Michael Roth [emphasis added:
It’s no wonder that politicians on the right are now exploiting resentment about higher education, even though their own economic policies would increase income inequality. Universities have become complicit in solidifying the class divide by instilling in their students a sense of entitlement: you got in because you deserved to, and once we certify your talent, you’re entitled to whatever you can accumulate in the future.
Drew Faust, speaking to the class of 2012 [emphasis added]:
You are remarkable. As I assured you nearly four years ago: None of you was an admissions mistake, and you have proved it by the hard work that has brought you here today.
To be fair, Faust did go on to emphasize the role of luck in life’s outcomes, but still…how many students will most remember that part, versus the “you are remarkable” part?
Delbanco also makes this point in his book:
Modern universities are meant to produce knowledge through specialization, and they often reward faculty members by giving them “relief” from teaching. Our best universities are adept at steering resources to their most productive researchers, but the undergraduate curriculum gets little more than lip service. “Very few colleges tell their students what to think,” Delbanco notes, and “most are unwilling even to tell them what’s worth thinking about.”
I wonder: In the absence of a curriculum that makes any attempt to shape a student ethically, what values do shape students during their time at college? Those of their professors? The overarching ethos of an institution?
Update: I read of this unconventional commencement speech by a teacher at Wellesley High School in Massachusetts.
David McCullough Jr., an English teacher at the school [Blogger: and son of historian David McCullough], delivered his rather unusual speech Friday, telling graduating seniors that they had been “pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped.”.
Here’s some good stuff:
You see, if everyone is special, then no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless. In our unspoken but not so subtle Darwinian competition with one another — which springs, I think, from our fear of our own insignificance, a subset of our dread of mortality — we have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement.
…If you’ve learned anything in your years here I hope it’s that education should be for, rather than material advantage, the exhilaration of learning. You’ve learned, too, I hope, as Sophocles assured us, that wisdom is the chief element of happiness. (Second is ice cream… just an fyi.) I also hope you’ve learned enough to recognize how little you know… how little you know now… at the moment… for today is just the beginning. It’s where you go from here that matters.
It’s a fascinating speech, and I admire its contrarianism. (The one time I was asked to give a commencement speech, to my grade school, I talked about what a bunch of mean bastards most of us were in 9th grade, and how the one thing that we all should have been was not more accomplished, but more kind.)
I wonder what would happen if Drew Faust spoke the words above: Could she tell Harvard students in 2012 that education is not for material advantage, but for the exhilaration of learning? Or would today’s college seniors find such a thought absurd if not hilarious?