by credible facts and statistics. The author establishes his logos when arguing whether a prestigious higher education is only beneficial or has flaws. While, at the beginning of the article, he admits that such education has obvious benefits, such as perspectives to be rich, it has many disadvantages, perhaps less obvious. The article is rich in examples: the example with Cleveland State is one of them. Others are examples of students who were passionate about their ideas when they were enrolled in prestigious universities but admitted then that “it is hard to build your soul when everyone around you is trying to sell theirs.” (Deresiewicz). By comparing different types of intellect, specifically social, analytical, and emotional, the author shows that universities trains only analytical intellect and, thus, do not contribute to the sustainable development of the personality. Thus, the author supports his claim by providing examples of different cases, citations of those enrolled in elite universities, and reflections about various types of intellect.


“The Disadvantages of an Elite Education” argues that, despite its apparent advantages, it does not help personal development and does not show how to understand the world better. The author has experience as a student and an employee of elite universities, making his thoughts about elite education persuasive. Deresiewicz describes his reflections clearly and concisely and strengthens them by examples. Those examples are vivid and evoke emotions in readers, bringing them to understanding the author’s point of view and prompting to believe in it. In my opinion, the article is convincing: the author successfully shows that elite education is not only beneficial, as it is usually presented.

Work Cited

Deresiewicz, William. “The Disadvantages of an Elite Education.” The American Scholar, 2008, Web.

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