Sunday, October 5, 2008

"Thirty two flavors, all of them vanilla" or, Ivy retardation.

Via Justine Musk, a link to this interesting piece in the American Scholar about the intellectual disadvantages of attending an Ivy League school, or what the author calls "Ivy retardation".
"Elite schools pride themselves on their diversity, but that diversity is almost entirely a matter of ethnicity and race. With respect to class, these schools are largely —indeed increasingly— homogeneous. Visit any elite campus in our great nation and you can thrill to the heartwarming spectacle of the children of white businesspeople and professionals studying and playing alongside the children of black, Asian, and Latino businesspeople and professionals. At the same time, because these schools tend to cultivate liberal attitudes, they leave their students in the paradoxical position of wanting to advocate on behalf of the working class while being unable to hold a simple conversation with anyone in it...

"But it isn’t just a matter of class. My education taught me to believe that people who didn’t go to an Ivy League or equivalent school weren’t worth talking to, regardless of their class. I was given the unmistakable message that such people were beneath me. We were “the best and the brightest,” as these places love to say, and everyone else was, well, something else: less good, less bright. I learned to give that little nod of understanding, that slightly sympathetic “Oh,” when people told me they went to a less prestigious college... I never learned that there are smart people who don’t go to elite colleges, often precisely for reasons of class. I never learned that there are smart people who don’t go to college at all."
Ekaterina Sedia pointed out to me that the author, however, seems to be oblivious to his own assumptions about class in the text of the article, especially in passages like this:
"It didn’t dawn on me that there might be a few holes in my education until I was about 35. I’d just bought a house, the pipes needed fixing, and the plumber was standing in my kitchen. There he was, a short, beefy guy with a goatee and a Red Sox cap and a thick Boston accent, and I suddenly learned that I didn’t have the slightest idea what to say to someone like him. So alien was his experience to me, so unguessable his values, so mysterious his very language, that I couldn’t succeed in engaging him in a few minutes of small talk before he got down to work. Fourteen years of higher education and a handful of Ivy League degrees, and there I was, stiff and stupid, struck dumb by my own dumbness. “Ivy retardation,” a friend of mine calls this. I could carry on conversations with people from other countries, in other languages, but I couldn’t talk to the man who was standing in my own house."
Someone like him???

More here.

9 comments:

Joya said...

I really liked that essay. Thanks for linking! :)

pseudosu said...

This reminded me a little of "Stuff white people like" which is hilarious in places, but also insulting in a way where you're not sure if the author (a white guy) is trying to be self-depricating, but even if he is, it's kind of insulting on a while other level he seems totally unaware of.

Sarahlynn said...

The term "ivy retardation" is, of course, extremely offensive all by itself.

Sex Mahoney for President said...

"And as I came to understand them, I realized I loved them, and they were beautiful... these peasants in the mist."

Sex Mahoney for President

Annalee said...

ugh. You'd think the Ivy League admissions offices would be able to do a little simple math: for a tiny fraction of their endowments, they could pay the entire cost of attending their school for every single one of their students. All of them.

Instead, their idea of a full scholarship covers about half the cost of attendance. And then they have the gall to be surprised that working-class families don't send their kids there--or worse, the audacity to suggest that working-class kids aren't good enough to go.

You couldn't pay me to spend four years in a culture like that. This is one bright, successful student that they just plain weren't good enough to attract.

sesgaia said...

yep- this attitude bugs me so much it became a major theme of my novel!

debra said...

Hmmm....I know lots of people who have gone to Ivy league schools who don't suffer from "ivy retardation."

I find it hard to believe that the author could not have a simple conservation with the plumber especially since he was wearing a Red Sox hat. How hard would it have been to so say: What do you think about those Sox?"

This guy sounds like an arrogant putz and I'm not sure we can blame that on his ivy league education.

Deaf Brown Trash Punk said...

haha. I almost got accepted into Yale University for the MFA program last year. maybe it's a good thing I didn't get in, due to my young age and lack of experience.

Bobbie said...

My husband got his Ph.D. at Yale. I "settled" for a BA from a "lesser" university, and his female friends never forgave him for marrying me: I was an insult, they said, to feminism b/c I was content with an undergraduate degree. They believed that he should have married someone of his own stature (their words, not mine) and that in bypassing these well-educated women for lowly and simple me, he was hurting all intellectual women in general.

I don't knock Ivy-League students as a whole: my husband never felt like part of that club and is much quicker to tell someone he went to Miami Ohio than that he went to Yale. But to take elitism to such extremes, particularly regarding feminism, does more to separate us than bring us together for common causes.