Potentially conformist minds don’t seem to want to know: Yesterday, we mentioned William Deresiewicz’s rumination about the Ivy League.
The former Yale professor’s piece appears in The New Republic.
By this morning, we were already regretting the fact that we were so snarky about the publication of the piece. Then, we read Alexandra Petri’s treatment of the piece in the Washington Post.
We have no way of judging Deresiewicz’s overall portrait of today’s Ivy League students. From our perspective, his portrait did make us think of the lazy, conformist work being produced by the many Ivy League 20-somethings being hired to replace the outgoing Sam-and-Cokies.
The Sam-and-Cokies (and the Chrisses, the Maureens and the Tims) have created a deeply horrible journalistic legacy. We can’t say we see a lot of pushback emerging from the new hires.
One such hire is Petri, Harvard 2010 (sic). Pretty much straight outta Harvard, she was hired by the Post to do a weekly semi-humorous column and a regular blog.
As always, we hate to be negative. But basically, at the tender age of perhaps 25, Petri is already Art Buchwald.
This morning, Petri discusses the Deresiewicz piece. As she starts, so does the snark, for better or worse.
This is the way the piece begins in the hard-copy Post. For the on-line version, click here:
PETRI (7/26/14): You need to stop sending your kids to Ivy League schools.Was Deresiewicz once an elitist twit? Is it possible that he is different now?
In brief, according to a piece in the most recent New Republic by William Deresiewicz, who taught at Yale for 10 years, the students who are sent there are conformist, over-privileged overachievers. They emerge from homogeneous backgrounds and grow up to be elitist little twits. (He also went to an Ivy League school, but he is different now.)
When they get in, they learn nothing because they are too terrified of failure to study things they do not already know. They develop the firm conviction that, if you march to the beat of a different drummer, you are doing something wrong. We are all listening to this drummer for a reason. Your drummer must be screwing up.
When they get out, they are obsessed with status and give society less than they might have. Or something. The point is that the education is not value-added. If anything, it is value-subtracted. It produces conformist, unimaginative people who are desperate for outside approval.
As she starts, Petri seems to snark at these possibilities. Later, her use of the phrase “Or something” signals that she can’t make out what the former Yale prof is saying.
In truth, the former Yale prof is making a plea that tracks at least to Thoreau. But if you read Petri’s entire piece, you’ll see that she’s having a difficult time taking his premises seriously.
How accurate is Deresiewicz’s portrait of these (Ivy League) kids today? We have no way of knowing.
His portrait did make us think of the lazy, conformist work which is frequently being done by the press corps’ large collection of Ivy League 20-somethings. With that in mind, let’s speculate about Petri herself for a moment:
We have no doubt that Petri is a perfectly decent person. In our experience, most people are.
That said, she certainly comes from a “privileged” background. Before she went to Harvard, she prepped at Washington's National Cathedral School. She was growing up in D.C. because her father, Wisconsin congressman Tom Petri, has been serving in the House since 1979.
Obviously, there’s nothing “wrong” with any of that. But let’s put Deresiewicz’s portrait to the test:
Is it possible that Petri is perhaps a bit of a “conformist,” even perhaps a tiny bit of an “elitist twit?” Much more to the point, is it possible that she is currently “giving society less than she might have?”
To state the obvious, we’re all giving society less than we might have. This morning, though, Petri seems to be having a very hard time conceiving of the possibility that her elite upbringing may have channeled her in an “elitist/conformist” direction.
We went to Harvard too, in the street-fighting Class of 1969. In those days, of course, we kids were so busy stopping a war that we had no time to acquire the undesirable traits described by Deresiewicz.
It’s also true that, at that time, Harvard was experimenting (we’ve been told) with admission procedures which were more working-class friendly. Of our own nine-member roommate group, we only know for sure that two of the nine had parents who went to college.
(The number could be as high as six out of nine. If we had to guess, we would guess that the number was four or five.)
Plainly, we Ivy League kids were better then. That returns us to the travails of these Ivy League grads today.
Many news orgs are loading up on 20-something Ivy grads, preferably from Yale. In a mark of contempt for the lives and interests of low-income kids, they throw them right onto the public school beat, despite their lack of experience and their obvious lack of technical competence.
Are today’s Ivy League grads “conformist,” perhaps a smidge “elitist?” On the whole, we have no idea.
Within the upper-end press corps, though, we’d say that portrait tends to fit the work of these highly-credentialed, less than brilliant journalists. This morning, Petri seems to be having a difficult time coming to terms with such unlikely ideas.
Still writing for the Crimson: This May, Petri wrote a piece for the Harvard Crimson. In best tongue-in-cheek manner, she advised today’s Harvard kids on the best ways to deal with an impending problem:
In the future, how should they deal with the highly visible successes of other Harvard grads? This was the inevitable problem Petri chose to explore.
In such humble-bragging ways, grads like Petri, tongue in cheek, reinforce the very values Deresiewicz was critiquing.
Today, Petri can’t quite make out what Deresiewicz was saying! So it eternally tends to go as the world eternally turns.