Educationalists envisioned education as a way of equipping learners with the requisite skills in a bid to become useful in a changing world. This paper argues that students of an elite education are disadvantaged based on the arguments put forward by William Deresiewicz in his article, The disadvantages of an elite education, and David Bartholomae’s masterpiece, Inventing the university.
In his article, Deresiewicz explores the disadvantages associated with an elite education. On the other side, Bartholomae highlights how university students conform to set standards, and this aspect leads to distorted thinking. This paper agrees that universities have forgotten that they exist to make minds, as opposed to preparing individuals for careers.
The lost focus
Education should prepare learners to communicate effectively with people from all backgrounds, but elite education creates the opposite effect. As aforementioned, education’s primary purpose should be the creation of functional minds amongst students so that they can adapt to any situation because the world is changing. In the world outside the institutions of higher learning, the success of an individual depends on the capacity to interact with others. Life involves solving problems in the real world, and this aspect entails interacting with people from all backgrounds.
Unfortunately, elite education students cannot communicate efficiently with people who have not received such a kind of education (Deresiewicz par. 4). This misgiving is a product of prejudice that is associated with elite universities. Once in these distinguished institutions of higher learning, students think that people who are not privileged to gain entry in such places are lesser human beings.
Unfortunately, this mindset is counterproductive as immediately after graduation, students realize that they have to deal with such people in their daily lives. Deresiewicz gives the example of Al Gore and John Kerry (par. 4). Even though the two Presidential candidates are former students of Harvard and Yale universities, respectively, they could not connect with the ordinary citizens during campaigns, and thus they ended up losing the elections.
However, students are simply victims of a counterproductive education system that is ingrained in elite learning institutions. When individuals enter these universities, they are normal students ready to learn and probably conquer the world. Unfortunately, they are inculcated in an unforgiving system, which teaches them to think and act in a certain way. Bartholomae rues that the moment students enter universities, they are expected to think and write for the lecturers (4).
He regrets that students have to “learn to speak our language, to speak as we do, to try on the peculiar ways of knowing, selecting, evaluating, reporting, concluding, and arguing that define the discourse of our community” (Bartholomae 4). Therefore, instead of seizing the coveted opportunity of exposing their brains to the best learning facilities and environments, students resort to conformity. Whatever they do is geared towards pleasing their lecturers, who, in most cases, are products of the same system, thus creating a futile cycle of the counterproductive education system.
Therefore, students end up gaining analytic education, which only allows them to judge other people based on the schools they attended. Deresiewicz notes, “Social intelligence and emotional intelligence and creative ability, to name just three other forms, are not distributed preferentially among the educational elite” (par. 6). Unfortunately, even lecturers and administrators in these institutions do not know better, because they are products of the same system.
The best universities of contemporary times fail to create functional minds, and instead, they instill a flattering sense of self-worth amongst students. Education should teach individuals that their worth is based on what they can offer as opposed to what they are. As aforementioned, life entails solving problems, which defines the worth of an individual.
True self-worth and esteem can only be realized by being of service or solving problems for others. All individuals who have made an impact in the history of humanity had their purpose tied to service. Such individuals include Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Junior, Bill Gates, Nelson Mandela, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, among others. However, students of an elite education are misled into believing that they are highly esteemed simply because they associate with certain institutions.
According to Deresiewicz, elite education teaches one “to think that measures of intelligence and academic achievement are measures of value in some moral or metaphysical sense” (par. 11). Unfortunately, this assumption is misconstrued, and it leads to a false sense of self-worth. As Deresiewicz states, “Graduates of elite schools are not more valuable than stupid people, or talentless people, or even lazy people.
Their pain does not hurt more. Their souls do not weigh more” (par. 12). As aforementioned, self-worth can only come from the service that one offers in their lives. However, elite students seek to gain this self-worth by simply joining elite schools.
Finally, elite education comes out as an anti-intellectual outfit. Apparently, intellect is mistaken to mean being in a position to answer a set of questions correctly. Students in elite schools might have the best capacity to remember, which explains why they score unparalleled marks in exams. However, this ability does not underscore being intellectual. Deresiewicz posits, “Being an intellectual means more than doing your homework” (par. 18). Unfortunately, elite institutions of learning do not allow students to think beyond the classwork.
In essence, elite education discourages thinkers, and thus students are fed with very little information in a specialized area by specialized professors. This trend creates intellectual narrowness, which does not allow students to think outside their assumptions and the system. In essence, elite students conform, and thus they become smart, but not intellectual.
Regrettably, students from these elite institutions end up becoming leaders in the government and institutions. Therefore, change might not happen in the near future, and as Deresiewicz regrets, “The disadvantage of an elite education is that it has given us the elite we have and the elite we are going to have” (par. 23).
Universities have abandoned their core purpose of making functional minds and resorted to preparing students for given careers. Students from elite schools lack social intelligence, as they cannot communicate with people from different societal classes. In addition, such students have false self-worth, as they assume that they are more important than other individuals who have not studied in elite learning institutions.
However, these students are simply products of a rigid system, and thus they should not be blamed for their misgivings. Finally, elite learning institutions instill anti-intellectual sentiments in their students by creating intellectual narrowness. Therefore, elite education should reconsider its mission and restructure its approach to learning in a bid to accord justice to the privileged few who go through the system.
Bartholomae, David. “Inventing the university.” Journal of Basic Writing 5.1 (1986): 4-23. Print.
Deresiewicz, William. “The Disadvantages of an Elite Education.” The American Scholar 2008. Web.