I read William Dersiewicz article on how elite schools are supposedly turning kids into zombies. It was basically a prolonged exposition on the old canard that elite schools are only full of these driven, borderline sociopaths with shriveled souls who have never truly learned to love. I wouldn’t even mention the article—except I’m worried people actually believe this.
It’s not that elite colleges don’t include borderline sociopaths with shriveled souls who have never learned to love. It’s just that you can find those folks anywhere. I’ve been traveling in mixed circles lately. I was recently at my ten-year reunion at one of the elite colleges named in Dersiewicz article. I spend a lot of time with assorted academics. I also spend a lot of time with people who are facing imminent homelessness. All these groups have truly amazing and inspiring people in them. All of them also have some pretty wretched people in them.
I can’t speak for Deresiewicz experience at Yale. He laments that “Very few [students] were passionate about ideas. Very few saw college as part of a larger project of intellectual discovery and development.” Maybe Yale is full of uninteresting zombies.1 Or maybe it’s unique to his classes. Perhaps most likely, the general population doesn’t contain a lot of people who are passionate about the ideas Deresiewicz thinks people should be passionate about. Perhaps little of the general population sees college as part of a larger process of intellectual discovery and development.2 I can say that most of the people I know who are the most nerdily passionate about ideas I met at an elite college.
But suggesting that an elite college doesn’t have enough people who are passionate about ideas is a bit like suggesting that a Seattle doesn’t have enough coffee shops. Maybe it doesn’t. But you’re not going to find a better selection elsewhere.
Then there’s this:
Look beneath the façade of seamless well-adjustment, and what you often find are toxic levels of fear, anxiety, and depression, of emptiness and aimlessness and isolation. A large-scale survey of college freshmen recently found that self-reports of emotional well-being have fallen to their lowest level in the study’s 25-year history.
You know that’s true of everybody everywhere? The elite schools hardly have a monopoly on toxic levels of fear, anxiety, and depression.
I guess, in summation, Deresiewicz thinks people should build a concept of self by caring about ideas but also promote diversity and improve the world by eliminating bad things and improving good things and generally implementing a laundry list of the sorts of policy goals opposed only by the World Congress of Strawmen. The way to do that is to avoid the elite colleges and to go to a state school3 instead because … I guess because that’s the sort of controversial proposal that’s going to get William Deresiewicz a lot of attention. Who even publishes this drivel?
Yo, Zombiecuddle: I know I’m talking about your alma mater. But … you’re sort of tautologically disqualified from protesting Deresiewicz thesis “the nation’s top colleges are turning our kids into zombies.” ↩
And perhaps those that do disproportionately end up at liberal arts schools. ↩
Important note: I’m not for a moment hating on state schools or any other schools. I just think that Deresiewicz’s claim, go to a public university because True Economic Diversity is insipid. It’s not remotely clear that a dorm full of first years at an elite school where everybody lives on campus in the same dorms—whether they’re on a full, need-based scholarship or a quintouple legacy is going to involve less interraction between people from different backgrounds than you’d have on a campus where a lot of the highest income kids end up in Greek housing and the lowest income kids commute. ↩