Academic One Percenters
Is an education at an elite university worth the apparent anxiety produced by the effort to get in, and is it really a better education? Geoffrey Cox reviewed Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, a book that is highly critical of the admission process and the graduates (the “excellent sheep”) produced by these elite schools. According to Cox, the author, William Deresiewicz, maintains that the students who get into these universities “have demonstrated manic intensity for success”, and the culture there “continues to encourage the pursuit of external validations of accomplishment” leading to “a great first job” (para. 6).
What’s so bad about that? My education and career happened at pretty good schools, but not elite, and my sons went to a good regional state university, also not elite. Had we been able financially and academically to get into one of these great schools I think we would have done so. My experiences at a couple of universities at this level convinced me that, at least at the graduate level, these places really are of exceptionally high quality.
However, I have little sympathy for the notion that elite schools educate undergraduates significantly better than many others, and less sympathy for parents who must get their children into one of the “best” schools. Cox points out that “we have an extraordinary system of public higher education that, in fact, educates the majority of American students” (last para.), although some of these also would be considered elite.
What drives students and their parents to seek admission only to these allegedly best schools? Cox himself guided his “bright, ambitious daughters . . . through most of the Ivy League and the non-Ivy equivalents” (para. 1). Surely there are other criteria for selection that would yield as good or better results, and perhaps with less cynicism about the selection process.
By Geoffrey M. Cox
PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(7)