Some years ago, I went to a New Yorker Festival “debate” on the subject, “The Ivy League Should be Abolished.” It was really a debate about whether the Ivy League schools, and Harvard in particular, perpetuated or bridged class differences. Arguing in the affimative was Malcolm Gladwell; opposed was…was…. Hmmm. I can’t remember who was arguing the negative, which should tell you something.*
One thing it might tell you is that Gladwell dominated the debate, and by popular vote, he also won it. But I left the evening feeling deeply irritated. Yes, it wasn’t a particularly serious discussion, but it was, on Gladwell’s part, deeply anti-intellectual—or at least, so it felt to me. You see, this wasn’t long after I had finished writing Harvard Rules, and at the time, I knew quite a lot about an Ivy League education. Gladwell, I could see, did not. He knew just enough to be clever, and he is extraordinarily good at being clever; he may be the cleverest person on the planet. And so he won the debate more by virtue of being witty and contrarian and quick on his feet, but not because he was actually right. If you knew much about the makeup of Harvard’s classes and their financial aid programs and the diversity of its student body, you knew just how little Gladwell knew.
Anyway, that’s a long way of saying he’s still going on about Harvard. (As, clearly, am I.)
Here he makes the case that “if you want a math or science degree, do not go to Harvard.” What he’s really talking about is what he calls “the scourge…of elite institutions.”
In other words, the same topic I saw him win that debate about some years ago.
You can judge for yourself if his argument has deepened with age.
* Sheesh, googling that debate, I see that Simon Schama was the moderator and Adam Gopnik was arguing on behalf of the Ivy League. Sorry, Adam Gopnik.